Monday, October 15, 2007

One step forward, one step back...

On the one hand, a post on the omnipresence in pornography of degrading and violent behaviour.

On the other hand, a case digest titled "degrading and rude behaviour not necessarily sexual harassment."


So, if a judge says to a female defence lawyer, in open court, that she has a "nice butt", does that constitute sexual harassment? Or is it just "degrading and rude behaviour"?


On a related topic, here is an article discussing recent sexual harassment cases in the U.S. and arguing that the fact that the complainants won in those cases is attributable to a "change of climate" in the workplace, in that corporate milieus in the U.S. are becoming increasingly less tolerant towards such behaviour.

The article also includes a list of things you can do if you are sexually harassed in a professional setting.

This is a fine and thorough list, but when you're confronted with someone who physically threatens you, who touches you without your consent, who makes you feel like you're there for his personal (sexual) enjoyment, and when this person is a position of authority or power vis-à-vis you, such that you might lose your job or get dragged in the mud for complaining about the unwanted behaviour, it begs the question: to report or not to report?

As with many other things, it is easier said than done. Not that women lack reasons to come forward. But still... Having to balance the shame, embarrassment and personal risk to one's reputation, with the guilt that the perpetrator might strike again, and prey on another victim, is an unbearable exercise.


"See, I don't know what to do.

"I keep having fantasies about leaving her dictaphone under the pillow. Or following her when she goes to work.

"I've been lying about where I'm going, just in case I can bump into her..."

What would you do it was the case? What if your weren't sure it was so? Would you risk everything you have, everything you have become, for the (potentially remote) possibility that someone you don't know might suffer the same fate?


In a class discussion on the difficulties created by our legal system that deterred women from reporting sexual assault (among others, the fact that in many circumstances, evidence of a complainant's sexual history will be considered relevant in court, which allows for the victim to be cross-examined on her past sexual behaviour), one of my professors (an older man) boldly stated that reporting sexual assault did not depend on such legal hurdles, but rather on a victim's individual bravery.

He then went on to say that people in Iraq had gone out to vote, even though they were risking their lives in the process. He said that if the Iraqi people who had chosen to vote could be so brave, then why wouldn't sexual assault victims be able to come forward. After all, it is not, he said, as if their lives were at risk.

When I heard that comment, my heart sank. I felt as if he had just called one in four women in the classroom cowards.

Reporting is an individual decision. Not reporting is not an act of cowardice, but rather an attempt at self-preservation.

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