Scandal and outrage over sexual harassment

Opinion: Columns

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By Fred Natkevi

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The tragedy of predatory sexual misconduct has become politicized. In the electioneering of 2016, Billy Bush of Access Hollywood disclosed a recording wherein presidential candidate Donald Trump implied that women can be groped with impunity. When outrage flared, the candidate dismissed his remarks as "locker room talk." But in a suffragette-like movement, women protested, and mandated a change in attitudes.

Now a year later, a volcanic eruption of outrage protesting sexual misconduct inundates the news. Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Ashley Judd, women of stature and prominence, are among 30 women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. Nine women have accused Judge Roy Moore, a candidate for U.S. Senate of sexual assault. A photo shows Senator Al Franken in a groping pose in front of a sleeping woman. Actor Kevin Spacey has been accused by more than a dozen men of sexual abuse.

A change in our psycho-social environment has empowered victims of sexual abuse to shed their guilt and shame, allowing them the freedom to put the spotlight on the offenders. After suffering years of emotional trauma in silence, victims are now coming forth to seek justice. They are worthy of our support, compassion, and understanding.

Sexual predation is heinous. It is a terrible misuse of power and dominance. Sexual crimes against women are vile misogynistic expressions. Males' criminal sexuality against other males is a disdainful defilement of masculinity.

Sexual misconduct permeates all socio-economic strata and is not confined to individuals of prominence. However wealthy offenders have means to "buy" the victim's silence as "damage control." They escape punishment befitting their crime, and remain free to strike again.

Predators, like the terrorists they are, strike the most vulnerable and defenseless in stealth-providing surroundings. Often work places are the crime scenes. In a hostile work environment, co-workers, supervisors, and management are all potential offenders.

Corporate America's response to sexual misconduct is to distance and disassociate itself from the perpetrators. Corporations cancel contracts, withdraw sponsorships, and issue policy statements on sexual misconduct intolerance. In religious communities, it is called "shunning." Another form of shunning is the current registration of sexual offenders. It is a form of quarantine that brands the offender as a pariah, but gives no solace to the victims. Shunning does not address the offender's pathological mind-set and does not serve as a deterrent.

Our laws require that the accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But there is little advocacy and support for the victims. In court, defense attorneys challenge the accuser's credibility. In this attempt to provide an adequate defense, they add insult to injury, and further devastate the already wounded and stigmatized victims. The prospect of such daunting procedures tend to deter victims from even coming forward. Justice is not served when wronged people are injured, maligned, defamed, disgraced, and traumatized by the court proceedings.

Sexual misbehavior threatens the quality of life for both offender and victim. It is much too destructive to be dismissed as boyish mischief. I reserve my compassion for the victims, and I salute their courage. But compassion is not enough. Victims deserve much more. In addition to justice, recourse and compensation, victims need support, advocacy and encouragement in rebuilding their lives.

Fred Natkevi is a longtime resident of Oak Park.

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