Sexual Harassment Alive and Well

Last week the former Israeli President, Moshe Katzav, was convicted on several counts of rape and sexual harassment of female employees, all of which took place during his tenure in various governmental power positions.

This case raises universally relevant issues. For example, why are we surprised, outraged and self-righteously repulsed when someone in a position of power obtains sexual favours? And why are we equally shocked when we learn that mysteriously no one saw the signs of this happening right before their very eyes? and if they did see the signs, that they took no action?

Power, by its very nature, is imbued with the temptation to abuse it. (If you’ve ever had power, then you know that the temptation is always there). And since sex is one of our strongest primary drives, it has forever been one of the most abused aspects of power. People get seduced by it, they begin to believe that they are above ‘the law’ and then proceed to to take what they think is rightfully theirs.

Dogs bark, cows moo, and we humans abuse power. It is the way of the world.

And in most cases, those people whose boundaries are being violated will be afraid to stand for themselves; the potential ramifications are too serious. And the same is true for the bystanders: it is too dangerous to see, it is to scary to hear. And it’s certainly too risky to speak.

Knowing this, organizations need not be surprised when someone uses power and privilege to obtain sex. Nor should organizations think that having a healthy culture will prevent this from happening – I’ve seen too many cases of blatant sexual harassment happening in the most healthy of cultures, to the shock and dismay of everyone who was sure that ‘this could never happen here’.

Rather, organizations need to create cultures that enable people to say ‘no’ when others abuse their power over them. And for observers to safely report ‘fishy’ stuff – and trust that decisive action will be taken.

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