Thursday, October 04, 2007

If It Doesn't Feel Bad To The Harasser Is It Still Harassment?

The jury in the case against the Knicks and Isiah Thomas said yes to the tune of $11.6 million. What many harassers don't get is that it isn't and shouldn't only be about what's pleasing to them because that effectively dehumanizes everyone else.

This failure to see a situation from others' perspectives -- and to respect those other perspectives -- is costly even for those who are never caught or who are never formally accused of any wrongdoing. That makes this behavior not only hurtful but stupid.

For sports enthusiasts, imagine basketball players who only comprehend their own playing position. What their teammates do would be mostly a mystery and they certainly couldn't anticipate what members of the opposing team would do or why. Now imagine doing this to the point of knocking other players off balance. The completely ego-driven players would blame others for acting mysteriously or clumsily rather than taking the time and effort to learn why others do what they do on the court and how their actions negatively impact others' performance.

The self-focused might claim that the refs have a grudge and that's why they are getting so many fouls called against them. These players might rack up great personal statistics at the expense of the team and at the expense of the win. They might find their careers ending sooner than some of their less physically talented counterparts who understand every aspect of the game from every perspective and who respect all those who are part of the game.

Some sexual harassers say they do it because occasionally they get the result they want. That makes as much sense as the basketball players who defend their self-focused play because occasionally their team wins.

Treating everyone with thoughtfulness and respect has a lot more benefits in the long term. On the court and off.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:29 AM   4 comments links to this post


At October 04, 2007 1:32 PM, Blogger Mickle said...

Since when does whether someone is guilty hinge only on if they were motivated by the intent to do harm? We don't arrest people for stealing or murder only if they did so because they wanted to hurt other people.

Why would we only convict someone of a crime, even a hate crime, only based on the motivations of the accused, rather than the effect their actions had on their victims?

And why is this so much harder to understand when it comes to sexual assault and harassment?

At October 04, 2007 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this blog posting to be offensive and harassing. Frankly I find myself unable to work and interact properly with any female co-workers any more for being in the constant fear that anything I may do may be construed as harassing them.

The thinly veiled threats of future lawsuits by some other woman towards my unwitting behavior that you make are psychologically damaging to me and are having a negative affect on my career.

I must sue so that you recognize how wrong this is.

At October 04, 2007 2:57 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, your comment reveals that you don't understand anything about the true seriousness of harassment and have zero interest in doing so except for the impact your own harassment might have on you while putting the blame for that impact onto others.

Your behavior is in no way unwitting, it is uncaring. There's a difference.

At June 19, 2008 10:07 AM, Blogger Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Ms. Chester,

I see some excellent points all around.

You are absolutely right in that there are some sociopaths out there who don't care whom they hurt and get what they want at all costs (to others), and that includes sex. That seems to be behind much rape and sexual harassment.

It should also be noted that some - not all, not most, but some - accusations of sexual harassment really are issues of personal dislike or sensitivity, without any intent to harass or knowledge of any bad effects on the part of the accused.

Unfortunately, some adjudications of sexual harassment hinge on the accuser's perception and perception alone. I have, for example, heard a university official adjudicating harassment issues say "If she says it's harassment, it's harassment".

Some harassment accusations are made because the accuser did not like something that the accused did or said, the accuser did not tell the accused and when the accused did not act as if s/he knew something was bothering the accuser, the accuser went to the authorities.

For example, I have heard of accusations on the grounds that the accused visited the accuser's dorm room - not late at night, not in a threatening way, not after having been told not to, but simply visited the accuser's room and the accuser didn't think it was proper.

I have heard of other accusations on the grounds that the accuser had approached people s/he didn't already know in a computer lab and talked to them, and the accuser didn't want to "hurt the other person's feelings" by asking him/her to leave, so the accuser instead went to the authorities first.

I can readily understand how some people do not want to be approached by people they don't know. Even though others have no problem with it (among other things, that's how I met my wife), those who do certainly have a right to reject such approaches.

What they don't have a right to do is impose their preferences on everyone, by trying to put anyone who makes such approaches at risk of harassment accusations.

I have also seen the same approach used in handling workplace harassment accusations. Accuser perception has been taken as final, never mind what the accused may or may not have intended or even known or done. I have even seen the particular details of a harassment accusation withheld from the accused due to "confidentiality" concerns. That of course meant that the accused couldn't even respond to what the accuser said, and management took the accusations as final.

Your statements could all too easily be misinterpreted to cover such incidents. We need to make sure to include the question of whether a reasonable person in the accused's position would necessarily have known that the accuser did not want his/her attentions. Usually that can be accomplished by simply asking the other person to back off in so many words.

Otherwise, personal offense - not to mention deliberate false accusations due to a grudge or any other reason - will be used to manipulate the system and hurt people unfairly. Not only people accused of harassment will suffer, but also people will back off social approaches, fearing a misunderstanding that could lead to such accusations. Both they and people they may have approached who would have enjoyed the experience will suffer too. I suspect the anonymous poster has witnessed some of this too.

You may be right and the anonymous commenter may well have no idea what true harassment is. But s/he definitely has a point: harassers aren't the only people who don't seem to see the difference.

It's clear from what you write that many people don't take sexual harassment and sexual assault efforts seriously. There are indeed rape apologists in this world. Among other things the phonomenon of blaming the victim (of a sexual or other offense) makes me sick; victims should not have to be extra careful to avoid crimes but rather people should stop committing them.

One of the best ways to take the wind out of their sails is to enforce due process in sexual harassment and assault proceedings. Then the anonymous commenter and others will have no room to complain.

What do you think?

Jeff Deutsch

PS: Wrt intent - it generally (not always, but generally) is a requirement for something to be a crime.

For example, if a child runs right out in front of your car, you are unable to stop in time and hit the child, he is as dead as if you had hit him while drunk driving at 90mph or after having decided "I'll kill that kid". But no sane person would punish the driver in the first circumstance. As Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to have said "Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked".

As for theft, the intent to deprive the owner of the property is an essential element. If you take my jacket, honestly believing it was yours, or in an effect to move it to safety (perhaps the roof was leaking right above it), I might miss my jacket just as if you had stolen it, but no one should charge you with a crime.

Likewise for murder (and voluntary manslaughter). Involuntary manslaughter refers to intentional reckless behavior that costs a life, such as driving drunk at 90mph. There may have been no intent to kill or harm, but there was intent to drink and to speed and any reasonable person knows that these actions are dangerous.

PPS: Keep up the good work!


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