The decades-old tolerance for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, in entertainment, in the political sphere and elsewhere, is finally getting a good deal of deserved attention, principally by the “me-too” movement, albeit quite inconsistent and sometimes unreasoned, overly harsh and simplistic attention.
There are people like Geraldo Rivera who cannot seem to distinguish the difference between assault and courtship. There are people who advocate for a no tolerance policy. All these views fail to recognize the need to exercise discretion and judgement in evaluating each claim because each is unique. The circumstances of every instance and every accusation are different; they each vary in many ways and degrees; they are all nuanced; there are many gray areas and very few clear bright lines. Differences in degree matter.
As Seattle Times columnist, Danny Westneat, pointed out in his December 13, 2017, column, zero-tolerance rules are unreasonable and lead to unreasonable and sometimes ridiculous results. Zero tolerance is for intellectually lazy decision-makers; those fearful of or incapable of making reasoned tough decisions.
It is time to consider some further implications about the way that claims of sexual assalt and improprieties have been addressed in the media and by politicians and voters. Some of this may seem a bit moot now with the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama Senatorial race, but there is still much to reflect on.
What the popular notions in the public debate seem to be ignoring is that there are degrees of wrongdoing and different levels of evidence. It is always a question of how strong is the evidence and what does it prove. It is a matter of weighing the evidence and fitting the punishment to the crime. While all such conduct must be condemned, that does not mean that the remedy, the penalty should be the same — that every transgression should be punished by a social, economic or political death penalty.
Another common phenomenon occurring in the social and workplace context is actual, totally mutual and uncoerced consensual romantic and sexual relationships. These relationships, referred to by Geraldo Rivera as “courtship,” far outnumber the harassment and assault incidents that are so much the focus in the news, but are ignored and evade comment there. These relationships are far different, they are in an entirely different realm. They are typified by the office romanse and affairs between coworkers. For example, the doctor who falls in love with the nurse — he gets a divorce, they get married. Not to be ignored is the fact that sometimes the woman is the instigator, sending subtle but unmistakable signals, communicating a willingness, giving a come-on. These very common human relationships must not to be confused, as they sometimes are, with claims of unwanted sexual attention. Each case has its own individual, unique dynamics and nuances of circumstances. Where does it cross the line from true consent to coercion from an imbalance of power. That may be clear in most instances but difficult to discern in some others.
On the other hand, we often hear the partisan defenders of those accused of wrongdoing say allegations of wrongdoing against their favored public figures must be put aside without a full investigation and that the accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But these arguments invoke a rule of criminal law. Such rules have no place in the elections and evaluating the fitness of candidates for office or other public figures. The better rule of evidence is the one used in civil law, the preponderance of the evidence. Or as one old grizzled trial attorney once explained “In the civil case the side with the most witnesses wins.” Certainly in the political arena numbers should count. We found that out in the gradual way that the mounting accusations against Seattle mayor Murray finally met the public burden of proof and swung public opinion leading to his resignation.
So how can the supporters of Roy Moore — or Trump for that matter — ignore the numbers, and the circumstances. The dating between a 30s-something adult male with teenagers cannot be classified as a consensual romantic relationship or acceptable courtship even though the mother approves. All of these accusers can’t all be politically motivated liars — and there was never any evidence that they were. If they are believed — and they should, by a preponderance of the evidence — then it follows that Roy Moore and Trump are liars by denying their claims. If Roy Moore were the true Christian he professes to be he would confess his sins and ask for forgiveness.
The irony of all of this is that those accused of sexual impropriety, sometimes of a less severe nature, duration or degree, who do in fact confess their wrongdoing and apologize — they are the ones who have to resign; those who lie and deny wrongdoing get a pass from their hypocritical partisan and religious supporters. For these supporters, “He denies it,” is enough. No proof necessary. As President Trump would say, “Sad!”
Jerry Cronk, Shoreline Washington, December 17, 2017