Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sexual Harassment: Why Herman Cain and The Commentators Don't Get It

As I listened to NPR this morning, I heard a report that Herman Cain said he was having a hard time remembering the details of the accusations (and settling) of sexual harassment charges. A male respondent I heard on CNN had said something like, "that happened twenty years ago; why is it even an issue now?"

I felt my blood boil. I was a victim of sexual harassment by a faculty member in 1976. I remember every minute of it, including having a professor hand me a room key, and finding the note on the door when I next came to my TA job, "your services are no longer needed." I also remember the woman faculty member who I went to saying, "It happens to women; we'll find you another TA job."

I remember exactly how I felt watching Anita Hill testify against Clarence Thomas, and how every detail of my own experience came flooding back. I remember how I felt when there was finally a federal law and definition of sexual harassment, so that future generations of women wouldn't experience what I had.

This week, I did the first required training ever for the staff of a national religious denomination on sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, because of the law, may no longer be as blatant as it was when a faculty member fired me for not having sex with him. But it still exists; workplaces including faith based organizations still need training on sexual harassment prevention; and women and men need to know that they can come forward and be taken seriously.

I'm hoping that Mr. Cain learns that lesson this week.

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