Helen Gottstein
Corporate public speaking skills for people of ambition
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The good news about sexual harassment allegations

When yet another fine upstanding citizen is accused of abuse, do you find you have a knee-jerk reaction that it simply can't be true?
Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)
Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

The first reaction is always shock. Surely not that wonderful guy from Lehava! Surely not Pinkas and Uchovsky, those trusted symbols of the LGBQT community! Surely these accusations against leaders of the Reform rabbinical school, Orthodox Rabbis Sheinberg, and Tufik and a cover up in the Conservative movement are baseless. Wait, Shimon Peres? Surely not that doctor and trusted head of a hospital department in Tel Aviv! It’s almost as hard to believe that Elazar Stern shredded complaints of sexual harassment while head of the Human Resources Directorate and commander of the IDF Officers Training School.

But he is so quiet! But she’s so warm! But he served in such a great unit! But he works at (that household name company)! But he/she/they pray at my shul! As if there was a connection.

What’s surprising is that we are still surprised. After all, people can now turn to HR. Kind of.

Somehow the HR departments I keep hearing about don’t get it. They don’t get what it takes for someone to come forward after they have had their autonomy, safety, and sense of self assaulted and betrayed.

So, to the HR departments who put wonderful declarations on the walls, yet:

  • Make women sign NDAs about the harassment they lived through
  • Ask a woman who was chased down the street, Do you want us to fire him? Him with six kids and the sole breadwinner! As if she’s responsible for company policy
  • Fire her
  • Know why she quit
  • Keep employing him two years, three years, five years after a rape complaint is made
  • Say, “He’s just like that.”

To these HR departments, we say, one day, your story will also be told. Then there are those who know there is no HR department to turn to. To the:

  • VC rep who asks for videos
  • Vlogger who promises publicity
  • Female head of department who offers her industry connections
  • Friend of the family who offers a recommendation
  • Clients who make the sale conditional
  • Personalities who trust they are too big to fail

To these we say, “One day, your story will also be told.” And to those who can’t afford to lose the:

  • Client
  • Potential investor
  • Community
  • Promotion
  • Extra shift
  • Intro to industry connections

We say, “Keep a record. Tell someone. Print the texts. Keep the videos he sent. Record the conversations. One day, your story will also be told.”

This week’s parsha includes the rape of Dina. I can’t read it without seeing multiple levels of violent patriarchy. At the same time, it is really clear that Dina’s brothers believe her. They don’t ask, “What were you wearing?” They say, “Even the prince is going to pay.”

When the next story drops of a prince or princess abusing their power, do like Dina’s brothers. Start with #Ibelieveyou to the one who had the courage to come forward.
Here’s the good news. We know about all these stories, all these princes and rulers. We know about Malka Leifer and Peres and Elazar’s busy paper shredder.

Here’s the even better news. Think back two weeks to when China’s Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, former vice premier of rape. Unless you could see what made this man, 40 years her senior, irresistible, chances are you believed her.

That first response of disbelief comes from a desire to protect those who hold power. That first response is shifting. When the next sexual harassment story drops, I’ll be going with #Ibelieveyou.

About the Author
Helen Gottstein, Loud and Clear Training, boosts public speaking skills for people of ambition and corporate teams so they reach their speaking goals. She's a popular public speaker, a TEDX mentor and a lousy cook.
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