The Ethos of Trauma and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Posted on Jan 1, 2000  | Posted in

For many years [over 20] I have studied and researched early childhood sexual abuse and its harrowing trauma.  My studies have taken me to places that have challenged, frightened, angered, and offended me.  I have counseled persons who were victims of incest, spousal rape, both episodic and tenacious long term abuse.  I have counseled persons whose souls were wrapped around a false sense of culpability and blame for their victimization. They can see themselves as less than others, and more remarkably not fully human.  In some sense the abuse  created within the victims a mythic sense of self.  Virginia Wolfe, a victim of sexual abuse called herself an ancient one who was older than others.  Some believe that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein was modeled after the fetid and decaying  human matter that abused her too. Sexual abuse is built upon the systematic brain-washing of the victim.  This is referred to as seasoning in some circles.  In his powerful and epic work entitled 'Soul Murder' Leonard Shelgold, M.D., writes of the type of brain-washing that conditions the victim for abuse by using the icy words of Orwell: "Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling.  Everything will be dead in you.  Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity.  You will be hollow.  We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves." Judith Lewis Hermann writes: "The perpetrator's first goal appears to be the enslavement of his victim, and he  accomplishes this goal by exercising despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life.  But simple compliance rarely satisfies him; he appears to have a psychological need to justify his crimes, and for this he needs his victim's affirmation.  Thus he relentlessly demands from his victim professions of respect, gratitude, or even love.  His ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a willing victim." You say, well what has this kind of information to do with sexual harassment in the workplace?  Well, few victims of sexual abuse tell their stories.  They keep them to themselves fearing the social consequences thereof.  They have been trained to keep terrible existential secrets.  They will display a decided perfectionist attitude at work.  They will do everything for others, and rarely do anything  positive for themselves.  They are masters of detail and seemingly tireless. A strong policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment will go a long way in making these persons feel safe and secure in the workplace, and besides it is the law.  The victims of sexual abuse take a long time to heal from their trauma.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime. But many can overcome their enormous pain through therapy and group support.  Lets's make the work environment safe for these persons too.


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