Think About It: Confronting sexual harassment

For well over a decade there were rumors of a “senior television personality” who was sexually harassing women co-workers.

A WOMAN working in a bank in Saudi Arabia 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A WOMAN working in a bank in Saudi Arabia 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The subject of sexual harassment in the workplace has once again hit the headlines. For well over a decade there were rumors of a “senior television personality” who was sexually harassing women co-workers. The identity of the personality was not revealed, even though there were apparently many who knew.
In addition, about three years ago Emmanuel Rosen was fired from TV Channel 2 due to a complaint of harassment involving a young woman who worked with him. Following this episode (the details of which have not been released) Rosen was hired by Channel 10, which was apparently aware of his reputation, but unaware of the exact circumstances of his dismissal from Channel 2.
Why did it take so long for this whole affair to burst into the headlines? Because only recently did several of the women involved decide to reveal their stories – though at first without uncovering their full identities, or going to the police to lodge complaints. It all sounds a little familiar. The Katsav affair started to snowball in a very similar manner.
The reason women are wary of officially complaining in such cases is fear of losing their job, being marked as “troublemakers,” and being dragged through a long and tortuous legal process, in the course of which they are likely to be exposed to smear campaigns and attacks by those close to the accused. The sad reality is that a woman complaining of sexual harassment is much more likely to find herself stigmatized than the harassing man.
Nevertheless, experience shows that once one woman goes public, others will follow suit, if indeed her experience was not unique, and the man involved is a serial offender. So in a sense the first woman to complain is a sort of hero.
It was only several days ago that the police decided to open a criminal investigation against Rosen, even though it transpires from the stories that have been revealed so far that much of his conduct consisted of uncommonly obsessive courtship, and nasty reactions upon being rejected. However, there were apparently also cases in which the line that separates non-normative behavior from criminal conduct was crossed, which is why the police decided to open an investigation.
It should be noted that the problem of sexual harassment is not unique to Israel, and exists in various levels of severity in all societies. Presumably, the reason the problem also emerges in Western, enlightened societies, and not only in traditional, unenlightened ones, where women are considered little more than objects whose duty is to serve men, is that male-female relations are not only affected by cultural factors that can be modified through rational discourse, but involve biological and psychological factors as well – in other words “human nature,” which is not always controllable, and not always suppressible by rational means.
Judaism recognizes the fact that man’s natural drives may be evil, and calls upon men to control their negative desires.
This supposition has inter alia led Orthodox Judaism to call for the exclusion of women from the public domain, so as not to pose a temptation to men, and thus to protect men from impure thoughts, and women from harassment.
To enlightened seculars such reasoning is unacceptable, since it does not recognize the fact that in Western society women have been recognized to be substantially and legally equal to men, and that this equality includes the right to move and act freely without being harassed or attacked in any way. In other words, according to the secular approach the way to deal with men’s “evil inclinations” and sexual harassment is definitely not by robbing women of their freedom and right to equality! So how is one to act more effectively against sexual harassment? The problem, I believe, is not in the absence of appropriate laws, rules and regulations. The problem is in their unsatisfactory implementation.
There are several reasons for the weakness in implementation, all to do with an absence of real commitment. One is that in large parts of Israeli society the enlightened norms concerning malefemale relations have not really been accepted and internalized, and many young men grow up believing that what makes one a “man” is one’s success in conquering women, without any distinction being made between legitimate courtship and unacceptable harassment.
The fact that former president Moshe Katsav still has a band of supporters, who believe that he did no wrong, is indicative of the problem.
Another reason is that even enlightened work places, which pay lip service to the need to prevent sexual harassment, appear to do very little to rout the problem unless confronted with a concrete case which is impossible to ignore.
Though Channel 10 was apparently not fully aware of the gravity of Rosen’s conduct when it decided to employ him, one wonders how it would have acted if it were. Would it have done “the right thing,” namely refuse to employ him, or condition his employment on some psychological treatment to deal with his problematic behavior? And what happens in our universities, where it is not unknown for certain members of the academic staff to sexually harass female students? Has there ever been a case of preemptive action being taken (not necessarily legal action) against a known offender, before some young woman found the guts to complain? “If the mighty have succumbed, how shall the weak emerge unscathed?” Of course, there is much less that can be done in private places of employment, where frequently it is the boss himself who is a harasser (the case of the Haifa lawyer recently accused by two young interns of imposing himself on them comes to mind).
In the final reckoning, what is most important is that the public be made aware of the fact that the problem isn’t an Emanuel Rosen here and a Haifa lawyer there, but that sexual harassment in the workplace is a daily occurrence and hazard for tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of women. For anything to change, there needs to be greater awareness, and greater awareness will not come without continuous formal and informal education.The writer is a retired Knesset employee.