The news has been incredible for so many. Every day it seems we hear of more women speaking up about being sexually harassed while at work. Politicians, celebrities, news anchors are resigning and being fired like never before. I suspect there are a lot of men out there praying their past inappropriate behaviors will go undisclosed.
This is a very sad moment in time. Yet, I also believe it is a very exciting period where we will, as a nation, make a major culture change. Hopefully, sexual harassment policies at work will actually mean something. Hopefully women will no longer be treated as sexual objects and job security and work promotions will be based on performance, not sexual favors. And hopefully, when women report these inappropriate behaviors, they will be taken seriously and handled appropriately.
People have been asking how we reconcile our feelings of admiration and even love for a person while also deploring some of their behaviors. This is a question I deal with in my office on a daily basis. Many of my patients have been sexually abused. And almost all of them knew their abusers. Many were abused by fathers, uncles brothers and family friends, bosses and co-workers. Sometimes, in spite of the abuse, the perpetrator may have been the only person paying any kind of attention to the victim. They may have bought them clothes, toy or given them money.Their victims often want desperately to have their love and approval. This issue truly complicates healing from the trauma. If the person were always mean to them or a total stranger it would be easier to just be angry But rarely is that the case.
I have heard women, when asked why they continued to work for someone who was very sexually inappropriate, reply that they liked the actual work they did. They respected the projects and causes they were able to work on and did not want to leave the job. They just wanted the harassment to stop. Many just needed the job to pay their bills and feed their kids. Many women in the past ( and even currently) have found that even when they reported the issues to those in charge, little if anything was done and sometimes they were told to just keep quiet. When women report sexual abuse, they are often put on trial to prove what happened. They are asked…”Why didn’t you report this right away?” And “why didn’t you give every detail when you first disclosed?”They need to prove they are not lying. This process is often extremely humiliating. While it is absolutely awful to be falsely accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, it is horrible to be abused, not be believed and have prove what happened. This is why so many women have kept quiet or do not report right away. Revealing every detail is difficult even in the safe environment of therapy.
I am hopeful that we have started a culture changing conversation. I know that money talks. And if enough settlements happen, perhaps companies will decide it is better to do the right thing. Certainly there are companies that are already doing this. But, many more are not. Many have let the power of the position rule the nest and inappropriate behaviors were overlooked.
So lets all commit to keeping this conversation alive. Lets make sure women (and men, because I know their are men experiencing these abuses as well) are speaking up and being heard. And while we are at it, lets have more women in positions of power.