1st letter photo

Irrfan Khan says he was asked to compromise in his initial days in Bollywood. (IANS photo)

If sexual misconduct were an infectious disease, society would likely label 2017 as a year of sexual epidemic, albeit a multi-source one. Unfortunately, it is not a time-specific affliction. Nor is it confined to a region, race, ethnicity or nationality of the perpetrator. It is indeed specific to human species, where one exerts his/her power (be it muscle, money, authority, aura, etc.) to coerce the weak (subordinate, junior, female, child, etc.) into the sexual submission.

Lately, many American celebrities and icons have fallen from grace due to allegations of sexual misconduct which includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, etc. These have included powerful Americans like flamboyant journalist Bill O’Reilly, Fox News boss Roger Ailes, Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, MSNBC journalist Mark Halperin, and father role model Bill Cosby, to name a few. Even Bollywood stars have spoken out.

While sexual misconduct has been going on in society since time immemorial, its public exposure has caught on with high frequency recently with celebrity victims like actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie or television personalities Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly taking on the powerful perpetrators like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein. These victims have indeed paved the way for many weak and intimidated who had been languishing in silence and shame for many years. They have given them voice and courage to come out and state their case to the public.

The menace of sexual misconduct is not confined to any field or race but includes people of diverse backgrounds. There are, however, differences in the degrees and extent of misconduct reporting among various groups, which is related to their cultural and individualistic differences. For example, women in Asian communities suppress their abuse for fear of public shame and blame in their male-dominated closed societies. Unfortunately, this encourages many men to take advantage of this female weakness.

Recently, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who had shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Vice-President Al Gore, was forced out due to sexual harassment charge against his subordinate employee in India. Similarly, disciplinary and punitive action against former UC Berkeley law dean Sujit Choudhry, for example, are yet other examples that the sexual misconduct bug has bitten the Indian American community as well, which is otherwise an educated and accomplished model minority of America.

Sexual misconduct is the crime of opportunity conducted in isolation when the victim is alone, vulnerable or weak due to physical, financial and emotional factors. Because there are no eye-witnesses to the crime, such allegations are difficult to prove in the court of law and hard to prosecute for lack of substantive physical or chemical evidence. As a result, many perpetrators are either acquitted or are never charged with the crime. So, they end up roaming the streets freely and living in communities respectfully while the victims rot in shame and guilt.

Despite the epidemic proportions of sexual misconducts that occur in society, the rate of conviction is generally low. One of the principal reasons for the low rate is long delays between the incidence and reporting. This is observed in clear majority of cases, and typically works against the interest of the victim and in favor of the perpetrator. These delays are primarily due to psychological trauma, guilt, shame, humiliation and wounded spirit of the victims.

Another significant reason for low conviction rates in sexual misconduct is the silence of people who know of the crime but do not speak out openly. This was observed overwhelmingly in case of Harvey Weinstein, whose sexual abuse of women was reportedly known to many celebrities but they kept quiet.

As unfortunate and serious as the crime of sexual misconduct is, America has not seen the last of it. In fact, it is only the tip of the iceberg that meets the eye. The real extent of sexual abuse is much wider, subtle, and mostly hidden from the public view. There are many women who lack social and financial resources to fight their powerful employers and influential people in the industry. Many of these women cannot afford to be stigmatized or lose career opportunities.

In the end, sexual misconduct is really a variant of emotional abuse of a person that leaves permanent scars on the victim’s psyche as abuse demeans and humiliates them. Perhaps the best way to prevent this evil is transparency, sympathy, support and quick legal action. Although,there are federal laws to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct, these cannot be fully effective if either the victim or the knowledgeable people do not act, including involving the media.

Sexual predators are narcissistic, insecure, silent abusers who drive gratification from exploiting the weak to look powerful by demeaning and degrading the victim. Society can protect itself against these characters only by simply exposing them and bringing them to justice.

Chandra Mittal

Houston, Texas 

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