When The Shoe Is On The Other Foot
Like many Americans, I was shocked to hear the news about a prominent broadcaster being accused of sexual harassment. This seems to be a wave that is growing into a tsunami as more and more popular figures are exposed by accusers from actors and producers, to newscasters, and politicians. This is not the first time we have had to deal with sexual deviants in the national news as it was all to common to hear not so long ago about the local sectors of public servants such as teachers and clergy.
As a child, my “manhood” was not realized until the television show “I Dream Of Jeannie” came along. I am not saying that I turned into a crazed dog in heat because of the show, but it was during the show that I finally began to realize that there was a physical difference between genders. But at no time did I ever “feel” differently. The show to me was nothing more than about an astronaut who finds a Jeannie in a bottle, and the slapstick and mayhem begins.
Growing up in a house of women (grandmother, great aunt, mother, and sister), with no other men in the house, I am a bit more sensitive when it comes to respecting women, because that is what I was taught. With my parents divorced, I missed the traditional father/son sitdown chats, or “sharing” Playboys that sometimes occurred. As I began to date, and eventually marry, I always treated my significant other with the respect I was taught.
For the second time in less than a month, I watched members of a popular news show, discuss their feelings as to the revelations, that they were shocked to hear such horrific accusation about someone they felt as a close friend and fellow colleague. They struggled with their emotions to somehow find a way to accept the sexual harassment claims to be tied to some sort of physical or mental illness, something, something to say, this was not the man they knew.
In the work force, you spend a lot of time with your co-workers. Friendships do develop, and sometimes, between consenting adults, other relationships develop. But one thing is clear, harassment and assault are not acceptable anywhere. I remember the whole sexual harassment conversation beginning with the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and sexual harassment accuser Anita Hill. At that time, what it appeared to mean, at least in the work place, no more dirty jokes. It did not matter if both genders participated in telling raunchy jokes, it needed to stop in the event that someone within ear shot, might possibly be offended. But a few years later, I found myself in a situation very similar to the cast of the Today Show.
I had been serving on a Church Council with eleven others. It was a Sunday night when I received a telephone call insisting that I attend an emergency council meeting that evening. All members were required to attend. No details were given.
As we all arrived, also seated at the table were both ministers, but also a regional bishop, very unusual for a church council meeting. There was no easy way to hit us with the news we were told. One of the ministers present, had been accused of having sex with a 16 year old girl while he resided in Germany. The minister explained as much as he could, including a possible reason why this had come up, years after it had occurred. He had been planning a trip back to Germany, with our youth choir, and the girl, now woman, found out, and decided to contact our church.
All of us sat around the table stunned. The minister was quite popular, and in fact had rejuvenated an energy level in the church, not seen in quite some time. Personally, he was a good friend to me as I struggled with my faith, having previously been diagnosed with cancer. The other minister had no time for me, this minister did. I knew his wife and had both of his children in the youth group that I led. As the meeting continued, I found myself not so much concerned about what had happened in the past, but confused about what made no sense about a man I thought I knew. But also, what about his future. The bishop was in attendance because he was urging the council to take action to terminate the employment of the minister. Always outspoken, I immediately challenged the bishop, expressing that the minister had admitted his wrongdoing, dealt with his family, and seemed genuine in his remorse. The bishop was firm. I went further as to why “rehabilitation” was not being considered as would be in the case of a minister with a gambling or alcohol problem, and the bishop made the mistake of saying “victims of sexual abuse are not as severe as those of alcohol.” I was watching my friend, and his life, being destroyed. And then, just as is still often done today, I tried to argue justification, or as it is called today, “victim shaming.” I argued that the culture in Germany (and Europe) was not as uptight as here in the US, and that needed to be considered. I was standing by my friend as he had stood by me in my time of need, as I believed he had turned his life around.
I am not really sure what happened, eventually we would part ways. I was pivotal in getting him employment elsewhere, but then about a year later, he became distant, and our friendship appeared to have ended.
Why did I just tell this story? Because as I watched both CBS, and NBC broadcasters struggle publicly with their feelings about someone close to them, being accused of sexual harassment or abuse, I remembered what happened so many years ago with that church council meeting.
But my feeling are much different now. And I am ashamed that it took this reason for me to feel differently. As the news interviews so many witnesses or opinion generators about the accused, especially men seem in unison, echoing that had it been their daughters being the victims, there would be hell to pay. And it hit me. I do have two daughters now, which I did not back at that council meeting. I now have to have conversations with my daughters how to prevent being placed in a compromising position that would put them at risk. And because they are children, I have assured them, that they are never to believe if someone tells them that either of their parents “will get hurt” if they tell anyone if someone tries to make them do something. I have told them it is never okay for anyone to touch them inappropriately. I have taught them, if it feels wrong, it is wrong.
I was raised to respect women. And at one time, I was blinded by a friendship as to accepting the horrible acts against a young girl by a person with power.
In recent weeks, several entertainers have faced accusations, as have producers, and politicians. For me, I see the same problem still exists that existed years ago. Deny. Blame and shame the victim. Hope it goes away. Very rarely do we hear about members of the clergy in sex scandals, but it still happens. The same with some teachers and students. But now the spotlight is on the popular. But just as those who are lower in popularity, all we hear is denials. Those lower in popularity however, normally face legal consequences. Not so much for the famous. Especially not for the political world.
I can respect someone who has admitted what they have done wrong. And even respect those seeking help. But there is no respect for someone who denies what they have done, knowing full well there would be no legal consequences due to statutes of limitation. From Bill Cosby to Louis CK, to Kevin Spacey, I no longer watch or listen to their works. And the same goes for producers and directors. At least Louis CK admitted his accusations. Our government has many of the predators, and nearly all of them deny, deny, deny. Again, only one has really come out and admitted anything, Al Franken. Again, I respected and admired all the good that he had been doing in our government. But not at the price of those who were victims of abuse of power.
And that is what it is. An abuse of power. The stories coming from NBC, which by the way, previously dealt with a prominent sportscaster and his perversions years ago and NBC obviously did not learn anything, are horrific.
For whatever reason, the political world has no ramifications, even with overwhelming and credible witnesses, even actual video and audio evidence. Everyone who commits these acts, needs to be held accountable, and that includes those that represent us, including the president. Even his own words have had no consequence. No one has the right to treat anyone in this horrific manner.
I once worked for a major company, and we had annual “sensitivity” training. But that is all it was, an annual seat at a computer station. We gave the answers that the company needed to hear.
Peoples lives are and have been destroyed by sexual harassment. Of course there is the family of the predator, but the victims who felt all they could do to survive would be to remain silent. And those who did not remain silent, lost everything along with their job.
We need to take this seriously. Yes, I feel differently. And admittedly, it is because I have two daughters and I do not want them to have to deal with this in their adulthood. I just wish I had felt this strongly back when I had to deal with it.