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Johnson: Some perspectives in response to sexual harassment/assault reports

As we reflect on the recent flood of sexual harassment/assault stories that have overtaken the news, the staff of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead is compelled to offer perspective on what seems to be a shift in our societal culture. As you wade through this column, please consider that sexual harassment/assault live on a continuum of behavior that includes everything from inappropriate comments to rape. It is important to recognize that societal factors that promote the acceptance of behaviors that exist on this spectrum are grounded in the same framework. With that in mind, please consider the following perspectives on victims, offenders and society in general.

Victims

Victimization of sexual harassment/assault happens to men and women. Although we know that women are victimized at a far greater rate than men, it is important to recognize that primary and secondary victimization affects us all. Fabrication or lying about one's victimization is very, very rare. When you consider our response to allegations historically, victims have much more to lose than gain and recanting or getting details wrong are more a reflection of the brain's response to trauma rather than fabrication of the truth. It is not uncommon for victims to disclose years after the incident based on barriers of disbelief, minimization, shame and/or victim-blaming. Lastly, victims determine when they feel safe to tell, who they tell and should not be required to re-divulge details to continuously justify their own victimization.

Offenders

Offenders were not created in a vacuum. All people learn this type of behavior and if not held accountable believe that they are entitled to behave this way. It is important to recognize that alleged offenders will get due process legally and that believing the victim and establishing an offender's guilt are two different things. We can all hold offenders accountable; the punishment of formal legal system, refusing to work with them or buy their products or not electing them to public office are a few tangible examples.

Society/Culture

Understanding constructs such as power and control, consent and coercion are the first steps towards being part of the solution. Each one of us holds the responsibility of addressing societal factors that lead to the acceptance of harassment and assault. We are all in this together and each one of us plays a role in the current system. Everyone should be committed to evaluating our own beliefs and values and work toward improving equality, safety and health in all of the formal institutions in which we operate. We are all seeing a shift in the culture towards believing victims and holding offenders accountable. We are encouraged that the recent rate of disclosure is changing a culture where speaking up has more ridicule than the act itself to one where there is no tolerance for sexual offending.

The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead is committed to providing judgement free, trauma-informed, evidence-based services to victims and their families who have been impacted by these issues. In addition to service, the agency can work with your institution to ensure that all people are able to thrive in a safe and healthy environment. This has been our mission for 40 years and we are so proud to be a part of a community that values this organization as part of the solution.

Johnson is executive director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead. He wrote this piece with help from the RACC staff.

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