An article from Lemondrop, the AOL Living site for women, advises female readers not to report sexual harassment. We respectfully disagree.
Laurie Ruettimann makes a compelling argument. She outlines the way HR generally deals with complains of harassment, and it doesn't sound good: "The goal of a harassment investigation is to establish blame and shift liability away from your employer. The burden of proof falls on your shoulders. Rather than asking how you want the situation to be resolved, Human Resources is primarily concerned with determining if you are lying or telling the truth." The process of reporting sexual harassment is likely to long and painful. Even worse, after all going through all that, victims are often left working with their harasser, who can be given a "second chance" by corporate disciplinary policies.
Instead, Ruettimann advises women to quit, and tell their manager exactly why they are leaving. Unfortunately, as dramatic as this tactic is, most of us - especially in this economy - can't just up and quit, a situation that Ruettimann never addresses. What she calls the "most courageous action a victim can take" would leave many women without means to pay their rent. And this is not the only situation where a woman is trapped working with her harasser. Recent events at the University of Iowa can show that even after harassment has been addressed, many are unwilling to believe the victim over her "nice" abuser.
A recent piece by Zuska, via Feminist Law Professors, discusses the problem of sexual harassment at the U. of Iowa campus. In the last year, two professors were accused of sexual harassment by students, and both later took their own lives. After noting the tragedy of their suicides, Zuska tackles the general tone of bewilderment surrounding their crimes: "How could such nice, nice men find themselves in such difficult circumstances? The implication is that if one has an outstanding reputation as a scholar, has a wife or partner who loves him, colleagues who respect him, and friends who like him, why, then it's just not possible to imagine that he could ever, ever, ever do something so nasty!" As Zuska shows, Ruettimann is certainly right in saying that victims have it rough, and their claims of harassment are often met with disbelief. Even after the school found one of their professors guilty, articles about the tragic suicides seem to paint the victims as "TERRIBLE women" who "RUINED the lives of these WONDERFUL men." But had the students simply dropped out of school, left a note about their harassment, would it have ever stopped? Can leaving be the "one sure way to stop harassers" when even guilty, dead harassers are believed over their victims? Quitting sounds good, but for those of us who are unable to just up and leave, shouldn't we talk about how to prevent these "nice guys" from treating women so terribly?
The One Sure Way To Stop Sexual Harassment [Lemondrop]
Why Do We Think Only Really Hideously Evil Human Beings Could Be Sexual Harassers? [Thus Spake Zuska]
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