Sexual harassment charges aren't going away

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Sexual harassment isn’t just a complaint – it’s become a small industry of legal specialists ready to accuse or defend, plus consultants called in to educate workers.
On the job, I’ve sat through a few of these workshops.
Lots of people have, and yet the lawyers and consultants haven’t run out of work. And late-night comedians still have plenty of fodder.
As Herman Cain, Republican candidate for president, fights his battles with accusers, we see new accusations against two managers at the state Workforce Solutions Department, of all places. “Multiple” women in the call center complain of unwanted physical touching, crude remarks and supervisors who ask them for dates, according to news reports.
Days later news came a disturbing report by the American Association of University Women that nearly half of mid- and high-school students – 56 percent of girls, 40 percent of boys – will experience some form of sexual harassment during the school year. Only 9 percent will complain.
Our reactions to these allegations usually depend on personal experience.
As a woman, I know this goes on. A state legislator, years ago, put his hand on my knee. Fortunately, he’s no longer serving. I’ve heard much worse.
On the flip side, I once advised a good male friend about how to address a false allegation.
This man, absolutely devoted to his wife and family, is a physical therapist; he must touch people to do his work. An emotionally unbalanced woman nearly cost him his career.
For this reason a lot of doctors keep a nurse or assistant in the room when examining women – a precaution and additional expense.
The workplace can be a minefield of mixed signals. My mother, an attractive woman, had a supervisor who told her dirty jokes.
She hated it, but she always laughed at the jokes because he was the supervisor, because she needed the job, and because women of her generation laughed at men’s jokes.
She taught me to do the same, but that bit of parenting didn’t stick.
So I think I can view the Cain accusations with a fair degree of balance.
That said, there are certain men whose rise to political prominence produces a parallel rise in women with complaints.
Herman Cain can “vehemently deny” all he wants, but in a large field of candidates, he’s the only one fending off sexual harassment complaints.
The other argument is that the media have been tougher on Cain than they were on straying Democrats.
Hardly. Each one has received an equal opportunity trashing by the media.
If we were to measure coverage of indiscretions in space and minutes, nobody in this lifetime is likely to exceed Bill Clinton.
Nor has Cain gotten the drubbing of John Edwards, who chose to roam during his wife’s tragic illness.
People aren’t as dumb as candidates think they are.
A survey taken before the fourth allegation showed that a majority of Americans believe coverage of Cain has been fair.
Cain, for his part, is showing us he can’t take the heat, and heat is at the top of the job description.
Frankly, a lot of us are glad these women are coming forward – not because we dislike Herman Cain but because they give others courage to do the same.
It’s no picnic. Each one leaves behind the private cocoon of her life to be questioned, threatened and disparaged.
In the workplace these things go on longer than they might because people fear for their jobs.
As for the state, it’s pretty pathetic that the Workforce Solutions Department can’t get it right.
Along with investigating the accusations, this and other departments need to examine their training and office culture.
If you’re the unwilling recipient of offensive comments, jokes, texts, emails or touches, know that it’s not acceptable.
You have options, thanks to others who have spoken up.

Sherry Robinson
© 2011 New Mexico News Services