Response to senator’s sexual harassment allegations problematic

Posted in Sexual Harassment on September 2, 2014

In the ongoing fight for a more equal workplace, it is disheartening to hear that those who should be leading by example are setting the wrong example. In recent days, there has been a discussion throughout the national media about stories told by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic U.S. Senator from New York.

In her recently published memoir, Gillibrand tells stories of being sexually harassed by male colleagues on a number of occasions. The sexual harassment allegedly included inappropriate comments and unwanted touching, and mostly occurred during her workouts in the congressional gym.

Although unsurprising, it is nonetheless disheartening to hear that male members of Congress treat women with this kind of disrespect. Unfortunately, the reactions to Ms. Gillibrand’s stories of sexual harassment have also shifted to victim blaming.

For many reasons, Gillibrand has not mentioned her harassers by name. But critics and even apparent supporters are criticizing Gillibrand for not naming names. This has essentially amounted to accusations that she is either failing to stand up to her harassers or is simply making up accusations.

Victim blaming and victim shaming are two common reactions to allegations of sexual harassment. They are also two of the main reasons that female victims are often hesitant to come forward. Common examples of victim blaming/shaming include:

  • The idea that the victim was “asking for it” by the way that she talked or dressed
  • The belief that the victim is being “too sensitive” and cannot take a joke
  • The belief that the victim should take the harassment as a compliment
  • The assumption that the victim doesn’t name her harassers publicly so that the accused do not have a chance to refute her allegations
  • The belief that the public deserves to know names of alleged harassers if the victim comes forward with any allegations
  • The belief that naming names will silence skepticism rather than causing even more of it

Ms. Gillibrand presumably told these stories in the hopes of showing that sexual harassment is still a problem and that there needs to be more public conversation about it. Instead, the conversation and criticism have shifted toward her.

Until or unless victim blaming/shaming are halted, there can be no deeper discussion about sexual harassment.

Source: Slate, “Kirsten Gillibrand Should Not Name Her Harassers,” Amanda Marcotte, Aug. 29, 2014