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Another One Bites the Dust 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017.  On a secluded bridge in Kentucky, Dan Johnson, age 57 climbs out of his car and commits suicide. Earlier, a teenage girl had accused him of sexual assault.  Was his death a confession of guilt or the result of not wanting to face the coming assault by the media, the slow crucifixion of public scrutiny and the embarrassment that his family and friends would have to endure?  This young lady should be investigated thoroughly and if there is any doubt as to the truth of her story she should be imprisoned for life.  

Another career ruined, another reputation destroyed, another family embarrassed, another person falls prey to sexual harassment.  Politicians, athletes and anyone else who is in the public eye and who can be exploited for a little media attention is at risk. But that’s okay because it means that another person has received sympathy, gotten some media attention and saved money on hiring a therapist by turning the world into their sympathetic ear. 

Like an unencumbered wheel rolling down a steep hill, the sexual harassment movement is gaining momentum every day. Like all trends, this movement has healthy and unhealthy ramifications. While one party receives sympathy and understanding the other party suffers embarrassment and perhaps the loss of a lifetime career and a family. Sexual harassment is not as simple as people and the media make it seem.  It is a multifaceted issue that can have an enormous impact on the people it touches.
What is sexual harassment, anyway? The EEOC (The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) defines it this way: “Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”  

We used to call that dating.  According to this definition 99.99% of all men are guilty of this malicious activity at some time in their life, and probably 99% of all women have been the recipient of an unwelcomed sexual invitation. Science tells us that the desire for sex is the second most powerful drive in humans, second only to that of survival. Men handle the urge differently then women. We aren’t as subtle.  We leave no doubt as to our intentions.  That’s because we are not as skilled at the art of teasing and flirting as women are, behaviors that leave us men confused and wondering what the hell’s going on!   I personally believe flirting is an innate talent given exclusively to women at birth.    

What puzzles me is how some of these sexual harassment incidents have affected the ones being harassed.  One must seriously wonder why these women were so powerfully impacted by these incidents. An unwanted kiss, a grab of the ass or pretending to fondle breasts seems to have caused extensive trauma.  I was a teenager in the 60’s.  What a great time to be a teenager at college!  Grabbing and groping was in style.  You were not considered a foreigner if you had Russian hands and Roman fingers! College girls were as eager to participate in sexual activities as the guys. It was the age of Aquarius – the age of free love (as we found out, nothing’s free!). Now, I’m a very unattractive guy, but even I have had my ass grabbed by a female.  I was not traumatized.  I responded in a Biblical manner and turned the other cheek.  Of course, times change as do our attitudes concerning social behavior. Today, sexual harassment can be something as innocent as a remark perceived to be a sexual innuendo, a wink can be interpreted as a sexual proposition. The result of a simple allegation can be the destruction of a meaningful and successful career or even the loss of a life. One can’t help but wonder if the actions these women experienced would have been as emotionally disturbing if the harasser had been a plumber or a carpenter rather than someone with so much media exposure?    

So after ten, twenty or even forty years, old mistakes become today’s news. Women are coming forward accusing men of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual words and deeds. Why wait so long? Is such an experience so unforgettable? We’re not talking about murdering someone thirty years ago, we’re talking about a gesture, a word, a deed that no doubt these men have probably forgotten.  And how were these men to know that those gestures and words were unwelcomed?    

As I mentioned, these allegations of sexual harassment are not as simple as the media seems to imply.  There are a myriad of considerations and influences that come into play.  What was the situation?  What was the environment? What was the history between the participants?  Let me share an example of what I mean.  I used to have a very creative female that worked for my company.  She had the habit of giving our male clients a kiss on the cheek when they came into the office. She meant it innocently enough, but how did the clients take it? Did they possibly perceive it as an invitation to a more intimate relationship? If they had returned the affection would it have been considered harassment even though they might have thought that the response was welcomed?  You see, a woman can flirt and tease but a man dare not respond in like manner.   

Additionally, some women wear low cut blouses that show more than a moderate amount of cleavage and don dresses and pants that are so tight they intimately outline and accentuate every line and curve. If the merchandise is not available why is it on display!  “These are just fashions,” you say.  Certainly they are, but a person can dress attractively without it being “sexually enticing”.  I suppose what is considered to be enticing is a subjective call, but accentuating cleavage and a voluptuous figure is certainly considered sexy by most men in America.  Is the way a person dresses an invitation for unwanted sexual advances? What is the goal of being sexually attractive?

Who are we trying to be attractive for and for what purpose?  There are married women who will parade around the house without makeup, wearing baggy clothes and ratty house shoes and then spend hours getting attractive to go to work!  Who are they trying to attract – their peers or their spouse?  You see?  There are mixed signals here.  If a person dresses to attract attention they should not be shocked when their attempts are successful. I once worked with a very attractive female who was always complaining about men hitting on her.  I advised her to come to work without makeup and to wear baggy clothes.  It never happened.  So the question is, at any time did these harassed women flirt or tease or dress in a way that caused these harassing men to think they were interested in more than a friendship? And if they did entice in some way, was the harassment a response to the flirting or teasing or apparel that implied availability? It really doesn’t take much for a man to find encouragement. Were the actions or words deemed by the men to be welcomed? We don’t know.  We probably can’t know.   In an article posted on Yahoo Lifestyle – Dec 21, 2017, written by Elise Solé, she argues that apparel does not contribute to sexual harassment.  I have included the article here to make a point.

