Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse – what should be our response?

Presenter: Barrie Webster

November, 2018

Nothing gets our attention in the news more easily than the latest story about sexual harassment or sexual abuse. We are all sexual beings; however, sexual bullying or abuse, usually in situations in which there is a power imbalance, is reprehensible. It is easy to take the holier-than-thou approach and condemn the perpetrator. The challenge facing us is how to deal with sexual harassment and abuse, how to understand its origin, and how to prevent it happening in the first place.

There are many noteworthy examples in religious organizations; for example within the Catholic Church and institutions run by religious orders.

Catholic priests, bishops, and other church officials have been charged with sexual abuse of children.

Taking advantage sexually of others is often the subject of boasting: “locker room talk” is a good example in which sexual exploitation is celebrated. While most examples in the news largely involve abuse of women by men, we need to recognize that the reverse also takes place.

The Kavanaugh/Ford case – and “Why didn’t I report it?”

Sexual Harassment

What is our understanding of sexual abuse and its Causes?

On the other hand, accusations of sexual abuse, whether proven or not, can lead to ostracism

We must address the following questions (there are many more):

Does our punishment-based approach to dealing with sexual abuse deal effectively with the problem?

Can we respect any other approach? If so, what?

What should we do to counter inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and other shared spaces? What is fair? Who is immune? What should we teach our children? Are we facing a new puritanism? What constitutes appropriate use of humour, irony, teasing, sarcasm, “rubbishing”?

Does a secular life stance ensure that behaviour with respect to sexual interaction will be appropriate? Does the Humanist life stance help? [Reference: Amsterdam Declaration 2002]