Sexual harassment as a con

Really interesting post from an astronomer reflecting on the sexual harassment in his field. Here’s just a bit of it:

Something that people rarely think of as a con game is sexual harassment, but after listening to the lived experiences of women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I feel the analogy is apt. Like a con artist, the sexual harasser usually knows their victim well and uses their authority or “friendship” to gain trust. With that trust, the harasser then works to gain access to something far more valuable than money. They gain access to the victim’s body, their sexuality, their most private selves. In addition to anger and frustration, the common theme in the stories I’ve heard is shame and guilt. These feelings are why sexual offenses are so infrequently reported.

However, what’s worse than the betrayal of trust is that even when sexual harassment/assault and rape are reported, victims are often met with disbelief, invalidation, shaming and inaction. In my case, if I had overcome my shame to report my con artist, I likely would have had the charge reimbursed and the company investigated. But I seriously doubt that the person on the other end of the phone at the consumer protection agency would have asked, “Are you sure you didn’t lead the con artist on?” or “Oh, I know him. He’d never con anyone!” or “You know what, we need to keep this quiet. I think the best approach is for me to have a private conversation with the con artist to clear things up.”

So there are similarities, but there are also huge differences between being conned and being sexually harassed or assaulted. But the analogy should help doubters who question the intent of the victims who are brave enough to speak out, or question why they didn’t report the crimes right away. At least it should. I’ve been a part of the astronomy community long enough to expect some very ugly behavior and words in the wake of what is soon to follow. Sexual harassers are protected by the silence of their victims, inaction from authorities, and also apologists in their community.

He also goes on to reflect on the way that people like him are kept silent. I really recommend reading it.

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