“The notion of “victim-blaming” was studied back in 1966, when two behavioral scientists at the University of Kentucky, Melvin Lerner and Carolyn H. Simmons, published groundbreaking research (Journal of Personality and social Psychology 1966, Vol. 4, No. 2, 203-210) on the need for humans to live in a “just world” by rationalizing that victims, even their own, were somehow deserving of their circumstances.
Per the study, “It seems obvious that most people cannot afford, for the sake of their own sanity, to believe in a world governed by a schedule of random reinforcements. To maintain the belief that there is an appropriate fit between effort and outcome, the person must construe this as a relatively ‘objective’ belief—one that applies to everyone (Festinger, 1984). If this is true, then the person who sees suffering or misfortune will be motivated to believe that the unfortunate victim in some sense merited his fate.”
In the same vein, if we can point to controllable, outside factors (such as a skirt) as the reason for her assault, it makes us feel safer.
“We often see this with rape victims — often the first question they’ll ask is, ‘Why me?’ It stems from the human need to find an explanation for injustice and distance themselves from the feeling that life is random,” Sandra Shullman Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in harassment and hostile work environments, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Women’s wardrobes have long been used as an excuse for sex crimes. However, when you look at the data on why people rape, that doesn’t hold up,” she says. “One study showed that rapists stated clothing as the reason for their crimes but their victims were wearing a range of outfits from revealing to snowsuits. These are arguments to transfer the responsibility of control and power from the perpetrator to the victim.”
When it comes to sex crimes, Shullman says, “clothing just doesn’t matter.”

Certainly, there is never an excuse or justification for such a crime. I think we all agree on that. Let’s conduct a study that involves women’s clothing and the affect wardrobe has on men, using men as participants. I’ve got a study for you: have any woman ask her husband if he is more attracted to a female in a bikini or one in a conservative dress.  Line up 100 men and show them two women, one in a dress and one wearing hot pants and a low cut blouse and then ask them which is the most enticing.  This is a no-brainer, ladies! I realize that it would be neat to wear whatever is in fashion and claim that it has no consequences, but that’s just not reality!

Here’s a thought: should flirting and dressing in a sexually explicit manner be considered sexual harassment toward men? Could these things be considered an enticement or an invitation for sexual interaction? Many times men interpret them as being just that; it’s not something we can help. It’s built into our DNA.   It’s driven by a strong natural instinct.

And there are other considerations. Was the accuser vindictive? Was she unsuccessful in her career and needed someone to blame rather than accepting the fact that her career just didn’t work out?  Was alcohol involved?  Alcohol has a tendency to erase or alter memories. Was the accuser coming off of an unpleasant relationship and needed some attention and someone’s sympathy?  When the media portrays a person as a victim the whole world can become a support system. Furthermore, the fact that several women accuse the same man of misconduct does not constitute guilt.  Unless they have personally witnessed the same occurrence, they only create other instances of one person’s word against another’s. Each allegation must be considered on the basis of its own circumstances.   Women have used their appearance and sexuality for centuries to get ahead in business.  We all know that whether we want to admit it or not. It still happens today.  Not all women use it, but there are those who do.  There are those women who would say that the females hired by Victoria’s Secret are being exploited for their sexuality.  I don’t think the women who are drawing a sizeable paycheck for modeling lingerie would agree. Sex still sells. It sells because it is enticing and gets attention. Sex is still an initiator of relationships. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to make the determination of whether an advance is welcomed or unwelcomed. But making a mistake in thinking that one is welcomed when it is not should not result in losing a career or a life, especially if years have passed since the incident occurred.  People change. Sometimes they become better. It seems that in today’s environment, it’s not always true that time heals old wounds.  Sometimes time wounds old heels!   

You see, there are so many circumstantial considerations that must be taken into account when determining guilt or innocence. But these considerations really don’t matter to an audience-seeking, rating-hungry media.  With little or no evidence at all except for the word of one person, they publish or announce the allegation to the world with no regard at all for what it might do to those who are accused.  Whatever happened to validating a story before taking it to the public?  

Sexual innuendo will always exist.  It’s what entices and leads to relationships, some healthy and some not so healthy, but sex and sexual interaction is part of being male and female.  The dilemma is, is the invitation wanted or unwanted?  Even that can change with time.  I have had many clients who were females.  Over time we became close enough to be friends as well as business associates.  When we met we always enjoyed a hug rather than a handshake.  It was a mutually initiated interaction.  However, as time has passed, could one of these females allege that the hugs were harassment and were not welcomed? Of course.  I would not be able to deny that the hugs occurred and I would be unable to prove that they were consensual. It becomes a matter of one person’s word against another’s.  So who is to be believed?  And I must add that the tables are turning so that no one is safe from these malicious accusations.  On December 15, 2017, it was reported that Democratic candidate Andrea Ramsey ended her campaign due to allegations she sexually harassed a male subordinate over a decade ago. Another one bites the dust.    

Of course, this trend is a windfall for lawyers.  No matter whether it is the accuser or the accused, lawyers are positioned to reap financial rewards. Harassment lawsuits and out-of-court settlements for the accused mean legal fees and, conversely, defamation of character lawsuits by the accused promise a lucrative income.  

I’m not saying that all of these allegations are untrue, nor am I making an excuse for their occurrence. My point is that these accusations are not as simple as we seem to make them out to be.  There are two sides to every story. The media has become judge and prosecutor, condemning and inferring that the accused is guilty without any proof at all and the gullible public has become the jury that pronounces the verdict. It seems that we are so quick to rush to judgment. We are so focused on women’s rights (certainly a positive movement) that we immediately conclude that the woman is the victim and that she is telling the truth.  That’s not always the case. We must all remember that a person is innocent until proven guilty and it takes more than allegations to prove guilt.  I’m reminded of some wise advice that we should all take to heart: “Let him (or her) who is without sin cast the first stone”.

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