I think it safe, and sad, to say that we have only begun to hear stories about sexual misconduct, and even assault, by people in various positions of power. At the moment they seem to involve primarily men in politics and in the media, but this is a watershed event, and it will no doubt spread to positions of power in industry, commerce, finance, and perhaps even medicine and education.
At least one central question begs answering: why? Why would anyone, having achieved major success in an area as public as politics or the media put it all at risk for the sake of a sexual thrill? The answer: because they could. In the traditional albeit weird sexual mores of America, it was more or less assumed that men demanded and got sex because of their positions. People talked casually of women “sleeping their way to the top.” People joked about the cutting room couch. It is hard to find a woman who has not, at some time in her life, been either harassed or actually assaulted on a sexual basis. In sum, sexual harassment was actually a part of our culture, and, in large part, it went unpunished because it went unreported. Women, out of fear or humiliation, chose to suffer the attacks and indignities in silence. And so it went on until the recent allegations and revelations about Donald Trump encouraged a host of women to speak publicly about their own struggles with people of power.
Two things are true. One, we are at a much-needed moment of fundamental cultural change. The time when women can and will take a deservedly equal place in politics and industry is here. The glass ceiling is gone. The halls of Congress and the positions of power in industry and finance an others will, at long last, be shared equally with men and women.
Two, if these allegations continue and multiply, the battle to resolve them will play out in courtrooms and in the media for years to come. It will do little for the participants except continue to feed the “breaking news” lust of the media. It will cost time and money, and it will accomplish little to add to the cultural change mentioned above.
Here is a suggestion, and it is precisely that, and I beg you, dear reader, to post your feelings on the matter here. It is that we use the device of truth and reconciliation.
When apartheid was finally torn down in South Africa, the South Africans came up with a way to resolve the horrendous misdeeds that people had been guilty of during apartheid. The gist of the system was that a person could be reconciled to the community if he or she would come forth and, in public, admit and describe his or her misdeeds. Except for the most grievous misconduct, all those misdeeds were then forgiven, and no further punishment was imposed.
What seems to be happening at the moment is that anyone accused of sexual misconduct is being removed from office or position. One assumes that, where possible, lawsuits will follow, and, where it is not possible, those accused of misconduct will experience what amounts to blackballing, and they will disappear from public view.
Would it not be more efficient and effective and even more humane to install some kind of process of truth and reconciliation for people in these various positions of power? Could we not have some forum where men (and perhaps even women) could come forth and admit and describe their various sexual misdeeds, their abuse of their positions of power to take advantage of other people? And, except perhaps for cases of actual sexual assault, could we not then reconcile those people to the community and allow them to continue their work in some fashion?
Perhaps this would not be sufficient to support the cultural change. Perhaps this system of truth and reconciliation would itself be abused and even perverted. It may, however, have a chance to address this question and more quickly and effectively make this cultural change a permanent fixture of our society.
What do you think?