Dear Mr. Dad: Over the past month, I don't think there's been a day without a news story of some famous person being accused of sexual assault or harassment. I'm disgusted by these men's behavior, but I'm concerned that one group of victims is being left out: men who are assaulted or harassed by women. At my last job, my female boss frequently made suggestive comments to me, touched my butt, and on several occasions told me that if I slept with her, it would be good for my career. I reported her to HR, but was told that men are the only ones who can sexually harass and that I should just enjoy it. I dropped my complaint and ended up quitting. I can't believe I'm the only guy out there who's been through this. Am I?
A: Sadly, you're not alone. Male-on-female sexual harassment and assault is the most common kind (think Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, and Louis C.K.), followed by male-on-male (think Kevin Spacey). But female-initiated harassment and assault are a lot more common than most people think -- and they get practically zero attention. How common are they? Well, accurate data is hard to come by, because men drastically underreport being the victim of any kind of crime -- especially if it's at the hand of a woman or has anything to do with sex (more on that below). That said, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), about 17 percent of charges of sexual harassment are made by men. And a study done in Australia -- where their sexual harassment/assault statistics are nearly identical to ours -- found that about 5 percent of all formal sexual harassment complaints were lodged by men against women.
So why don't men file sexual harassment or assault claims? Sometimes it's because we're raised to think that we should be able to take care of our problems on our own and that asking for help is weak. When the harasser/assaulter is a man, some guys worry that others will think that they're gay. If the perpetrator is female, guys are afraid of being ridiculed by their coworkers (after all, men always want sex, right, so what real man would turn down an offer?). And then there's the problem that you encountered: a lot of people simply don't believe -- despite plenty of evidence to the contrary -- that women are capable of harassment, assault, or violence. If a woman pats a man's butt, admiringly asks whether he's been working out, and suggestively compliments him on how good he looks, people chuckle. If the roles were reversed, those same people would be outraged (and rightfully so).
Unfortunately, when it comes to media coverage of sexual assault and harassment, I think we've seen only the tip of the proverbial iceberg -- and that's a good thing. But it's important to keep in mind that these problems have less to do with male and female than with power. Those who have more power, whether they're male or female, will always abuse those with less. And as more women out-earn their male counterparts and climb higher up those corporate ladders, we can expect to see many more stories of powerful women abusing their power. Just recently, in fact, Mariah Carey's former bodyguard has been talking about suing his old boss for harassment.
Bottom line, sexual harassment and assault are no joking matter, regardless of your sex. Aside from creating hostile work environments, they can leave the victims feeling depressed, anxious, ashamed, isolated, guilty, and helpless, These and other feelings can interfere with the victim's personal and professional relationships and can generally suck the enjoyment out of life.
The only shot we have at reducing the problem (eliminating it is an impossible dream), victims need to immediately report it and stand their ground until the perpetrator has been punished. And bystanders need to stop standing by and instead, start calling out the perpetrators and supporting the victims.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2017 Armin Brott
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