At the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest of indignation, the recent allegations against New York Governor Cuomo, while troubling in their detail and evident documentation beyond a mere claim, do create an issue of fairness. That many others knew of these various incidents raise the question is one person’s perception of sexual harassment enough to warrant an investigation?
In the details that are available, several women did complain about the governor’s words and actions. Taken in isolation, these are troubling sophomoric behavior from someone who should know better. Taken together, they raise serious concerns. But the majority of these actions and comments took place in the presence of other, senior staff members both male and female.
Did any of them raise an alarm, or seek out the targeted women to see if there was an issue? Did anyone warn the Governor he may have crossed the line?
It begs the question of when does an incident perceived by one to be harassment and by others as innocent if crude joking deserve to be tried in the press with no formal judicial or investigative substantiation?
We are still a country where the presumption of innocence supersedes even the most scurrilous of charges and we need not forget that. Absent any corroborating evidence of complicity (such as secret payments from, say, a campaign account handled by a personal attorney) such allegations need be treated accordingly, an allegation not proof.
Sexual harassment is a serious and dangerous element of human interaction. It is difficult to separate the hormones from the humans involved but maturity brings skills to control one’s behavior. One can know where the line falls between humor and boorish behavior and there should be a crystal-clear demarcation to what constitutes harassment.
There also need be an environment where anyone who feels threatened can freely express these concerns without fear. Yet, we also need recognize that delay is detrimental to the veracity or believability. Particularly when dealing with public figures, the variety of avenues to address such concerns first internally and then, if circumstances dictate, publicly are limitless.
With no intent to demean or discount the complaints made, it is a natural concern to take any delay reporting such issues into consideration when evaluating them. As horrific as some of these incidents are, false allegations for vindictive, political, or personal reasons are equally abhorrent.
Accusations, regardless of the allegation, come with an obligation of truthfulness and legitimate motivation. While all such complaints need be taken seriously, they also need be vetted for veracity.
In the 1990s, there was a hysteria over “repressed” memories wherein many psychologists and psychiatrists legitimized recovered memories as a sound basis for bringing charges of sexual assault. The overwhelming majority of these were based on bad medical science and poor investigations. The intention was well-meaning, but the result was a travesty of justice.
Bringing these issues to the forefront and opening them for discussion is important. But just as a fearful environment that once trapped sexual harassment victims in a dilemma of whether to speak up, we must be vigilant against overreacting and creating an equally fearful environment of accepting claims without ensuring we safeguard the innocent.
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