Sexual misconduct: Outside the spotlight, harassed and assaulted victims still wield little power

Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 2:30 PM
Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Besides sexual assault, the ever-growing list of media reports about that offense has another common element: prominent men.

That’s not because ordinary people from all walks of life don’t face and create the same problem. The residents of small towns are not immune to the offenses that sweep through Washington and Hollywood. The absence of name recognition means that the victims of garden-variety harassers and assailants are far less likely to garner either public censure or support.

As the discussion broadens, we hope vitriol leveled at those who report sexual assault becomes less prolific and less powerful until it finally disappears. There has never been an era when women have “asked” to be assaulted by the way they dressed, by drinking in public or by any of the other factors some people will still argue are exculpatory.

The disgust expressed by many Americans over some of the behavior that has been described is welcome, and it’s surely heartening to people – both adults and children – who rightfully have feared the repercussions of speaking out about their own experiences. An important step toward eliminating such behavior is to make the disapproval of the vast majority of Americans – disapproval that always has existed – abundantly clear. That empowers every victim.

Unfortunately, when the focus of the news is on what will happen to those who are accused, the repercussions of their own actions can be framed as something done to them. Their own supporters cling to what they want to be true, which often is that an innocent man has been wrongly accused. It’s human nature to cling to that hope, whether the accused is a political candidate, a valued employee, a supervisor whose goodwill is essential to subordinates or a family member.

But those who insist on claiming the presumption of innocence for an accused person cannot ethically withhold it from an accuser who has risked a great deal to seek justice. That is especially true for ordinary citizens who cannot depend on support from a president or a pop star.

It’s long past time for adults to be held fully accountable for their actions, in every arena of their lives.