There is a lot to cheer about with more and more high-profile sexual predators finally getting punished for sexual assault and harassment they once thought they could get away with.
The watershed upheaval is happening even as some men out there still fail to understand that sexual misconduct is not normal behavior but aberrant and possibly criminal sexual predation. One of my male friends calls it “horn dog behavior.” You know — boys will be boys.
But sex abuse treatment experts are clear. This is not about normal male libidos left unchecked, but rather it concerns the possibly criminal behavior of high-level men, and sometimes women, using their power as a weapon to sexually humiliate and intimidate subordinates.
Adriana Ramelli, executive director of Hawaii’s Sex Abuse Treatment Center, says a minority of narcissists in high-profile positions think they are above normal rules of behavior.
“They think they have permission to behave differently,” Ramelli says. “They have a total disregard for other human beings and the impact their behavior has on others. There’s a level of arrogance.”
Normal men know when sex is unwanted and back off. Sexual predators move forward.
How else to explain allegations against NBC “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, who reportedly had a switch under his desk like others in the company to allow him to lock his office door without getting up. One of Lauer’s co-workers alleges he used the switch to trap her inside his office where he sexually assaulted her. She passed out and Lauer had to take her to the company nurse.
Another female NBC staffer claims Lauer called her into his office, where he dropped his pants to show her his penis. And then criticized her for not wanting to have sex with him. Still another co-worker says Lauer sent her a sex toy with a note detailing how he would use it on her.
President Donald Trump offered one of the clearest explanations on the “Access Hollywood” tape of how famous men like him get away with sexually assaulting women. Trump told then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that when he’s attracted to women, “I just start kissing them. It’s just like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you are a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ”
When Bush said, “Whatever you want,” Trump continued, “You can grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump and others could get away with sexual groping and assault then because women felt isolated and ashamed. Lauer’s accuser said after she was assaulted she didn’t tell anyone about it because she was afraid of losing her job. The women then bore the onus of what happened, often telling only their closest friends, not even their husbands.
What has changed now are three key things. First, women feel emboldened by the #MeToo movement as well as female celebrities coming forward with detailed, judicious accounts of what sexual predators did to them.
“There is a more supportive environment now. There is safety in numbers,” says Ramelli.
Second, news organizations now report on allegations of sexual harassment and assault in a more profound way. Before, details were reported from a single victim in he-said-she-said narratives such as the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas case. An alleged abuser could shirk responsibility by saying no one else was there to see what allegedly happened.
When hairdresser Lenore Kwock reluctantly came forward in 1992 to allege that Sen. Dan Inouye had sexually assaulted her and then repeatedly sexually harassed her, then-state Rep. Annelle Amaral and some others believed Kwock. Afterwards, Amaral said nine other women called her to allege that Inouye had also sexually harassed them. Reporters at the time (and I was one of them) made very little effort to find the nine other women to urge them to talk.
What is needed now is more and better education to prevent assault and abuse from happening in the first place. And the training needs to be for men and boys starting at an early age.
Reporters are digging deeper today to encourage more victims of a single predator to come forward in order to show patterns of repeated behavior from the same person.
For example, Harvey Weinstein allegedly urged dozens of young, unsuspecting actresses to meet him in his hotel room alone and paid some of them to shut up about what happened, and many of Bill Cosby’s accusers said he drugged them before molesting them.
People are more inclined to believe and support women when there is credible evidence that a predator’s sexual misconduct is patterned and repeated on many victims. And it’s a worthwhile enterprise to try to find more victims because predators are often compulsive, repeat offenders.
The third thing that is different now is companies are responding quickly when an employee comes forward with allegations of sexual harassment. Punishment is swift and serious. Before, when personnel departments received complaints, it often took weeks to investigate and resolve a charge and it was always done in private.
Now with the #MeToo movement, charges often show up first in public on social media sites. Companies are acting faster. To delay could mean costlier legal settlements and if widespread social media attention continues it can damage an establishment’s public image.
Once-respected business executives and media stars have been transformed by credible sexual harassment charges into toxic liabilities in the workplace. Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor were out the door before they could slam it behind them.
Ramelli says what is needed now is more and better education to prevent assault and abuse from happening in the first place. And the training needs to be for men and boys starting at an early age.
With a few exceptions, it’s a men’s problem.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it this way: “Rape is not sex; it’s rape. Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault.”
And a president who brags about doing it deserves to be investigated now.