Harvey WeinsteinThe news is full of another powerful male’s fall from grace for sexual harassment and/or assault.  It’s a brutal and sad commentary – there’s not enough words to describe the revulsion that’s felt at the description of the events or enough tears to salve the hurt to the victims.  I’m not going to try to address either situation, but I must ask the question – Why did it go on for so long?

As with many seemingly simple questions, the answer is complex – because people are complex.

First, the victims of sexual harassment and assault are often not believed, shamed or blamed.  This is tragic, compounding the actual hurt of the event itself.  The victim is viewed as “damaged goods” if the truth is made public.  Elizabeth Smart, famous for being abducted, has spoken out about this culture of telling young girls that they are to blame, or their worth is decreased if they are the victims of sexual assault.  Why go public if this is the result?  Better to keep quiet.

Second, many times it’s a “he said, she said” situation.  Was it consensual or forced?  We don’t live in a world where lensmen* can read minds and instantly know who’s guilty or not.  And our legal system requires that we view each situation in isolation.  So, each new accusation is a fresh start for the habitual abuser.

Third, there’s the power imbalance between the harasser and the harassed.  Harvey Weinstein controlled access to approval and money – in Hollywood and the C-suite often the same thing.  Harvey Weinstein represented power as much as the overseer on any planation ever did.  And it’s a rare individual who can stand up to power because you risk death – figuratively or literally.

So, what can be done?

One way is to make a social norm that doesn’t condone sexual harassment.  In my life time, I have seen cigarette smoking go from a social acceptance to social repugnance.  The same has happened with drunk driving.  We can do the same with sexual harassment and assault.  The #MeToo movement is a start.  But it must be made a fundamental part of our social construct that sexual harassment and assault are not OK and that victims will be believed.  It can be done.  I saw it in the US Navy after the Tailhook scandal and it’s happening in the Australian military.  It can happen in our public society.

But it will require resolve.  A quaint notion but so badly needed.  Churchill had resolve, but can you think of any recent leader who has real resolve?  Leaders will need to draw the proverbial “line in the sand” and accept the consequences for the stand.  In business, it should make dollars and sense that sexual harassment only hurts an organization’s capability to achieve its goals.  In the non-profit world, all the good in the world won’t suffice to undo charges of sexual harassment or assault.

And in the public arena, well, there the rules don’t seem to apply for some people.  Here, power to rule is the paramount virtue, it seems.  And I understand the reluctance to rock the boat because it’s a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” system.  So, we have politicians excusing the actions of others because they are needed to vote, secure money for reelection or gain a majority.  And the voters are blamed because they voted for them!

The sad truth is that if there is power, there will be those who will abuse it to satisfy their lusts.  That is human nature and we have been warned about it for thousands of years with no perfect solution in sight.

The good news is that eventually the truth will come out and the powerful will fall from grace.  The victims must know that they are not alone.  There must be support and trust for the victims.  We each must do our part both publicly and privately, especially in our families with children when they are young so they learn what is right and proper.

Therefore, we must keep up the fight.

*Read any of the Lensman series by E.E. “Doc Smith – classic science fiction!

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.