sparacino-graphic.jpgA Roundtable Discussion of Sexual Harassment (Part 3)


“White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a mostly unknown but deeply influential aide who spends almost every day by President Donald Trump’s side, said Wednesday [2/7/18] he plans to resign following abuse allegations from his ex-wives.

The Daily Mail published a copy of a protective order obtained by Porter’s second wife in 2010, and later published photographs of Porter’s first wife with a black eye she said came from Porter punching her.

“These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said in a statement on Wednesday announcing his plans to leave the White House. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

  Politico, 2/7/18

Okay, team, we’re back with our discussion of sexual harassment. There have been numerous accounts of continuing harassment and assault cases in the news since our last discussion. This comes as no surprise to most of us, right along with continued fatal school shootings and influenza fatalities. Are we as a society ever going to say enough is enough and actually do something about it? The America of my childhood seems to be long gone, sad to say. But please, someone, PLEASE, prove me wrong.

Round-tablers for this discussion again include Mary J. Rogel, Ph.D., head of a full-time private practice in Chicago. She has taught psychology and acupuncture orthopedics. Kent Speight is an attorney running his own firm in Red Wing, Minnesota. Full disclosure: Both Mary and Kent went to school with me (Jack) decades ago. Let’s start off with a fairly personal question.

We are all seniors, with years under our belts. How might we advise young people entering the workplace regarding sexual harassment? 

Jack: Young people entering the workforce need to be sensitive to what is acceptable behavior and what to do when norms, or even relevant rules and laws, are broken. Having a point of contact in one’s HR department is a good start, but only a first step. No woman should ever feel like she’s on her own if a boss or colleague engages in any behavior that makes her uncomfortable. She needs to feel like she has a network of allies and recourse to procedures to protect her.

Mary: This is a good ideal to work toward. In the real world, though, I doubt that it often exists, though, especially where even unions are being undermined.

And where would a woman go to file an HR complaint against someone like Harvey Weinstein, especially if she’s a job applicant and not an employee? Who has the power to do anything about such a complaint against someone as powerful as this guy? Who pays the legal fees?

Sexual harassment and assault are terribly lonely situations. It’s very difficult to go up to someone, even a friend, and start talking about something so humiliating, especially when you don’t think there’s anything to be done. There is no guarantee that even a friend is going to believe you. Especially in marriage and intimate relationships, the predator tries to make the victim look crazy and unbelievable, and he also makes it difficult for her to have private time in which to have such discussions. Predators are very controlling. When someone like Roy Moore, former Republican candidate for senator from Alabama, tells a minor that no one will believe her, he’s probably right. There are too many stories of even mothers not believing their daughters. The recent press coverage of the miserable Olympic physician Dr. Larry Nassar makes this case in quite despicable spades.

If your mother doesn’t believe you or doesn’t know how to help you, where else can you turn? Many times it’s all a woman can do to keep her head above water and keep going. There’s little energy left over for trying to figure out a solution, and the solution tends to require money. Which she usually doesn’t have.

Is the media over-reacting?  Under-reacting?

Jack: Well it’s certainly not over-reacting. It’s a question of fundamental human rights. Do we still subscribe to the idea that we are all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I think it all comes down to dignity.

Kent: I sure don’t think the media is over-reacting. I think it’s time we learn and grow from the experiences of people who have not been treated the way they should’ve been. I think we need to shine a bright light on our behavior and attitudes and hope they change. I appreciate the media bringing this to our national consciousness.

Mary: No way, guys, are the media over-reacting. In fact, they could do more. Ana Navarro’s recent article is an excellent beginning. Predators need to be called out and held accountable. This is not easy because power corrupts. Predators need to be prosecuted and punished. This isn’t going to happen as long as predators are in positions where they can control who gets punished and who doesn’t. Look at all the abuses by police officers, all the strip searches for traffic stops, for example. They never should have happened, and hardly anyone was ever punished for it. Look at all the lawyers who got rapists off by making it look like it was the victim’s fault that she was assaulted. 

And look at all the judges who only slapped rapists on the wrists for their crimes, and the universities that failed to stop male faculty and students from preying on young women. If something as egregious as rape cannot be prosecuted successfully, how can we get rid of lesser predatory behaviors? 

What sort of repercussions are appropriate for the offenders and does it depend on the specifics of the allegations?  Is firing necessarily indicated? 

Jack: I see accountability here as a sliding scale. Lower level offenses should not dictate rolling out the guillotine. There is room for warnings, verbal and written, all the way up to criminal prosecution. Many larger companies have legal departments who should have explicit responsibilities in these areas we’re talking about. The sorts of fairly extreme and repetitive offensive behavior we’re hearing about in the news all strike me as minimally warranting the offender being canned. It would be nice if violations were noted and recorded in real time. Not decades later.

Mary: Yes, and the standards need to be applied across the board, all the way up to the presidency.

Kent: I think the repercussions should depend on the offense. Criminal behavior should be treated as such and perpetrators should be prosecuted. Men need to know where to draw the line. Most importantly, we need to protect women who report abuse and empower them to succeed. If that means removing offenders from positions of authority so women are not subjected to this behavior then so be it. Whatever we need to do to address the problem and grant women the same opportunity to succeed that men have is what it takes.

Mary: I think the punishment should fit the crime. So much depends on what happened and whether or not the offender recognizes that what he (or she) did is wrong and is willing to make appropriate reparations. But we’re tending to mix up sexual harassment and sexual assault in our conversation. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing something crass as opposed to something criminal.

Jack: Well, we’ve done it again, run ourselves out of time. Kent, Mary, I hope you will stay with us though these trying and, hopefully, enlightening times. We can all do better on this complicated subject, of that I am quite certain.