The constant spate of stories about sexual harassment in all of its forms is dispiriting, to say the least. It’s as if some bogeyman had ripped the façade off of civilized society to expose so much rot underneath.
Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, beloved down-home author and host Garrison Keillor, politicians, TV newscasters and commentators Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. The list goes on and on . . . and on.
We’ve heard this skeptical question asked so often recently: “Why are so many women telling what happened to them so many years after the harassment supposedly happened?”
There are many good reasons. Among them these:
- They (and some male victims too) were afraid they would not be believed years ago, that they would be humiliated and ridiculed, their careers all but destroyed. And yes, that did happen many, many times and not just with “celebrities.”
- Some women actually began to wonder if somehow they “caused” the harassments or assaults. In sexual crimes, it’s very common for the victim to take on guilt complexes, to blame themselves for what happened, as illogical as that may sound. That syndrome, self-blame, has been seen time and again in boys who were abused by priests.
- For so many years, rape victims were hauled through the mud, even by some insensitive police who implied the woman or girl was “asking for it,” that she was dressed in a “provocative fashion.” Imagine the shame victims felt when treated that way, after the crime occurred. Fortunately, there have been excellent changes among law enforcement in the form of sensitivity training, and so many law-enforcement personnel are now among the most compassionate and helpful toward a sexual-assault victim.
- Many women know all too well how sexism is still systemic in society. It’s difficult to change the idea men are somehow “entitled” to treating women as “available” at a whim. Thus, some men think it’s OK to do “innocent” touching, patting, groping, mauling. It’s the old response of, “Hey, gimme a break; don’t over-react, I was only kidding!”
It is, of course, possible some women are lying, but the overwhelming number of cases seem to be completely credible. And the perpetrators’ denials and excuses are most often typically feeble and downright unconvincing.
It’s depressing to hear constantly about these cases, but on the other hand it’s a positive development. That is because now is the time, at long last, that strict lines must be drawn between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in workplaces, military bases, college campuses, to name just three, not to mention society at large.
Children must start learning mutual respect toward all girls and boys from pre-school onward, and we believe there have been great advances along those lines. In fact, that growing awareness is largely what caused victims to come forward to tell of their experiences, even many years or decades after the fact.
In the long run, let us hope anyway, we will have learned from the transgressions of the past.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.