Sunday, August 27, 2006

Can we even the scales?

A new law punishing sexual harassment has entered the Greek penal code, apparently a first for Greece, so it seems this law was a long time coming. The penalties for a guilty verdict include prison time, fines, and suspension of business, and the burden of proof falls upon the accused.

My husband and mother-in-law were a bit shocked at that last fact. Certainly, it might be hard for someone to prove their innocence, although I’d think it is just as hard to prove you were harassed. I can see both sides of the argument for burden of proof – on one hand, with the reluctance of most women to come forward on sexual harassment charges, this certainly makes it easier on them. But on the other hand, it could lead to the conviction of innocent people.

In America, it seems that sexual harassment cases have more and more leaned in favor of plaintiffs over the past several years. An article by Wendy McElroy at ifeminists.com sums up the evolution of sexual harassment in America, and she suggests that “the issue has evolved dramatically in the last three decades and now seems to blatantly favor and perhaps encourage accusations.” In 1986, a precedent was set for “hostile environment” and, according McElroy’s article “increased an employer's liability and diminished a complainant's burden of proof.”

In 1998, two Supreme Court rulings made the resolution of sexual harassment cases even more difficult for employers. According to an article by Jim Collison, “any behavior of even a remotely sexual nature, which an employee finds threatening or offensive, or such behavior which is unwanted by the employee...can trigger a sexual harassment charge” and “under the court's new rulings, an employer can be liable even when the harassed employee fails to inform the employer of the objectionable behavior.”

It seems that Greece’s new law has adopted some of the extremist positions of American sexual harassment law, which, according to McElroy “offers lopsided power to those who even hint at an accusation.” While I am a staunch supporter of punishment for sexual harassment, I do fear that some women may either have axes to grind or even be a bit too naïve about things that might be sexual harassment. If something makes a woman uncomfortable, the perpetrator should be punished, right? I don’t really think so. When it comes down to women complaining because a man curses, talks about his “conquests” with other men at the office, has a sexually provocative picture in his locker – I don’t think these cases should qualify for sexual harassment. There is a difference between being victimized and adjusting to a work environment that has men in it. To me, the whole feminist ideology goes out the window when a woman can’t handle such things in the work environment.

There is a line that can be crossed, and has been crossed, and these people should be punished for it. But we have to develop a fairness when it comes to sexual harassment laws as well. While I want women who have been genuinely harassed to feel free to come forward, I don’t want innocent men (or women!) prosecuted. And I strongly feel that anyone who makes false claims for their own reasons (revenge, benefit, what have you) should face punitive charges as well, because their prevarication hurts real victims.

I suppose the real question is how can the law deal with this issue with proper sensitivity and fairness? I don’t know if I have the answer to that. I just hope Greek judges can adjudicate the proper line between fairness and ridiculousness.

1 comment:

Thanos said...

Walk softly and carry a cassette recorder... god help us all.