General Question

funkdaddy's avatar

Are there valid questions to ask a victim of sexual harassment?

Asked by funkdaddy (17777points) December 12th, 2017

When do questions drift into victim blaming and how do you find out what lead to the harassment without causing more damage or shifting blame? Does it matter to find out more?

The question is meant to be a general discussion, but was prompted by one of the latest sexual harassment claims at the NFL network. At least 5 grown, adult, men said extremely explicit things to a female coworker. There’s no question the behavior has no place at work and people should be held accountable, but something seems off about the story so far. Does it matter what lead to the harassment?

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21 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The valid questions are straightforward about who, what, where, when,

Improper questions are those asking the complainant things like “what were you wearing, did you smile or laugh, did you go somewhere with him (or her)...”; anything that attempts to shift the focus of attention to the complainant’s behavior and not the alleged actor.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Basically you don’t ask any questions you wouldn’t ask someone if you were investigating a physical assault that wasn’t sexual in nature.

si3tech's avatar

@funkdaddy Questions on a need to know basis. (not curiosity).

flo's avatar

How about “Did he/she get your consent beforehand”? I don’t think that is a valid question. But please anyone out there explain why.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, if a person is accused of sexual harassment it’s assumed that it was not consensual or it wouldn’t be harassment.

longgone's avatar

Yes, I think the details do matter. Not necessarily for determining what to do about the crime (if there is one), but especially because we’re ignoring the fact that victims might need more help than they’re getting.

It’s easy to put all responsibility on the victim (“just say no”) or the alleged perpetrator, but a more evolved civilization would stop looking at the how so much, and focus on the why. Finding common cause is the key to preventing future crimes. We have to get past the childish war of accusations and find a way to respect each other.

Dutchess_III's avatar

But they don’t handle other crimes like that @longgone. If someone steals a car they don’t say, “Well you should have locked the car so they couldn’t steal it,” or “Well, you should have made your house more burglar proof.” In other crimes they recognize that wrong is just flat wrong.

snowberry's avatar

All that is true Dutchess, however it’s common knowledge that in certain areas insurance rates are higher, simply because of high crime rates. And if you keep your car inside the garage your insurance will be lower just because it’s more secure. I’m not talking about victim blaming, but there are things people can do to reduce the possibility of harassment but certainly not eliminate it.

funkdaddy's avatar

Thanks for the thoughts.

For other crimes it makes perfect sense to ask questions about behavior and what came before. If someone breaks into your house, you’ll definitely be asked if you know the person, if they’ve been in your house before, if they have a key, if they’ve lived there, if the door was locked, and a lot of other questions.

Those circumstances are important in determining what happened and can be mitigating in both a legal and moral sense.

I guess part of what prompted this was there seem to be more cases where it appears everyone was ok with a certain level of behavior that could be considered harassment, and then something changed. Sometimes that’s escalation in the behavior and sometimes it’s something else. A relationship ends, things get nasty, a pattern forms, etc.

At that point, whatever consent was given is withdrawn and the entirety of the behavior is being considered harassment. That doesn’t seem quite right, but I don’t have a clear solution either.

I know the “norm” for too long was that the victims character would immediately be questioned. The thinking was that it was obviously their fault they were harassed in some way, because that stuff doesn’t happen to people who live right and follow the rules. Or something like that. I’m glad we’re away from that.

But I think we’re seeing cases right now where the opposite is true. That the assumption is it doesn’t matter what came before, or the circumstances, the victim is in the right. That doesn’t seem quite right either.

Granted, most of this those observations aren’t in a legal sense, but more in a “media and public opinion” sense, but I was curious how others thought about it.

flo's avatar

Which reminds me of an OP here (I wish I can remember how it was worded. it’s from 2010)about a female reporter who dressed tight short etc. items of clothes and in the locker room of a sports team and they said stuff to her….and she complained, which may have meade the news. Why would the mangement of the team allow anyone other than the athletes in the locker room.

flo's avatar

…And why would the employer of the feamle reporter allow? that kind of attire?

funkdaddy's avatar

@flo – the problem there is male reporters have always been allowed in the locker room, and there’s a history of different treatment for women there. Since a lot of the unguarded interviews happen in the locker room, right after games, it was becoming a big deal. Female reporters were at a disadvantage.

The other portion is that female sports reporters are often chosen based on looks. We could argue reasons, and it’s changing in the last few years, but search female sports reporters on google and this is what you get. At a minimum, we have to acknowledge what’s out there.

So employers would be asking them to be “hot” enough to get viewers, but not hot enough to make a locker room full of 20-something guys comment. The standard on-air attire for even in studio female sports reporters is a short dress and high heels. That’s not really on the women and is unreasonable to ask them to appear that way on air, then break out the burqa for the locker room.

It’s time to kick everyone out of the locker room, but there’s an entire industry built on breathlessly waiting for the next interesting statement from those guys. So that won’t happen.

But everyone there is at work, so asking them to treat it like a workplace seems reasonable.

Dutchess_III's avatar

So much ado about nothing. It’s simple. No women in the men’s locker room when it’s full of players hot off the field, and no men in the women’s locker room when it’s full of players hot off the field. They’re changing clothes!!

snowberry's avatar

Oh, @Dutchess_III But that’s so sensible! And that’s why it won’t work! It’s too easy, too smart, too… too.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dutchess_III How about this:

No women reporters in the men’s locker room when it’s full of players hot off the field, and no men reporters in the women’s locker room when it’s full of players hot off the field. They’re changing clothes!! Otherwise, you are perpetuating the uneven paradigm.

Or, maybe people could stop acting like jerks and the players change and the reporters ask questions about the game.

Dutchess_III's avatar

OK. I go with your solution @zenvelo.

snowberry's avatar

Sure! Just tell people to behave! Has that admonition ever worked, anywhere?

flo's avatar

@funkdaddy Thanks for the great responses. Except for the Burqua part, since it is not supposed to be one extreme or the other.

flo's avatar

By the way I’ve never heard of male sports reporters going into the female athlelets locker room.

Dutchess_III's avatar

This is pretty interesting.

I went looking for something to answer your question @flo. The answer is “Yes.” (see linked article) “Guess what? There hasn’t been a whisper of controversy involving this issue. You want to know why? Well, the women of the WNBA decided to do something totally radical.

Here it is:

They decided to leave on their clothes. That’s right. The men come in to interview the women and what the players do, essentially, is get dressed before the game during a time when they know that the locker room is not open. And after the game they sit in front of their lockers, still in uniform, and do their interviews before they shower. That’s it. End of story. And no one, apparently, has had any problems or complaints.

Wow. What a concept.

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