Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 9 News List

What is the common denominator among sexual harassers?

The greater the imbalance of income and power, the more opportunity there is to take advantage. As a result, many women feel trapped by their abusers

By Alissa Quart  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

What is the common denominator between the mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, the pundit Mark Halperin, the venture capitalist Dave McClure, and the aggressive former boss of a customer service supervisor I interviewed last week?

All are accused of dreadful sexual harassment, and in some cases violent assault. All also had inordinate economic advantage over their female employees and colleagues. Their quarry ranged from actresses to journalists to female entrepreneurs. And what their prey all had in common was a fear of financial or professional retribution that could destabilize already precarious careers.

The daily deluge of tales of lechery and trauma holds a hidden, but crucial truism: Sexual harassment routinely feeds on income inequality.

After all, it is much harder to exploit an equal. The greater the imbalance of income and power, the more opportunity there is to abuse one’s advantage — and perhaps, a greater temptation.

As a result, many women feel they have to keep working for the boss who sexually harassed them because of their financial situations.

I talked to a customer service worker, now 32, who was earning only in the mid-US$20,000s, and had a child at home to support when the harassment happened. That was why she continued to work at the company for close to a decade for a boss who made numerous “sexual attempts” on her, including touching her breast.

“He slapped my ass. He talked about his ‘third leg’ and how he couldn’t wait to use it on me,” she told me.

At one point, her boss even “lifted up my dress in front of everyone and showed my ass to the office.”

He also remarked that he could “lick her pussy better” than her long-time female partner could.

She remained, she said, because she felt she had no options.

That he was a self-professed millionaire who talked about his personal wealth all the time was part of why she never came forward.

“He countlessly told us he was lawyered up, and how was I going to compete with that?” she said.

She has finally left that job and found employment elsewhere.

To my mind, one of the hidden causes behind the continued contagion of sexual harassment — a new ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that three in 10 women in the US say they have experienced it in the workplace — is clearly the financial and power disparity between men and women.

Women still earn 83 percent as much as men and are far more likely to be poorer than their male counterparts and thus more dependent on getting work from men who might harass them. It afflicts waitresses and women running start-ups alike.

Wealth concentration could even be said to help produce the Weinsteins of the world. With an increased power discrepancy, there is all the more opportunity to abuse one’s advantage — and, perhaps, a greater the temptation. The workplace or collegial harasser tends to know the victim is economically down a peg.

As employment lawyer Daniel Bright sees it, women who earn less and have shakier professional security are indeed more likely to be targeted for sexual harassment.

Many of Bright’s clients are in their 20s, right out of college, earning US$30,000 a year, sometimes still living with parents or roommates.

Bright said that these women’s harassers believe their employees “need their jobs so they’ll put up with it” and “can’t afford to quit.”

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