Thursday, November 30, 2017
Doctors Perspective What is sexual harassment?

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
There has been a wave of accusations of sexual harassment by prominent individuals over the last few weeks. Some of the accused individuals have denied the allegations. Part of the reason for that is related to a lack of a formal definition of what sexual harassment actually is. I spent nine years as a commanding officer in the Air Force. One of the things I learned was that it is similar to the old proverb: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People have a perception of sexual harassment which differs from one individual to another. However, it does not really matter. If someone develops the perception that they are being harassed, that perception becomes reality. A good example is off color jokes. Many people will laugh at them. Others will see them as rude or vulgar. Still others will be embarrassed by them. The joke teller needs to realize that. The result is that what may be appropriate with one group, may not be appropriate with another. When in doubt, it is best to avoid anything that might be viewed as inappropriate. We learned some ground rules in the Air Force.

These ground rules involved questions that you could ask yourself about your behavior. The first was whether you would act the same way if your spouse was in the room. If you answered no, then the behavior was inappropriate. The second was whether you would act the same way if the other individual was the same sex as you. If the answer was no, the behavior was inappropriate. Some of the individuals currently being accused indicate that in their mind they did nothing wrong. The problem is their mind is not the issue. What they saw as consensual may not have been viewed that way by the other party. That makes them wrong. They cannot try to justify their behavior by that kind of logic. Another inappropriate - and cowardly - approach is to blame the accuser for the behavior. Some behaviors have always been unacceptable. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, they were never brought out into the open. Society seems to be changing. Those unacceptable behaviors are now being called into question. Prominent individuals who stand accused are no longer able to hide as they did in the past. Nor should we allow them to do so. Ignorance of the proper definition of sexual harassment is not a viable excuse.