March 2, 2018


Sexual harassment of women

“Violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well.”

That’s a statement from the U.S. Catholic bishops in their statement “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.” In that statement they said, “Sexual harassment or abuse is a sin against the dignity of the human person.”

It seems that every day we hear of another woman accusing a man of some type of sexual harassment. The man is usually someone with power of one kind of another, but not always.

Perhaps no movement has grown as quickly as the “Me Too Movement.” Founded by social activist Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, it was just this past October that it was first used as a hashtag on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. Since then, it has been posted online millions of times by women who claim they have been sexually harassed.

The case of Dr. Larry Nasser was in the news for a long time after female gymnasts accused him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of “treatment.” He is now in prison.

Several members of the U.S. Congress have been forced to resign because of sexual harassment claims by women.

Sexual assault even reached the White House with the resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter after his two ex‑wives accused him of domestic abuse. President Donald J. Trump has been widely criticized for praising Porter for his work, and it has been noted that he, too, has been accused of sexual misconduct in the past.

It seems that sexual harassment has become an epidemic. It takes many forms, from rape and domestic violence to expected sexual favors in the workplace. We hear about it much more than in the past.

However, as those who operate shelters for abused women can tell you, domestic violence and sexual harassment against women aren’t new. The statement that began this editorial was from a document published in 2002. It’s just that women have decided that enough is too much and it’s time to act.

Steve Bannon, the former advisor to President Trump, thinks that the “Me Too Movement” will become stronger than the Tea Party. He called it the “anti-patriarchy movement,” and said that it will “undo 10,000 years of recorded history.”

Catholic social teaching tells us that men and women are equal in dignity and called to communion. But sin has brought in a tendency toward domination. When that happens, the equality, respect and love that are required in relationships of men and women according to God’s original plan are lost.

The statement from the U.S. bishops says that “abusive men usually hold a view of women as inferior. Their conversation and language reveal their attitude toward a woman’s place in society. Many believe that men are meant to dominate and control women. They tend to be extremely jealous, possessive, and easily angered.”

Such men are often in positions of authority because the same characteristics that make them want to dominate women are those that help them achieve those positions.

Pope Francis, though, has made it clear that violence is never an authentic display of masculinity. In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) he wrote, “Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice” (#54).

Parents, both mothers and fathers, must teach their children, especially their sons, always to respect one another. We know that sexual harassment is learned behavior, so sons must learn that, as Pope Francis said, it’s a sign of cowardice.

As the various women’s movements spread, young men and women have to learn the new rules. What is permissible and what is not when it comes to dating? The complementarity between men and women, created by God, won’t change, but any notion that men should dominate women must be rejected.

—John F. Fink

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