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Editorial: Time to stop the cycle of abuse
Rash of sexual misconduct cases points out the need to speak out, teach proper behavior to youth
11182017 SEXUAL HARASSMENT MARCH
Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (Damian Dovarganes) - photo by Associated Press

The most surprising thing about the avalanche of sexual misconduct claims in the news recently is how unsurprising it is.

Though the names themselves often may be shocking, it is all too familiar to many who have witnessed or endured this kind of behavior, and evidently has been going on for quite some time. Now the floodgates have opened from entertainment, politics, the news media and all the way to the current occupant of the White House, and who isn’t the first president accused of such.

Many of those accused have admitted to their wrongdoings; others deny them. In the court of public opinion, guilt shouldn’t be assumed based on a single allegation, though a chorus of victims echoing similar stories can lead to that conclusion.

More surprising than news of abuse are those willing to defend politicians and excuse their misdeeds because it’s “our guy” instead of “their guy.” So Democrats attack Roy Moore and Donald Trump but defend Bill Clinton, John Conyers or Al Franken, and Republicans vice versa. It’s as if a new moral equivalency has emerged, determined not by the acts committed but whether these men fit a political orthodoxy that makes them useful despite their flaws. When we venture down that path, we have truly lost our way. 

Either we have moral standards or we don’t; they can’t be applied arbitrarily based on partisan perspectives.

Some of the accused have suffered harsh consequences. Entertainers have lost roles on TV shows or movies, and in a few cases, face criminal charges. Politicians aren’t as easily dismissed from their jobs, which is up to voters to decide. In Moore’s case, he’ll learn his fate soon in Alabama.

Closer to home, such cases don’t involve the rich and powerful but still include men of influence violating the trust of others who felt powerless to resist. They include government officials, teachers, coaches, scout leaders and, all too often, even relatives.

While the fame of those accused and the nature of their transgressions vary, there are a few common threads that tie them together.

  • They were in a position of power over their victims and took advantage of it to abuse them.
  • They counted on their job stature, wealth, fame or influence to protect them from being discovered.
  • They are all men, so far, though not all of the victims involved are women.
  • And in most cases, they are accused of doing it more than once, indicating not a solitary lapse of judgment or a misunderstanding but a pattern of behavior. 

For everyone who wants to excuse this conduct as “boys being boys” and believe these stories have been blown out of proportion due to “political correctness,” it’s past time to abandon the notion that this is acceptable. The same goes for those who have endured such abuse but shrugged it off as inconsequential and turned the other cheek, leaving future victims vulnerable to the same.

If you think that way, try putting yourself in a position of being subordinate to someone in a workplace or other environment who crosses the line into sexual misconduct. Spurning their unwelcome advances or telling anyone about it could harm your career, or lead to embarrassment or reprisals. No one should have to face that choice.

There’s no positive way to spin this. Those who are guilty are predators, in some cases pedophiles, and worthy of contempt. Anyone with a mother, sister, wife or daughter, or who has any respect for human decency, can’t give them a free pass. 

The glimmer of hope from these appalling revelations is that shining a spotlight on what has been going on for years may eventually lead to an awakening and long overdue change. With so many victims now coming forward, others may be willing to end their silence. Perhaps the daily “perv walk” in the news will serve as a stark warning to those who still act inappropriately and as a lesson to all, especially young people. 

Girls can learn to resist unwanted advances, that staying silent is not an obligation but a choice, and that credible claims will be believed and acted upon. Boys should be taught that forcing yourself on someone is at best, rude and obnoxious, and at worst, criminal behavior. All should learn to respect and not objectify the opposite sex, and to nurture healthy, intimate relationships through mutual trust and affection, not through twisted misuse of power.

Stopping this starts in the home with parents sending a clear message. It extends to schools and community agencies like the Boys &  Girls Clubs, Boys Scouts, Girls Scouts, WomenSource, Girl Power, BULLI, Wisdom Project, Leadership Hall and others that can use their influence to enforce standards of decency.

In the workplace, training sessions on sexual misconduct are commonplace, though the message they provide should be clear and uncomplicated to thinking adults: Just don’t be a jerk. Start from there and it’s not that hard to stay clear of abuse.

There are many good men offended by boorish nitwits and are angered at how such actions taint them all. They need to speak out to make this known and not enable violators through inaction or silence. “Locker room banter” is only harmless if it doesn’t lead to actions without consequences.

We’re already divided by politics, race, age and religion and don’t need a gender war to split us further apart. Perhaps when all this sinks in, our society can help victims heal, fairly punish those found guilty, set guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and, above all, emphatically insist that “no” means no. 

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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