In the fire-hose torrent of sexual harassment scandals we are staggering under these days, one thing stands out as a common factor in all the cases: The accused are men.
“One of the reasons it is men who harass women, and sometimes other men, is that this is about power and overwhelmingly (workplace) upper management is male, so the positions of power are disproportionately occupied by men and the bottom is disproportionately occupied by women,” says Abigail Saguy, professor of sociology and gender studies at UCLA and author of the 2003 book, What is Sexual Harassment?
You may be thinking at this point… well, duh, this is something we all know instinctively. Women don’t do this kind of thing — grope, talk dirty, assault, sexually coerce, even rape their work colleagues. It’s a Y chromosome kind of thing, right?
But not so fast. Franklin Raddish, a South Carolina Baptist pastor with a nationwide following, last month declared, as a means of supporting Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (who lost Tuesday), that accusations of sexual harassment against men in politics and Hollywood amounted to a “war on men.”
“More women are sexual predators than men,” opined Raddish. “Women are chasing young boys up and down the road, but we don’t hear about that because it’s not PC.”
He provided no evidence of this because, well, there isn’t any.
Still, there are exceptions that prove the rule: On Friday, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Kansas dropped out of her race after The Kansas City Star found out she had been accused in a 2005 lawsuit of sexually harassing and retaliating against a male subordinate who rejected her advances when she was a corporate executive.
Which leads to the question: What are the numbers on women accused of sexual harassment? Has anyone conducted scientific surveys and found some? What’s the reason why it appears the vast majority of people accused of workplace sexual harassment are men?
And what’s the reason few men ever file formal complaints?
“Pride gets in the way,” says Todd Harrison, a partner in a California firm that handles thousands of employment-law cases per year. “Most good plaintiffs attorneys who handle discrimination and harassment claims take on female-to-male harassment and the same (laws) apply. It’s just a matter of whether the men who are victims want to come forward.”
There are few numbers available about women sexual harassers, and some of the numbers available are more than a decade old.
“It is extremely rare — it does happen but it is extremely rare,” says Genie Harrison, a Los Angeles-based attorney who specializes in workplace sexual-harassment cases. “Men can be victims and women can be abusers, and I’ve represented victims where a woman was the harasser, but I would say it’s at best a 99.9%-to-.01% ratio.”
Various government agencies, such as the military, the federal employee system or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, keep track of complaints of workplace sexual harassment but they generally focus on the accusers, not the accused.
— In the most recent data available from the EEOC, there were 6,758 complaints of sexual harassment allegations received by the commission in 2016, and a little more than 16% were filed by men. But the data don’t say who did the harassing — a woman or another man.
Moreover, EEOC data do not provide a comprehensive picture of the entire country. Plus, the agency estimates that most people, male or female, who have experienced harassment (more than 80%) never file a formal complaint about it.
Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, who handles workplace sexual harassment issues, agrees that women harassers are a “minority of cases” because women are less likely to exercise power over men at work.
“I’ve never worked with a client where a woman was the harasser; we’re a women’s-rights organization so the individuals who tend to reach out to us are women,” Martin says. “And women who target other women (for harassment) is an unusual fact pattern.”
Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says harassment is also about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says.
Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme,” Berdahl says. “It’s possible there’s a rare woman who might get off on dominating a person like that but men are socialized from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being ‘a real man,’ defined as dominating women.”
In her research, she says, she’s found that the most common way a woman would harass a man is to question his manhood. For many men, she says, being scorned as “feminine” or “weak” is too humiliating to report.
Another source of limited data on women harassers: Law firms that specialize in employment law and sexual harassment cases, such as Perona, Langer, Beck, Serbin, Mendoza & Harrison in Long Beach, Calif.
Todd Harrison, a partner in the firm, estimates he handles about 150 cases of employment law a year, and about 65% of them are sex harassment cases. Of those, 10% — or less than 10 cases per year — involve women as the accused harassers, he said.
“Sexual harassment is not just about sexual innuendo or jokes or pats on the butt, it’s about power and intimidation, so the cases I’ve handled (involving women harassers), it’s normally a woman in a control position and using that power to intimidate men,” Harrison says.
“Sometimes there are sexual overtures, inappropriate touching without consent, offers for quid pro quo or sex for promotion,” he added. “A lot of times it’s a powerful woman in an organization who will talk down or treat a man different from his female counterparts.”
But men can be reluctant to come forward to complain due to fear of mockery, he says. Men may also buy into the notion that female-on-male harassment isn’t even possible.
“Embarrassment is always an issue,” Harrison says. “Societal norms say men are supposed to be able to handle this. But we have men (clients) who say, ‘It’s just not fair. We’re always accused of it, here’s a situation where we’ve been victimized by a person in authority.’ ”
— Maria Puente, USA Today, Women are Rarely Accused of Sexual Harassment, and There’s a Reason Why, December 18, 2017