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Sexual harassment and our responsibility as men

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

The BDN’s story this week of a Bangor prison guard who sexually harassed women over a period of years is both disturbing and familiar. In the days following the story there is outrage and a call for action. Sadly, by this time next month it will be little more than an unpleasant memory for those not directly affected.

I spoke about this with a law enforcement friend of mine. His face showed profound sadness and he simply said, “This happens every five to ten years. We strip budgets and leave people unsupervised. It’s obviously inexcusable and should never happen, but it does. We’re not willing to fund jails and prisons to a level that ensures safety. “

He’s right on a systemic level. I wonder though if there would be as much outrage if it were only inmates who were harassed and not coworkers and volunteers. Are we a culture who views incarcerated individuals as deserving of safety or do we devalue the lives of those in our jails and prisons?

On a personal level, the responsibility remains unchanged yet unfulfilled – as men, if we witness or reasonably suspect sexual harassment, we have a responsibility to act.

That should go without saying, but it continues, and too many of my brothers are not stepping up.

I understand the fear of workplace repercussions. I understand that sub-cultures exist in many professions and organizations of every kind. But to me, this is simple – this is a matter of personal responsibility and what it means to be a good man.

To not intervene while knowing that a woman is being harassed or assaulted is to devalue all women.

I can preach to you as a father, as a husband, as someone who professionally serves those overcoming sexual abuse and assault…but here’s the thing:

Outrage is easy and responsibility is hard.

Here’s my problem: I’m getting old and I’m sick of this shit.

Here’s what’s really eating at me: I teach a class of 16 college students – 14 of which are women under 25 years of age. When I had them read the BDN article in class, they looked at me like, “Same shit different day.”

They’re right. Brent Kavanaugh. Al Franken. Donald Trump. This is our culture.

Men who are secure in themselves do not objectify or diminish women. Men who are honorable do not use power for illicit gain. Men who are simply decent human beings do not make women feel unsafe in any way.

Safety is the most vital of all human needs and yet it is rarely discussed among men. We take it for granted. Few of us are vigilant while walking to our cars in a dark parking lot. Few of us are concerned with anything being dropped in our cocktail and damned few of us face the possibility of being sexually harassed.

It is a testament to our social privilege that we take these things for granted. We must come to see our privilege as creating responsibility to ensure equality, egalitarianism, and above all, safety.

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