The Editor’s Desk: Harassment claims

Many women — including yours truly — have upsetting stories to tell. Listen to them.

Hi there! It’s your frequent questioner here. And you want to ask about the need to rake your leaves again? No problem; the Nature Conservancy of Canada, no less, has said that it’s actually a good idea to leave your leaves on the grass over the winter.

Well, actually, I wanted to talk about all these sexual harassment charges that are flying around. Okay; how can I help you?

What’s with all that? It seems that a lot of powerful guys have been exerting their power by sexually harassing—and in some cases allegedly raping—women, for reasons best known only to themselves (hint: “power”).

It sounds like almost every woman has a story to tell about being sexually harasses or abused. Many women do, from unwanted comments and touches to full-on assault. And it’s not just from powerful men who can help or harm their careers, either.

It sounds like you might have a story. Yes. Many years ago I was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance from a man I felt was a good (platonic) friend. We were both deeply involved in a society in Vancouver, and during a visit to his house for coffee one evening while his wife was away he felt the need to pin me to the couch and start to make forceful advances.

Wow. That must have been—upsetting. Yes, it was. Very much so.

What happened? When I rebuffed him he stopped, apologized profusely, and that was the end of it. Many other women have obviously not been so fortunate.

Are you sure you didn’t—send out signals or something, that he misinterpreted? Positive.

Okay; but can we ask him about this? No; he died several years ago. And by the way, why would you need to confirm this with him? If I said “My house was broken into,” would you need to get a second opinion before you believed me?

Well, no, but … innocent until proven guilty, you know. I quite agree. But when a woman comes forward and says in no uncertain terms “This happened to me,” you’re not being asked to sit as a juror; you’re being asked if you think what the woman is saying is plausible and credible. Hiding behind “innocent until proven guilty” is the same as saying “Unless/until the man in question is convicted in a court of law, I don’t believe you and what you’re alleging.” Which—to forestall your next question—is one of the reasons so many women don’t tell these stories at the time they happen.

Are there other reasons? Lots. See your question about sending out signals, which is one women who allege harassment or worse get thrown at them. They also get blame: “Well, you shouldn’t have worn that outfit/had a drink/been alone with him” and more, which dodges the whole “The guy shouldn’t have said/done what he did” aspect. Again, if I said my house was broken into, would you say it’s my fault for having nice things a burglar would want?

No. Exactly.

Sorry if I upset you. We’re good. And here’s a link to that piece about leaves, in case you don’t believe your luck:

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