LL Lewis

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Sexual Harassment is About Power, Not Sex

L.L. Lewis has written about her experience as a 17 year old college freshman, My surreal experience reporting staff sexual molestation to my college administration,” published in today’s American Thinker website.

How many will blame this woman for writing her story now and claim that she’s exploiting Herman Cain’s “troubles” or the Penn State sexual molestation cases? She’s just asking for it, right?

Ms. Lewis did the right thing, even as a 17 year old, and was treated as though she was the perpetrator, not the victim. “Blame the victim” is common in sexual harassment and that is one reason why the perpetrators get by with it.

What’s often overlooked when we discuss sexual harassment is that the abuse is not due to sexual needs or attraction.  At its base is the power and control that the abuser believes he has. He does it because he can, because he’s smarter than the rest of us, and – because of the sexual element introduced by his actions – he can get his thrills (even without actual sexual acts) and she will be intimidated, limited and/or humiliated  – even more than she already is – if she objects.

The abusers are usually in positions of some power, but not always. They like to take advantage of hourly wage earners and students, but even professional women are not immune. The common thread is that there is some element of “deniability.” — because who would believe them? “He said/she said” is a powerful accusation as well as a comment on the circumstances.

Like this doctor: it’s just part of his job, he was just being friendly and helpful, making a joke, or it was just a compliment, etc. She misinterpreted, needs a sense of humor, or is fantasizing or is just plain ol’ crazy. And  – wait for it – she hates men or is prejudiced for some reason against the man.

There is also an underlying theme among those who should react and protect that “There but for the Grace of God go I,”  and the very real liability that lawsuits could bring. That’s why the Dean of Students in this story made such a point about the doctor being a good husband and family man: part defense, part inoculation against similar accusations.  Who among us has not had some moment when we were tempted or inadvertently found ourselves in a near-compromising position? And everyone has heard the stories about the litigious, gold-digger, the temptress who becomes the scorned woman and exploits laws against sexual harassment for money, advancement or out of meanness.

One of the best things my parents did was to teach me to speak up for myself and to protect myself. I remember Daddy teaching us girls “where to kick” when we probably were too short to kick “there.”  We certainly didn’t have any idea *why.*

I’m not saying that every act of sexual harassment is really threatening or requires a response. I would be willing to bet that every woman and most men remember some episode when they knew that they were made uncomfortable because of their gender, whether in a sexual way or professionally. Most of us let it slide, ignored it and learned to deal with it. I’m proud of similar times in my life. But my cheeks still burn at the memory of others and a couple are just confusing. I am also proud of times when I stood up to harassers and of the couple of times when I defended others.

There are certainly times – as with Mr. Cain’s troubles – when we must judge who is the victim and when “He said/She said” is all we have to go on. My wish is that we who call ourselves Conservatives will attempt to lay aside our own prejudices and emotions to defend the true victims.



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