Sex & Abuse of Power
2022 – June 29th – is an incredibly historic day for women and in particular for black women. A famous artist with lots of power is brought down for human trafficking, sex abuse, and child pornography. R.Kelly Justice is served. I have never witnessed anything like this in my lifetime. The moment was so overwhelming for me that I could barely catch my breath as I watched one of the survivors speak powerfully to the press about how justice has been served. While this is incredibly moving and historic the psychological damage to these women’s lives cannot be undone. That is a tragedy and as a woman, I share in this collective pain.
I am a gen X. I learned fast how to adapt to a world dominated by patriarchal values. Keep my head down. Look away and for god, sakes don’t talk about what is happening in the workplace. Just suck it up. That’s what the baby boomer women in my life did! In large part, the shame that I have carried has prevented me from writing this post however when I continue to see the courage of women coming forward and changing all women’s lives for the better I feel inspired to write this post.
Bill C -127 1992
In 1992 when I was on campus working on my first degree I remember watching a group of women walking down the field with signs ” No means No.” It doesn’t matter if it’s your boyfriend it’s still rape.” Date Rape. It’s a thing. I was young and naive. I actually thought that if my boyfriend wanted sex I did not have a choice but to say yes! I also had no idea that Bill C- 127 which ended sexual assault as being a crime outside of marriage wasn’t passed until 1986. This meant that rape within marriage or common-law relationships were not punishable by law until 1986. It isn’t surprising then that well into the early 90s women were still lobbying against the myth that sexual assault ( rape) is not ok whether it’s your boyfriend, husband, or same-sex relationship. No means No period.
Canadian laws have been founded on patriarchal values therefore it’s not surprising that such a law as Bill C-127 would not have been passed until well into the 80s.
Abuse of Power & Sex
Unfortunately, it’s also not surprising that persons in positions of power use sex to manipulate their subordinates for their personal gratification in exchange for job promotions or other entitlements.
Worse, – sex is used as a way to intimidate and control the employee or risk being ridiculed, demoted or fired at the workplace.
When sex at the workplace with a boss or superior is used in exchange for an opportunity for advancement in the workplace this kind of psychological abuse is particularly damaging to a woman’s sense of worth. Even more so if the boss does not follow through on all of their promises. It’s confusing and demeaning. This kind of arrangement by the abuser can go on for years in the workplace which usually includes sexual harassment, blackmail regarding your employment, and job demotions.
I have been subjected to all kinds of sexual harassment in my jobs and career. Ranging from promises for promotion to being fired if I did not cooperate, (ended up quitting BTW) to blowing the whistle on a superior and then paying the consequences for that.
Even when a woman gets justice it comes at a personal cost.
Abuse of power through sexual harassment is a special kind of injury that a worker is subjected to. Such manipulation warps the victim’s ability to trust their judgment. Co-workers who watch from the sidelines specialize in gas lighting techniques against the victim in order to remain at a distance from the dysfunction they are witnessing and protect their jobs. This causes more confusion and shame for the victim as they try to make sense of what is happening to them.
Job Security Threatened
For a woman, the danger of being fired, threatened, or worse her physical safety threatened, is a special kind of torture at the workplace. She realizes that there is no one she can really trust. That she is left with little option but to give in to the harassment, quit, or blow the whistle. No one wants to sign up for a job that ends in these options.
Today in large part because of the Me2 movement, awareness regarding sexual harassment and assault has blown up on social media and influenced workplace policies. This movement has influenced and motivated class-action suits against organizations that have turned a blind eye to serious abuse of power within the workplace. This movement has also contributed to the takedown of powerful movie producers, actors and stars in the music industry.
If you have struggled with being sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace there is psychological help available. EMDR can be very helpful in releasing trapped emotions that a person ends up burying to survive such an experience. Today thanks to the brave women who have come forward all over the world you don’t have to live with the same kind of consequences of sexual harassment the way that my generation did.
Crystal Arber is a registered social worker and registered clinical counsellor. She is a certified EMDR therapist and EMDRIA-approved EMDR consultant and educator. She runs a private practice specializing in treating PTSD with First Responders, Military, Veterans and survivors of childhood trauma.