Weighing In

Warning: by the nature of the subject matter of today’s article it stretches the PG rating.

I guess it is high time that I weighed in on the hot social topic of the last few weeks: sexual misconduct. Let’s explore.

With the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal the topic of sexual misconduct is back on the front burner. We have had incidents in the past. In recent memory we have the Monica Lewinsky scandal that nearly brought down a President. There were Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly just off the top of my head. At the rate things are going I would be surprised if there wasn’t at least one more revelation between my writing and publishing this.

It is impossible and inappropriate to paint all these incidents with the same brush. They are different which is why I chose the more encompassing phrase: sexual misconduct. There are differences among philandering, sexual harassment, child molestation and rape (even statutory rape). In my mind while all are morally bad, the severity and therefore what I feel is appropriate punishment differs.

To me philandering is consensual sexual relations (my definition of which is much wider than Bill Clinton’s) between two or more adults one or more of which are married and do not have the permission of their spouse to engage in said activity. In the vernacular it is commonly called cheating. Immoral behavior and it should not take place on the boss’s or taxpayers’ dime but it is not illegal. In business I think it is up to the person signing the paycheck as to whether it is an offense punishable by termination. In government service I do not think it calls for resignation. What repercussions transpire between the perpetrator and their spouse is not my business.

I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Women (the most common victims of sexual harassment) are people; plain and simple. They should be treated as such. People will occasionally be romantically and/or sexually attracted to co-workers. A date invitation is not always accepted. If it stops after a rejection or two that is an inherent cost in employing humans. If it continues unabated it is a problem that must be dealt with.

To me, textbook sexual harassment is when a person in a superior position uses that position to intimidate another into a sexual relationship. Good rule of thumb: don’t try to date someone who reports to you or someone in your organization that you outrank. The other side of this is the woman who tries to “sleep” her way to the top. Things may be changing but it usually is unsuccessful. The girl often ends up discarded and certainly is never respected in her organization while often the guy gets transferred (sometimes with a raise) to bury the problem. That may be changing but there are still a lot of “Mad Men organizations” in existence. I think the harasser should be terminated! The philanderers should receive equal treatment from the organization.

Rape of any sort is illegal. In fact when people talk of criminals they often use the expression “Murderers and rapists”; Americans look at rape as the most heinous crime except for murder. I’m not talking about the teenage couple where the boy is a bit older and the girl happens to be under the age of consent. I’m talking about adults preying on minors. At best the older man is sick; at worst a criminal. In either event I don’t want to hear any excuses.

Now we come to the credibility of the accuser. Until recently the public tended to disbelieve accusers, even when multiple accusers stepped forward. Fortunately that is changing. When several unrelated accusers step forward with similar stories they are seen as credible. Multiple witnesses to any other crime would have greater weight in court so why not in cases of sexual harassment or rape? (I often have a difficult time distinguishing between the two.) Perhaps it is because I am a male, but I tend to initially give the benefit of the doubt to the accused if he is confronted by a lone accuser and has a clean record. This, of course, is part of the problem because victims are afraid to come forward questioning whether they will be believed especially if the man is powerful and they are not.

While Americans like to think we are united in distaste for sexual harassment and rape our voting habits would suggest otherwise. We elected Donald Trump as President despite his admission of being a sexual harasser and predator in the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Reportedly he is privately denying the authenticity of the tape despite acknowledging its authenticity during the campaign. (I know he lost the popular vote but still enough Americans voted for him – including the majority of white women – for him to win the Electoral College.) By the way Donald, when are you going to sue all your accusers?  I am still predicting that Roy Moore will win the special Senate election in Alabama next week despite multiple credible accusations that he molested several teenage girls when he was in his thirties.

We also have to look at intent. I was in a position of authority several times in my career with large female staffs. I remember one instance where I was talking with my hands and brushed the breast of a female employee. We were both young adults at the time and she made a joke of that being the first time they were big enough to get in the way. I’m thankful for that because I was tongue tied. That is neither inappropriate conduct nor sexual harassment; in basketball, officials called it incidental contact. Had I grabbed her that would have been entirely different as I suspect her reaction justifiably would have been.

An occasional “adult oriented” comment or joke is something I tend to excuse. An atmosphere where that kind of activity is pervasive thereby constituting an uncomfortable workplace cannot be tolerated.

Speaking of atmosphere, the nature of the workplace makes a difference. A woman who works by flaunting her body, like a Playboy playmate or a stripper, should expect a different atmosphere and different treatment than say a Congressional staffer. This doesn’t justify sexual harassment or rape, but the language and comments might be a bit racier.

I am about as liberal as can be when it comes to sex. I feel that what one or more consenting adults do behind closed doors is their business. Note I used the word adults. Leave the kids alone! By consenting I imply that if they are married (which was their choice) that they have the permission of their spouse.

A word of advice to anyone who wants to try to take political advantage of this situation: Don’t! There are many shoes yet to fall in this scandal and you have no idea which side will have more perpetrators and/or the most egregious ones.

I guess my bottom lines are: Don’t try to take advantage of these revelations; the people you interact with and the punishment cannot be a one size fits all.

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