Thursday, February 1

In Memory of O, or Blaming the Victim

Earlier this year O. died, after having battled a disease for a few years. A courageous, strong woman. A mother, a bright and serious businesswoman, a social activist. O. was also very beautiful. She had a great sense of humour. She was sensitive and fun to be with. She cared about others often more than about herself.

O. had also been the victim of serious and ongoing sexual harassment by her employer, a powerful politician. When she finally got the courage to say NO, she was kicked out of her job.
When she filed a complaint against her employer, he started a war against her, accusing her of the worst possible things (including crimes) while exposing her face and name in the local press. (yeah that by itself is illegal, but it did not stop him). She was found innocent of those crimes, but that fact was never published. O. had to start her life from scratch (and did so very successfully, building her own business). The file against the politician was closed for lack of sufficient proof. O. did not give up and a short while ago before her death the file was reopened. For that to happen, she employed a private detective who was able to dig up proof the police had not bothered to look for.
I know O. was not the only victim of that politician, but she was the only one with the courage to complain against him. And to fight him, even when she was battling for her life. I have learned from O.

Haim Ramon, the ex-minister of justice of Israel, has been found guilty of sexual harassment by three judges in Tel Aviv's peace court yesterday. Which implies that the minister of justice (!), represented by the best lawyers in the country, is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, of sexual violence.

Moshe Kazav, the president of the state of Israel, is suspected of rape and sexual harassment of several women employees, over the years. True, Katzav has not yet been found guilty by the court. He might be innocent. In fact, he should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But hell, the attorney general considers he has enough criminal proof to indict him on several counts of sexual assault. Assault, not harassment.
Of several women, not one.

In both cases the accused (and now guilty, in Haim Ramon's case) parties have used their full force (and they are very powerful men, they have a lot of force) to blame the women victims, to portray them as cheap, financially interested and what not.
In fact Katzav's friends have accused A of having been a prostitute. And that is a true classic. It puts Katzav's victim on an even lower scale in the eyes of the public. But the true question of course is, EVEN if A had been a prostitute, so what? Is it OK to sexually harass a prostitute? Even if we assume for a moment that A was a prostitute (and she was not) and that Katzav was paying her for sexual services, when a woman says no she means NO. And a prostitute is a woman, not a thing And when a prostitue says no, it means NO. Once more, A was not a prostitute and it is quite clear that these pathetic accusations are used only to weaken her. They are all part of an ugly war committed by a third rate and quite possibly corrupt politician used to fighting ugly little games to save his (political) ass. One wonders how he really came to be in his high position.
However, that's not the topic of this blog.

I'd rather talk about O. and about A. and about many other women suffering sexual harassment and worse from their employers.
In fact, i have to admit that i myself once left a job because my boss wouldn't stop making most unwanted sexual advances towards me. This was some time before the current law against sexual harassment on the job. At the time, there was nothing i could do, because he did not actually touch me. But is was ugly and disgusting, so i got up and left. It wasn't difficult for me to find another job. But many women face more difficulties finding good employment, so they suffer, in silence. Often it is well known in the workplace that X is a creep. Women try to warn each other, make sure they are not alone with X. And often X uses his power to make sure a new victim has to do some overtime, when she'll be alone with him. We all know it happens. but especially weakened women (with few job skills) raising their families single handedly stand no chance and they suffer in silence, to afraid to loose their source of income.

The most amazing thing is, that quite a few men seem to think it is their right.
When the Ramon's verdict became known yesterday (a panel of three judges have found him unanimoulsy guilty) i started to watch peoples' reactions on the street.
Ofcourse that is not a scientific method of gouging public opinion, i admit it, but it was interesting and to me, also disturbing:
15.00 o'clock, the corner of Sheinkin and Allenby in Tel Aviv. A young man hands out free copies of "Israeli", a free news rag, with the header "Ramon's guilty".
People stop and start reading. Some sit down on the street furniture and all start talking. Most of them are men. And ALL of them blamed the victim. All of them.
In fact they ALL believed Ramon to be the true victim.

The women reacted differently. "That's how it is", "I hope it will not happen to my daughter", "there is nothing you can do about it".

I don't accept that, there IS something we can do about it: education. Teaching that people must never be objectified. Never, ever.

Sexual harassment and violence come forth out of objectifying the other. Once i can see in the other nothing but "a thing", i can afford not relate to that thing's feelings or objections.
Sexual violence, the objectification of people, is a matter of social justice. Prevention is in education, not in putting the blame the victims.
And in the mean time, i wish to express my full support for A and A and all the outher women out there courageously fighting aginast harassment.
I also wish to express my support of those women, not in a position to fight against it. They suffer i silnce. It's about time we break that silnce. We do not have to accept "that is how it is".


Lirun said...

i was reading in a paper that perhaps our passionto expose and clean up our administration may be viewed as a positive turn.. i hope that take is meaningful..

yudit said...

Lirun, i so much hope you are right.
What i am afraid of, is that it has ebcome "acceptable" to be corrupt. Certian behaviors are simply not considered wrong by many people, willing to provide cheap excuses to other when they behave in such a way.
It scares me.

J.P. said...

It is too so easy to blame the big fish, they should of course behave like an expected roll model, I never understand people who allready have this much money to want even more, it is like they have been bitten by a money-illness-contaminated-dog.
How many people have not taken a pencil (as a start) "because these people at the top do it even worse ........"
There should be a person like this Italian Falcone(?) who would wipe a brush through the whole system to give the common people trust in the leadership again.