How Corporations Could Lead The Fight Against Sexual Abuse

The current state of the sexual abuse controversy is utter chaos. Every day another celebrity is accused of harassing or abusing women. In most cases the alleged abusers were terminated by their employers and ostracized by society. American industry and government must develop a system to deal with these criminals in a fair, orderly and expeditious fashion.

It’s important to remember that none of the men implicated so far has had an opportunity to face accusers, and no terminations have resulted from any legal action. The court of public opinion is playing the role of judge, jury and executioner.

Every chief executive officer in the country is wondering whether one of his employees will be implicated for inappropriate behavior toward women that took place last week, last year or decades ago. And how is he supposed respond to these allegations? By personally judging the accusations, hiring a law firm to investigate them, contacting law enforcement officials or just sweeping situations under the rug and hope they go away?

It’s time for major corporations to take the lead in the debilitating and rapidly expanding war between the sexes. This is sensible because so many crimes occur in a business environment.

A CEO must have the tools to deal with sex crimes of the past and prevent future abuse. Before he can do so, the types of abuse must be defined. Since the possible iterations of abuse are countless, it would be wise to keep the system simple.

For instance crimes could generally be classified as touch and no-touch. The former involves situations in which a man makes physical contact with a woman. This act could be relatively harmless, a touch of the shoulders in conjunction with a handshake, or a more invasive act such as groping or assault.

The CEO could institute policies that prohibit any kind of physical contact between two employees (women with men, women with women, men with men) except for a handshake. An effective policy would result in termination of a violator for any such offense. This would be true zero tolerance.

Regarding no–touch incidents such as making off-color comments and cursing, a violator would receive a warning for the first offense and terminated for a second offense.

None of this would preclude the legal authorities from taking action against a person accused of a sexual abuse crime.

The next major issue involves past versus new crimes. It’s in the best interests of our society to end the hunt for past abusers during the last 30 or 40 years quickly and to focus on protecting women prospectively. This does not mean to say that serious crimes in the past be ignored.

Minor offenses in a corporate environment that occurred decades ago should be considered with a skeptical eye. Major offenses at any time are another story. Corporations should assist law enforcement officers in their attempts to bring serial and aggressive abusers to justice.

Corporations might form ethics committees that would review all allegations of sexual abuse. Once again, they would not represent an actual court of law. Rather they would investigate whether company policies have been violated and mete out punishment accordingly.

These ethics committees ideally would have equal representation by women and men. The group should have both senior management and middle management representation and could involve unions and legal counsel. The actual policies that a CEO institutes would be in conjunction with this committee.

In conversations with others about such a broad strategy to fight sexual abuse, several other concerns have arisen. First, what is the legal liability of the committee that will decide whether a person has violated sexual abuse policies that could result in the termination of an employee? Obviously the group needs to be indemnified. Also a CEO may have issues with making a public statement supported by new policies regarding sexual abuse. Skeptics on the outside may ask why these policies were not implemented sooner. And finally there may be a number of pending situations that are under review from the past. These are risks that CEOs should assume. A public statement would increase the morale of female employees. It would also encourage other CEOs to follow suit.

Congress needs to do a lot of work to define this problem and establish judicial punishment reflecting the severity of every offense. A strong legislative response by Congress coupled with support of business leaders will give this effort a proper launch. What we don’t need is anyone politicizing sexual abuse, disrupting businesses and ruining careers without an ample amount of diligence.


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