The wave of sexual harassment accusations is growing every day. Very successful, powerful and gifted men are being fired by employers and abandoned by their sponsors.
The resignation of Sen. Al Franken was a landmark event. Led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, female senators demanded Franken give up his seat because of a series of abuse allegations. Soon after many other senators jumped on the bandwagon. Franken relented but said that not every accusation against him was true. He also took parting shots at Roy Moore, the Alabama senatorial candidate accused of pedophilia, and Donald Trump. Franken thinks he has been judged unfairly compared to these men.
Many Americans are having substantive conversations about the relationship between men and women, which have led to countless episodes of brutality directed at females since the beginning of time. It is refreshing that women and men are prepared to change the ways of the past.
The problem is how should America deal with previous and future acts of sexual harassment in the country that have and will come to light?
The first thing that must be done is to clearly identify and categorize the various types of aberrant behavior affiliated with sexual harassment. Just like murder, which has different levels of severity (manslaughter versus premeditated murder), our lawmakers must differentiate between acts of violence against women. For instance, “no touch” crimes might be classified as less of an offense than “touch” crimes. If a man curses or tells a dirty joke, it should be a much lesser infraction than groping or assault.
In effect lawmakers must take the time to define the crimes and attach penalties commensurate with their severity. For sure this will take a great deal of effort, but it is the fair thing to do.
Corporations must implement systems to deal with complaints. Simply, anything involving touching would fall into the serious acts category and result in immediate dismissal. Other activities that make fellow employees uncomfortable would receive a warning and then dismissal for a second offense.
A major consideration is how to deal with crimes of the past versus crimes of the future. Some past accusations date back years and even decades. They may be difficult to prove and not be punishable by law enforcement because of statutes of limitation. Every case needs to be considered individually if an employer wants to take action without support of law enforcement.
Should a man lose his job for acts that are decades old (like Roy Moore)? Yes, if it can be proven with reasonable certainty that they occurred. It is highly likely that Moore won’t be indicted for these alleged crimes, but the Senate could ostracize him if he wins the election, and his accusers could sue him for damages.
For Harvey Weinstein the system has responded with great ire. He was ousted from the company he owns, blackballed by former Hollywood colleagues, ostracized by companies he did business with and branded a pariah by the entire entertainment industry. Moreover the police are investigating his recent actions, and he may be indicted at some point.
Current events regarding sexual abuse are historic. There are few crimes older than this offense. The bravery of the women who have gone public should be lauded just as Time Magazine has done. But are there potential backlashes that might occur?
Will men respond by covertly employing fewer women? Will men begin to resent the tidal wave of accusations? Will relatively insignificant misdeeds be blown out of proportion and result in unfair treatment of the accused? Will the rule of law be ignored by society? For sure this story has only just begun.
And finally how many more successful men will be branded sexual abusers? Will their life’s work be minimized because of their over active libidos? Will an artist’s great accomplishments be overwhelmed by sexual misbehavior?
Regardless I believe creative and successful people who commit crimes of any kind should feel the full fury of our society.