Following the revelation of many instances of sexual abuse and harassment from males in powerful positions, Americans seem surprised and ask, "How could this happen and why didn't people know about it?" The answer is simple. This is as old as time and many people knew about it.
Powerful people, often synonymous with men with wealth and high political, religious or business status, have clout and control. Most were and still are immune from negative repercussions regarding their actions. Often the recipients of the abuse were punished or blamed. So today's question is this: With all the well-known sexual abusers and harassers being publicly identified, will this age-old practice stop?
In the past year or two, some of the biggest names in media, theater, politics and high places have been identified as sexual abusers or sexual harassers. Until recently, most weren't a bit worried as that's been the status quo for eons.
So, why now? Some suggest that last winter's Women's March in Washington led women to feel that they actually had a voice; others point to the rise of women in business and elected offices. Many women claim that electing a president who was recorded saying that when you are powerful you can do almost anything you want, including grabbing women sexually, put women on notice that it was their job to take control of their lives. Social media and large numbers of victims speaking out have had a major impact.
Women also can be sexual abusers. The most publicized cases usually involve young female teachers and adolescent male students. This is obviously wrong, but the frequency of these situations pales in comparison to powerful males taking advantage of females. Same-sex sexual abuse, as exemplified by Kevin Spacey, and same-sex child sexual abuse, exemplified by Penn State's Jerry Sandusky and some clergy as well, are also nothing new.
The fall of Roger Ailes from his pedestal at Fox News and well-known comedian Bill Cosby likely played a major role in identifying this year's bumper crop of sexual harassers and abusers. Those accused hold no monopoly on political party or occupation. Their commonalities are power and connections to other powerful people leading to feelings of entitlement and invincibility.
CBS's Charlie Rose, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) and Rep. John Conyers D-Michigan) and Republicans Bill O'Reilly and Roy Moore, Senate candidate from Alabama, are just the tip of the iceberg of accused sexual abusers and harassers. While people claim they are distressed about these revelations, our nation should find it sad that our president says he still prefers the election of Roy Moore to any Democrat.
No one expects those with fame or fortune to become monks or adhere to monogamy. What is hoped for is that these individuals will no longer be able to feel free to use their power to sexually intimidate others.
Multiple media sources report that the in the past two decades the Congressional Office of Compliance paid approximately $17 million in settlements for more than 250 cases of sexual and other workplace abuses by congressional employees.
Most of the individuals who have been identified as sexual abusers or harassers were not bothered by their past actions, as they knew their status and connections gave them license to do what they wanted to do. The only way that the age-old practice of sexual abuse by powerful men will change is if the women on the receiving end continue to speak out publicly and if rational women and men support them.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.