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September 20 2016

Can You Tell the Difference between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault?

Charlotte Hays

Acculturated editor Christine Rosen has an important piece in Commentary on the conflation of sexual harassment with actual assault. It is something that has happened over the last few decades. The argument in a nutshell:

Our culture now regularly elides harassment and assault. What was once scoffed at by sensible people as PC academic nonsense—feminist studies professors denouncing the “male gaze” as a form of rape culture, for example—has now become mainstream.

I urge you to read the entire piece, but I offer some nuggets to encourage you to do so.

On how the role of victim and accused have changed in the last two decades:

Perhaps the most dramatic change in harassment culture since the 1990s is the role of the victim vis-à-vis the accused. The climate of the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas era was a litigious he-said, she-said; the present mood is simply J’accuse! Today, an accusation is all that is required to confer immediate cultural and political power on the person who makes it.

On one contributing factor to the change:

Some of the credit for this goes to the Obama administration’s “It’s on Us” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus by asking students to pledge to “recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault” as well as to “intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.” The campaign isn’t merely earnest pledges and charming public-service announcements featuring Jon Hamm and Questlove.

The administration also informed universities that take federal money to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in investigating sexual-assault accusations rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The new standard is less rigorous by design and has led to many more expulsions of (male) students. It has also prompted lawsuits by 100 men (and counting) who claim to have been denied due process after enduring Kafkaesque investigative and disciplinary proceedings by their universities.

And on one supposed remedy that appears to backfire:

Consider the ubiquitous sexual-harassment training workshop. It continues to thrive even though research by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and several independent academic studies have found that sexual-harassment-prevention training (a staple of the business world and the well-deserved target of pop culture parody) often has the counterintuitive effect of making men less likely to be able to identify harassment and more likely to stereotype women in the workplace.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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