#Editorial: Sexual Harassment is a Very Contentious Accusation

.(AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

It seems every time there are accusations of sexual harassment against a man, usually of notoriety, they are immediately tried in the court of public opinion. It is also not unusual for these judgments of innocence or guilt to be split along gender and at times culture lines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who gained national recognition at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, is now at the center of a sexual harassment scandal and is being pressured to resign. While this is expected, based on today’s standards, a poll released on Monday by Siena College finds that 50 percent of New York voters do not support his resignation at this time.

Lest we forget, it was just about 40 years ago that our approach to sexual harassment in the workplace changed. Previously, sexual harassment—ranging from verbal overtures to physical contact—wasn’t subject to legal liability. Perpetuators usually received “a slap on the wrist,” if any consequences at all. However, civil rights activists saw such harassment as discrimination against women in the workplace, and contrary to Equal Employment Opportunity regulations.

Courts here heard the first sexual harassment case in 1976, and a major step was taken in 1986 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sexual harassment an illegal form of sexual discrimination. However, in 1991, when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held highly publicized hearings on Anita Hill’s sexual harassment charges against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, employers and employees began taking the issue seriously as a workplace infringement.

More recently, the “Me Too” and other movements have made it their mission to expose sexual harassment and discrimination, primarily of women, wherever this takes place.

Granted, this has led to people—men particularly, despite their specific cultural norm—becoming more aware of how they behave towards women whether in public or private.

A usual question whenever these accusations are made, is why some women wait several years to publicly accuse a man of sexual harassment? A frequent answer is that women who are sexually abused are either embarrassed to make the incident public, or worse, are fearful of repercussions to their reputation, careers, and family if they go public. Both explanations are a serious blight on society, as they admit several women who believed they were sexually harassed are living under serious mental strain.

Others also question the number of women that usually follow each other in accusing a popular or powerful man. Here, the explanation is once the first accusation is made, other women feel emboldened to follow suit. 

It is a sad commentary on modern society, that laws have to exist to ensure men behave respectfully towards women in the workplace and the general society. 

It’s high time that this culture of inappropriate behavior be dismantled.

The bottom line is that by now men should not only be more aware of their behavior towards women, but should also make a conscious effort to adjust to these newer, albeit long overdue, expectations.

As a society, we now acknowledge the devastating effects of sexual harassment and believe the victims’ voices should always be heard; however, we should also let the accused have their day in court.


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