Sex­ual al­le­ga­tions used as weapon

If reg­is­ter of un­proven mis­con­duct ac­cu­sa­tions is in­tro­duced it could de­stroy lives and dam­age NZ so­ci­ety

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS - Con­tri­bu­tions are wel­come and should be 700-800 words. Send your sub­mis­sion to di­a­logue@nzher­ Text may be edited and used in dig­i­tal for­mats as well as on pa­per. Max White­head com­ment

If you read this ar­ti­cle, you’re an id­iot. Now imag­ine if that state­ment was true. Imag­ine if the mere fact I said some­thing about you made it so. Or, even if it wasn’t true, peo­ple thought and acted as though it was.

That’s what the Women’s Min­is­ter, Julie Anne Gen­ter, is propos­ing to do for al­le­ga­tions of work­place sex­ual mis­con­duct. I won­der what the Men’s Min­is­ter would have to say about this?

It has be­come com­mon to os­tracise, crit­i­cise and de­monise men (I have yet to see it hap­pen to a woman) as a re­sult of mere al­le­ga­tions of be­ing a sex­ual ha­rasser, rapist or a per­pe­tra­tor of un­wanted sex­ual acts. The trend be­gan with the as yet un­con­victed Har­vey We­in­stein, and con­tin­ued on to the #metoo and #time­sup move­ments.

Dr Jackie Blue, the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sioner, said: “It is a hu­man right to feel safe as you go about your busi­ness.”

What a silly idea. Feel­ing is some­thing wholly in­ter­nal. My ac­tions can­not be held up to how you “feel”. I have no con­trol over your feel­ings, only you do.

Let’s draw a distinc­tion be­tween “feel­ing safe” and “be­ing safe”. Yes, you should be safe (but only to an ex­tent). That doesn’t mean you need to feel safe. The id­iocy of feel­ing safe means never step­ping out the door, con­fronting any un­wanted area of the world or fac­ing up to chaos or the un­known.

The fact that feel­ings have be­come more im­por­tant than in­ten­tion is the rea­son al­le­ga­tions can now be used to ruin lives. And that’s what a reg­is­ter like the one pro­posed will do.

A po­ten­tially base­less ac­cu­sa­tion (or mis­un­der­stand­ing or mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion) could lead to some­one (prob­a­bly a man) los­ing a job and for­ever be­ing os­tracised for an ac­tion which may have had an un­in­tended con­se­quence.

Gen­uine sex­ual ha­rass­ment should not be tol­er­ated. How­ever, a tool such as an al­le­ga­tion of sex­ual mis­con­duct is now be­ing used to bring down peo­ple with­out due process of law. It has be­come a weapon of re­venge for the likes of a jilted lover or chas­tised em­ployee.

On a prac­ti­cal note, in or­der for peo­ple to get to know each other, have re­la­tion­ships and prop­a­gate, they must en­gage with oth­ers. Fear of re­jec­tion is al­ready mas­sive. Add to it the fear of your ac­tions be­ing la­belled as sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and most men will shy away from any­one they were at­tracted to.

A reg­is­ter such as this will also neg­a­tively im­pact on work­place en­vi­ron­ments and dis­cour­age so­cial­is­ing and friend­ships be­tween col­leagues.

The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion holds a reg­is­ter of cases of proven ha­rass­ment. A reg­is­ter of un­proven al­le­ga­tions is not only un­nec­es­sary, it could dam­age our al­ready co­coon­ing so­ci­ety.

Max White­head

is an ex­pert in em­ploy­ment law.

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