Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Sexual Harassment, Due Process, and the Problem of Sensationalism
The incendiary nature of the topic, unaided by my own clumsiness, invited a number of negative responses to two of my recent blog postings. I endured some withering critiques of the ones entitled, Consent and the Objectification of Women I-II.
In discussing Weinstein and Spacey in those blogs, I emphasized the absence of due process in these two evolving situations. Apparently my highlighting this feature raised concern that I disregard the problem of sexual harassment and related issues.
I do not.
I am not excusing the abusive behaviors the two men are alleged to have committed.
I do not negate or minimize the severity of these types of abuses of power.
In fact, I have significant professional experience with, and great sensitivity to, the problem of abusive men and their victims. In my more than three decades of clinical experience, I have evaluated and treated more than one hundred women abused by men. I have served as an expert witness in legal matters related to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. I have testified regarding the differences between quid pro quo types of harassment and hostile work environments.
Perhaps my gender, and my not having been victimized myself, limit my authority. Nonetheless, I have intimate knowledge about these serious, aggressive problems present mostly in men.
Sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and similar crimes cause long-lasting psychological injuries. Even superficial victimization, i.e. overhearing sexual, objectifying words, can injure self-image or otherwise inflict emotional harm. More serious attacks, ranging from verbal aggression to unwanted touching to actual assault, cause extreme damage.
In most cases, victims never recover completely. Their sexuality is often permanently affected; their personal lives are often ruined. Victims who have been abused as children tend to have exponentially more severe emotional reactions. These emotional scars can last more than a lifetime. They can adversely affect child rearing, resulting in inter-generational trauma.
Of late, I have also evaluated and treated persons whose misdeeds have been exaggerated or who have been falsely accused of abusive behavior. These persons end up victimized themselves, sometimes in similar ways. Some have reputations destroyed, relationships harmed, and lives ruined.
Ironically, the media frenzy surrounding cases of abuse of power creates other abuses of power.
Of course, attention must be paid to various ways some men abuse their power–physically, sexually, financially, and otherwise. I question, as I have in prior blogs, the intensity of the public reactions, the difficulty distinguishing between accusations and crimes, and what columnist David Brooks’ described in today’s New York Times as a siege mentality. I am reminded of McCarthyism, even the Salem witch trials, all of which shared this spirit of accusation equals guilt.
If we seek social justice, then it should be applied equally to all persons regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, or any other category.
I find two specific features of the recent harassment and abuse allegations flooding the media troubling.
First, our minds have been flooded with allegations. The alleged abusers, specifically Weinstein, Spacey, and most recently, Roy Moore, have yet to be formally evaluated by legal processes.
Due process of law, a legal term-of-art, refers to the fundamental principle of fairness governing legal matters. Legal procedures, including notice of rights, must be followed to prevent prejudicial or unequal treatment of persons accused of crimes. These processes safeguard both private and public rights against unfairness. According to the Fifth amendment to the US Constitution,
No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
As horrific as the behaviors of all three men may well be, our democracy can be compromised by an immediate rush-to-judgment for citizens facing allegations.
Weinstein and Spacey will likely never work again.
Moore may lose his senate race. (I pray he does).
Are these just outcomes?
Most seem to think so.
All I know is that I cannot know.
Our personal feelings can be extremely intense.
True justice is best served by patience and rationality.
Second, the way major news outlets, including respectable ones like the New York Times and the Washington Post, sensationally cover these salacious tales fuels public ire and diminishes the power of other news events. Last night on CNN, Anderson Cooper hosted two-hours-worth of talking heads evaluating, reviewing, repeating, discussing and elaborating upon the accusations. It reminded me of the Roman Emperor Augustus’ cry to give the people “bread and circuses.”
Most American’s have sufficient bread.
We definitely have more than enough circuses:
Our president, literally a former reality TV show star, behaves like a clown; our media broadcast tens of ridiculous reality TV shows; our sports events become a national obsession; our minds are overwhelmed by texts, emails, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, more.
However blanketing the print, broadcast, and digital media with sex scandals may increase awareness of sexual misconduct is overshadowed by the resultant dumbing down of the American public.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, CNN in particular has devolved into a talking-head gossip show. While they dissect every details of the Weinstein’s, Spacey’s, and Moore’s penises, they ignore equally severe, if not literally extreme, global problems–raging wars in the middle east, tensions in the south China seas, the opioid epidemic, global warming, the problem of North Korea, and so on ad infinitum.
The Washington Post’s motto reads:
Democracy dies in darkness.
It also dies from confusing allegations with due process.
It also dies from sensationalism.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP