A Pause, Please, in the Sex Talk

Americans have been left breathless with all the talk of sexual improprieties over the last few months. Sexual harassment, sex acts with under aged kids, sexual assault, even rape. Allegations, admissions, apologies and confusion reign.

Let’s take a collective deep breath and reflect for a moment. What are we to make of all this, what are the lessons we should take away?

The grievances, some of them decades old, have bubbled forth from women (and in a few instances, men) from all sorts of careers and situations. From the entertainment industry in Hollywood to the news business in New York. From corporate suites in Silicon Valley to politician’s offices and state houses across the country.

The mostly female complainants are finally unloading about the men in their lives who have been guilty of groping, stalking, shaming, making lewd comments or threatening them with their jobs. Of course, the reports that should get our fullest attention are from those who allege they were sexually assaulted. That is a criminal offense.

I feel the pain of all the women who have stepped forward.  Been there, done that — or more precisely – I’ve had that happened to me in the past. But I’ve resisted joining the trendy “Me Too” campaign, content to sit back and watch it all play out.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we are watching a sea change in human behavior taking place. Interactions between men and women at work (and elsewhere) will never be the same. Anyone with a brain will, henceforth, very carefully watch what they say and do with their colleagues. Women should be on notice that there could be a backlash and men might start lodging their own sex-based complaints.

In some respects, this is too bad. I liked having a colleague tell me he noticed my new dress. I liked seeing him smile back when I complimented his haircut. But I also adore the empowerment women are displaying, finally putting their collective feet down and saying, “Not anymore.”

Now it’s time to better define what we’re talking about and precisely how transgressions should be handled. What is sexual harassment, anyway, and what should we view as merely boorish behavior?

The  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission puts it this way, “The law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not very serious. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision,” like the victim being ostracized, demoted or fired. State laws differ, of course, but harassment has also been identified as including on-going “pervasive jokes/comments, looks and body language that makes an individual feel harassed.”

Okay, so how do we define sexual assault? Well, that’s where it gets complicated, again, depending on various state’s laws.  In general, sexual assault falls into one of three categories: 1.) Unwanted penetration of a body part by another body part or with a foreign object. 2.) Unwanted contact with an intimate body part. 3.) Exposure of an intimate body part to an unwilling person. It also includes sexual contact with a minor or a family member (incest).

With the spotlight now firmly on those who commit sexual harassment and assault I hope women everywhere don’t hesitate to step up, speak up and file police reports when the behavior warrants it.  Only when confronted with public condemnation will perps be shamed into changing their dreadful conduct.

I have felt inner satisfaction watching the recent downfall of those obviously guilty of being serial predators.  But I still have questions that, honestly, are not intended to be insensitive to victims.

Question:  by bringing up an episode from ten, twenty or even thirty years ago don’t we inevitably erase the possibility that the guilty party has grown as a person over the years and learned the error of their ways? I know I did things decades ago that I’m not proud of, things I would never do again.

Question: how do we handle the man who delivers a seemingly heartfelt apology for their past bad acts? If we continue to vilify him aren’t we guilty of the very act of shaming we condemn? If the woman’s goal is a big money settlement couldn’t that be seen as a predatory act too?

And, final question:  by automatically accepting an accuser’s version of events and immediately heaping scorn on the suspect haven’t we forgotten to give the accused an opportunity to defend himself?

That said, if multiple victims step forward to point the finger of blame at one person, well, that’s pretty telling. But let’s make sure we don’t robotically accept each and every complaint as true. False reports are more common than you think and once exposed they can dilute the power of legitimate complaints.

As we sail these turbulent waters toward true gender equality lets be sure not to go overboard. It would be a shame if this important voyage became waterlogged by its own rhetoric.



  1. Diane Dimond on November 22, 2017 at 9:00 am

    ABQ Journal Reader Julia Payne writes:

    Re: your column of nov 20th…absolutely excellent..thank you for being such a sane voice..
    We need more voices like yours!
    Blessings to you at thanksgiving,
    Best, julia payne

  2. Diane Dimond on November 22, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Reader Vicki Weaver writes:

    Ms. Dimond, thank you for your excellent article “a sea change in human behavior” on sexual improprieties. Your comments and questions are ones that I will be discussing with others. I’ve learned that in discussing sexual morals with other women, we do not agree on definitions or how to respond to “inappropriate” behavior.

    Vicki Weaver

  3. Diane Dimond on November 22, 2017 at 9:10 am

    ABQ Journal Reader Joel Wideman writes:

    Great analysis and I agree with everything you wrote except… I’mnot sure that there has been a sea change or at least a change that affects all “perps” equally. If you are an obnoxious jerk,e.g.Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein allegations of misconduct will probably bring you down. If you are an obnoxious jerk but look like you’re going to win the presidency,you get a pass. Trump is the only public figure that I can think of who actually bragged about his conduct yet more white women voted for him than for Hillary. Go figure. Bill Clinton rivals Trump in the scum department but gets a pass and becomes the elder statesman of the Democratic party probably because of his fund raising ability. Going back a ways, if the Church thought that not getting caught was a miracle, JFK would have been cannonized. My prediction: Al Franken will get a pass because he’s a nice guy. You read it here first. OOPS! Almost forgot Pete Domenici whose conduct generated a big yawn.

    Joel Widman

  4. Diane Dimond on November 22, 2017 at 9:25 am

    ABQ Journal Reader Elizabeth Varssa writes:


    I enjoyed your thoughtful column I read today in the Albuquerque Journal regarding the tsunami of sexual harassment/offense accusations occurring at this time. I also agree with the concept of ‘not going overboard’.

    I am a retired physician, a late bloomer early wilter’, if you will. and I have certainly endured my share of harassment by my male counterparts. Most fortunately, no physical assaults occurred.

    What disturbs me about all this #MeToo publicity is the lack of realization by the public in their outcry is that the draconian ‘sex offense’ laws now on the books is that many of these Senators, Congressmen, Legislators who write and sign these laws, particularly the Registration ones are those who have committed the same offenses which they decry and criminalize in others. Anthony Weiner comes to mind (AKA Carlos Danger) and he is now serving time with the feds.

    I recall that Bill Clinton ( it’s only sex’) signed Megan’s Law which initiated the tsunami of sex offense/registration laws with which 800,000 folks in the US are now burdened. The
    basis of this is a case from 2003 in which Justice Kennedy opined that the recidivism rate of sex offenders is ‘frightening and high’, apparently based upon an article in Psychology Today , a non scientific publication which was written by two people who treated sex offenders.with an obvious conflict of interest… not to worry….

    The registration rush initiated by Federal, State, and Local officials continues to this day and the draconian nature of these laws is manifest in all states. The New Mexico legislature also quoted the ‘frightening and high’ mantra in its legislation and punishment regarding sex offenders. .

    Many scientific studies have been done since 2003 debunking this myth but it still persists, is still destructive, and is horrendously expensive. Your article about the Halloween scare tactics that appeared on the Albuquerque Journal a couple of yeas ago comes to mind and the same scare tactics are still applied.

    It would be wonderful if you could write a column with an accounting of these hypocrites,especially Bill Clinton et al., the numbers of people their laws affect, and the ineffectiveness of registries for sex offenders ( why not DUI?). Where else can laws regarded as non-punitive but civil result in prison terms for so many, for failure to register? These law/ flaws have been written about before but in arenas that do not inspire widespread public readership.
    And, yes, there are Supreme Court decisions in the last year or so recognizing unconstitutional facets of these laws which must be addressed on a state by state basis.This will continue until the 2003 Alaska case upheld by the US Supreme Court is overturned in its entirety which is not likely to happen in my lifetime.

    NARSOL website( National Asociation for Rational Sexual Offense Laws) is a good source of information, as you are probably aware.

    Thank you for reading this lengthy email.

    Elizabeth Varsa,MD

  5. Diane Dimond on November 22, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Reader Paul Kotter writes:

    Ms Dimond,

    1. Who measured the rate of false reports and what method was used to determine truth or falsehood?

    2. How was the common perception of this rate among your readers measured?

    3. If the true rate or the perceived rate is not really known, what was the purpose of including this assertion in your article? Maybe stating it as your opinion rather than fact would have been better.

    Thank you,
    Paul Kottler

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