Speaking of Women's Rights...: Sexual Harassment and Powerful Men

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sexual Harassment and Powerful Men

By Kelsey Jones

It usually remains hidden for some time, as the victim grapples with societal victim blaming, job pressures, and the larger manifestation of the everyday sexism she has endured her whole life. But then she comes forward. And then more women come forward. And then consequences, or hope of consequences, for the offender.

Roger Ailes is the latest in a string of highly publicized sexual harassment and assault cases. The former chief of Fox News recently stepped down after sexual harassment allegations, and a subsequent lawsuit, were brought by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. After that, other reports of sexual harassment came pouring in from employees and former employees.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also said she was harassed by Alies, along with other unnamed employees. Ailes’ response to Kelly’s accusations, as released through a statement by Ailes’ lawyer stated: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

The sinister implications of those words, the indifference to Kelly, and the direct attempt to justify any sexual harassment by claiming to have helped advance her career are all indicative of an abuse of power.

Like in the case of Bill Cosby, who was accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by more than 40 women over the past 40 years. The case is currently working its way through trial but the position of power he held in respect to many of the women is eerily similar to that which Ailes had and used to manipulate women.

This past spring at the University of California, Berkeley, students came forward and accused an assistant professor of sexual harassment. The investigation unearthed unnerving evidence that the university may have been protecting professors who were accused of misconduct against students.

Rape culture and the stigmatization of sexual harassment already minimize and silence victims; compounding those societal pressures with the power dynamic of an influential man makes it even more unlikely that a survivor will speak up—or, if she does, that someone will listen. This abuse of power runs rampant in workplaces, Hollywood, schools, and government institutions like the military, which struggles with a sexual assault rate higher than that of the citizen population.

In 2014, 90% of sexual assaults in the military happened in a military setting, by a higher-ranking service member who knew the victim. Roughly 160,500 men and women were sexually harassed and 20,300 were sexually assaulted, and around 86% never even report the abuse. The military’s pervasive sexual assault and harassment problem again echoes the nationwide pleas for a societal reform.

It is a national crisis. Vice President Joe Biden has worked diligently to raise awareness of the extremely high rate of sexual assault on college campuses, and the military has attempted to create better programs and stricter disciplinary measures.

But a problem so widespread and systemic will not be erased by mere procedural changes for a few institutions. The problem is bred by a culture that promotes the hypersexualization of women, systemic racism and bigotry, and dangerous ideas of masculinity.

Roger Ailes is no longer a public face of Fox News, but the exact details of his departure are still unknown. The suit is still in its infancy and it is unknown whether or not it will lead to any justice for Carlson or the other women Ailes is accused of harassing.

A society that makes it that difficult for consequences of extremely heinous and appalling behavior is a complacent one. We will continue to watch in shock as people come forward, exposing one abuser after another for a handful of headlines and maybe a long trial that may or may not bring any restitution or justice. When will it end?


Ailes' abuse of power is not unique. And that is terrifying.


Kelsey Jones is a volunteer at Legal Voice and a junior at Washington State University. A current sports journalist and aspiring social justice lawyer, she spends her time volunteering for organizations that support her interest in the intersections of gender-based violence, reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Photo credit: PumaByDesign | Creative Commons