In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, any woman who
was raped was foolish to report it because unless she was dead or nearly
so, she must have “wanted” it or “asked” for it or dressed in such a way
that she “deserved” it. After the most traumatic experience, the
policeMEN would grill and insult her trying to find any contradiction in
her claim. In some parts of the world, they still stone to death or stab
to death a woman who has been raped in order to “cleanse” the community.
In a news item in the 70s, police found the dismembered body of a woman
in the bathtub of a man’s apartment. “She was a prostitute,” one man
replied, justifying the horror, ignoring that no civilization can
survive if they allow people to do that to a dog.
In the same city, there was a bar that
called itself “The Silent Woman Tavern” with a plaque depicting a woman
with her head cut off.
At the time, if a woman lived with a man
without being married, she would be likely to be fired from her job,
denigrated by his family and friends, shunned by most of the community,
and believed to be a fool. “Whose going to buy the cow when they can get
milk for free?” was the accepted “wisdom.” A woman was a cow to be
either bought or used.
Sexual mores tend to take centuries, if
not millennia, to change. That they have changed so rapidly in these
times is worth noting.
Unchanged, however, has
been the blind eye toward harassment. A confusion has remained between
harassing and dating, especially when it involves a situation of power.
Many years ago in a college
in the hinterlands at a time and place where most people refused to
believe this happened —and if it did, it was the victim’s fault—the
chair of a psychology department made a student his assistant. She
graded all of his papers. She was in the building at night whenever he
wanted her to be there. She was kept from having any social life with
other students, a virtual slave to this married man with three children.
She needed his recommendation to move on to graduate school—something he
was reluctant to give.
Jess Denson, currently a
professor in a Pacific Coast college related that an instructor in her
department dated students habitually—that doesn’t sound so bad, but it
worked out really badly for the students and their children. The
instructor—we’ll call him Ichabod for both his physical and behavioral
resemblance to Washington Irving’s character—preyed upon recently
divorced women who were coming out of abusive relationships. In one
case, he wrote a poem to the woman that he published in the student
literary magazine. He was with her and her three children (girls aged
six, three and a half, and a baby twelve months old), at a student
opened mike poetry reading. Eager to show off his own efforts, he went
to the stage and as he walked away from the family, the baby started
crying—she was that attached to him. Soon, he found a student more
attractive, and the mother of three with her family were simply tossed
aside with no explanation. He repeated that again, and again, usually
with young women who had just come out of bad marriages—and nearly
always including families with young children who couldn’t understand
why he had simply disappeared.
Perhaps the worst aspect of
this predatory behavior is that Ichabod was enabled by a cotillion of
minimally qualified housewives—not homemakers, housewives: half a dozen
women who played at being instructors and made Ichabod department chair
so that he could give them special favors with courses and scheduling in
violation of seniority and the contract, and they would accept each of
his student paramours as part of the group—until, that is, he
unceremoniously dumped them without a word and brought along someone
else. His cotillion turned a blind eye to all the pain Ichabod was
causing, even though two of his victims included members of the
department and of their own little clique.
The first of his department
liaisons caused the instructor, despite having a young son, to divorce
her husband (who afterwards labeled her “the black widow”). The Black
Widow responded to being dumped by constantly complaining about how
Ichabod couldn’t be a descent chair because he was always out surfing.
She left no opportunity to castigate his behavior, yet with any opening,
she invited him into her office for a chat.
The second department
affair was with an instructor who was made chair after Ichabod’s term
was up. After he dumped her, he was eligible to be, and became, chair
again, and all this resulted in meetings where the ex-chair-ex-affair
“got even” by playing footsie under the conference table with a young
male new hire in the department. Ichabod continued to use department
meetings to flirt with the youngest female instructor whom Jess dubbed
Katrina Van Tassel.
This avalanche of
unprofessional behavior not only made department meetings ridiculous but
meant that no serious matters could be addressed.
One of Ichabod’s affairs
was with a woman in another department whose husband furiously accosted
her in the parking lot for her misdeeds.
At one point, when Jess
was on the appointments committee, Ichabod told her that a part-time
instructor could no longer be hired because a student had accused him of
molesting her. “He admitted it!”
Ichabod laughed. “You
don't admit it!” he continued.
Having endured many years
of Icahbod’s harassing students and younger staff, Jess was complaining
about the problem in a small group when the assistant to an assistant
vice president claimed that having heard about it, she had to conduct an
“investigation.” This was supposedly on Jess’s behalf, yet Jess asked
her not to do that. She maintained that she “had to” do it. It involved
having individual meetings with every member of the department in a
relatively public manner.
After Investigator started
her circus, the human resources director told Jess that Investigator
always did that and always decided in favor of the accused. So she did
in this case.
What she found was, in
fact, hostile workplace environment given that the members described the
department meetings and conduct accurately, but she was too obtuse and
inept to know that or to care figuring that the more popular option
would be to side with the accussed. The “Katrina
Van Tassel” in the department over whom Ichabod used department meetings
to slather “didn’t mind” being slathered over, so Investigator found no
wrong, never mind that it created a hostile environment for the half of
the department who were women not taken seriously because they weren’t
A presentation about
harassment had been given to faculty by a law firm within the previous
year. A recent article maintained that companies do this to protect
themselves. By having presentations, they can claim that they are taking
action against harassment while ignoring ongoing problems.
Jess was so appalled by the
outcome that she contacted a law firm. The firm, run by women, stated
that they made their business defending companies against harassment
charges and felt that representing a plaintiff might make their higher
paying clients hesitant to hire them. Good for a women’s firm to be
successful, Jess thought, still….
In one case in the 90’s, a PhD student in
a major university found her lab vandalized and her work destroyed after
declining her professor’s advances. Even though this professor had
harassed students a number of times before, and the administration was
aware of it, they sided with him and made the student sign a legal
document stating that she would never talk about the incident. She had
been close to earning her doctorate in a very important field and was
thrown out of the university for being harassed.
One of the most notorious cases involving
child rape is the Penn State horrors in which Jerry Sandusky raped boys
for at least fifteen years and probably much longer under the protection
and enabling by head football coach Joe Paterno.
In a memo to Paterno, reported at the
time, college officials hoped that Sandusky “would get the message” and
not rape any more boys. That’s little different from hoping that a
murderer would “get the message” and stop killing people. The NCAA took
away the record of all of Paterno’s wins, but then restored them.
Restoring is tantamount to another crime, and Penn State will remain in
ignominy for decades to come.
Sandusky’s years of crimes were finally
stopped by graduate assistant Mike McQueary. He thought that he was
fulfilling his obligation by reporting what he had seen to Paterno. He
was the first person to do the right thing, but doing so has ruined his
life. He is a hero and should be recognized as such. He had no way of
knowing that Paterno was enabling Sandusky.
Rape and harassment put the victim’s mind
in a cage. Account after account demonstrates that such attacks damage a
psyche to the point of crippling the personality.
Things have changed a great deal since
the 1950s, but they have not changed nearly enough.
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