OP-ED | Stop Normalizing Sexual Assault
“Boys will be boys.”
“Locker room talk.”
“His life will be ruined.”
“But I know him, he’s such a nice guy.”
We’ve all heard such excuses for sexual harassment and assault. Here’s a new one I’ve been hearing in recent days: “But he’s made so many contributions to the town.”
As a member of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting (RTM), my district chair — until he stepped down as chair “in the interim” — has been the now infamous groin pincher, Christopher von Keyserling. According to the application for arrest warrant, Mr. von Keyserling allegedly told his victim that he “loves this new world because he no longer has to be politically correct,” and when she said, “You’re lucky I didn’t deck you, but if you ever (expletive) touch me again I will,” he told her, “It would be your word against mine and nobody will believe you.”
Mr. von Keyserling thus allegedly stated out loud to his victim the fear of every sexual assault survivor when it comes to pressing charges — that it will be a “he said/she said” situation and he will be the one who is believed and supported by the community.
What Mr. von Keyserling didn’t count on was the presence of a security camera, and according to the arrest warrant, the footage backs up the complainant’s story.
It’s bad enough that Greenwich had two members of its legislative body arrested for sexual offenses in the span of a seven days — the previous week, Christopher Sandys was charged with the possession of child pornography. But what has been truly eye opening has been how willing my colleagues have been to defend and enable such behavior, using “but he’s done so much for the town” as their justification for refusing to issue a call for Mr. von Keyserling’s resignation.
There is currently no mechanism for removing a member of the governing body so the best we can do is pressure him to resign.
Apparently, the contributions of a man to the town outweigh the longstanding service of a female employee who was assaulted by him in her workplace, even though his offense was captured on camera, as reported by police in the arrest warrant, and even though it was a clear breach of the town’s stated policy on sexual harassment, and could result in a liability to the town.
I shouldn’t be shocked that such attitudes remain. I worked on Wall Street in the late 1980’s and experienced sexism. Despite my work experience and an MBA in finance, in my late 40’s I had a male investment advisor respond to an instruction he disagreed with about how to reallocate my portfolio by telling me: “Ask your father.” When I reminded him, somewhat acidly, that my father was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s (something he knew because I’d bought a long-term care policy from him previously), he didn’t take the hint, but instead doubled down: “Well, ask your brother.”
I made a wiser decision, and moved the entire portfolio to another firm.
Yet a male colleague in my RTM district sent me an article by right-winger Kurt Schlicter informing us that there was no such thing as sexism in finance — in other words, seeking to deny the reality that I, and so many other women, have actually lived through. When I complained about this to my district chair, Mr. Von Keyserling, he didn’t respond to me. He apparently mentioned my complaint to the sender, because I got an oh-so-typical reply from him saying he “thought I would find it funny.”
Yeah, buddy — about as funny as a colonoscopy.
Even the most well-meaning men often underestimate women’s experiences. According to a recent survey on The State of the Union on Gender Equality, Sexism, and Women’s Rights poll by PerryUndem, half of married women (49 percent) say they have been touched inappropriately by a man without their consent, while 30 percent of married men say the same about their wives. While 64 percent of married women say they feel that they are treated with less respect because of their gender at least once in awhile, and 49 percent of married men say the same about their wives.
It’s because of this gulf in understanding that last summer, after a series of tone deaf comments by political figures, I issued a challenge to men: Ask the women in your lives questions about their experiences with sexism, unwanted sexual comments and touches. Then listen. Really listen.
These conversations need to happen because it’s beyond comprehension that we’re still having a conversation in the year 2017 about whether someone should stand down from public office for sexual assaulting a woman in the workplace.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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