The following post is an assignment I did recently for my Business in Society class, in which we discuss strategic corporate social responsibility. Now, that may sound boring, but it is my most intellectually challenging class and 90% of class time is spent discussing ethical dilemmas in the news and how we personally would address them, what the opposing viewpoints might be, giving respect to the validity of views not in direct agreement with our own, etc.
Last week Publishers Weekly reported that author Sherman Alexie, along with some other well-known authors, were accused of sexual misconduct. The article did not go into significant detail about the accusations and one might be tempted to downplay the article with the increasing number of reports in recent events, but we need to pay attention.
The challenge with a situation like the one reported, in which allegations are made against public figures, is breaking through the stigma to find the truth. Rape culture is a battle that may never be won and that is due in part to a lack of understanding to what things like rape culture and sexual harassment truly are. WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre defines rape culture as “…jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal” (WAVAW, 2014). The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” (EEOC, n.d.).
The greatest problem with this issue isn’t a lack of knowledge, but a lack of understanding. Everyone knows (or should know) that a forceful, physical attack is wrong and telling someone they’ll get the promotion if they have sex with you is wrong. We know this because it is illegal. Unfortunately, our understanding sometimes stops with the obvious. Sexual harassment is also cracking inappropriate jokes or comments that make others uncomfortable, such as was reported in the Pacific Standard regarding Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket (Perry, 2018).
Every person has a stake in this problem. Anyone who is a member of the human race is affected by this lack of understanding and responsibility, whether they realize it or not. The publishers of these authors are direct stakeholders based on how their clients present themselves in public. The companies who purchase these books for resale are stakeholders, because who wants to purchase a book from an author that is potentially viewed as a sexual predator? Especially an author of young adult and children novels. Public libraries are stakeholders for a similar reason. They have a duty to provide uncensored information to the public, but in today’s world they also sometimes serve as a place of refuge for kids with questionable home lives.
Although they might be indirect, the children, tweens, and teens who read these novels are also stakeholders. These are the individuals who are forming opinions and beliefs and habits partially as a result of what these authors write. While the books themselves might appear harmless – I am a huge fan of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events – the people who created these pieces of art are people that young readers will look up to and imitate.
The parents of these children are stakeholders. Parents have a challenge to teach their children respect and empathy for others and situations like these have the potential to blur the lines between reality and entertainment even more for young readers, making it harder for parents.
Schools, support groups, and nonprofits working to educate the public on the reality of what sexual assault truly is and provide services to those who are survivors are also stakeholders. When people who are in the public eye conduct themselves in such a manner as these authors have with no apparent regard for those on the receiving end of their actions, recipients of similar unwanted advances and conversations might be less likely to share their story for fear of being disregarded.
Lastly, the survivors of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment have a stake in society breaking through the stigma and seeing the problem through unbiased empathy and complete understanding of the true definition of these problems.
I could continue to find other stakeholder examples but I think you, the reader, get the idea. I continue to believe that society as a whole can be educated and we who are advocates for this movement should continue to do what we can. Rape is not always violent, but it’s the most recognized. Sexual harassment isn’t always obvious, but the obvious is what’s easily addressed. The victim reporting a crime should always be believed, but they are sometimes believed with caution “just in case”. This is what we need to change. All we can do is continue to educate the public, and pray their knowledge transfers to understanding.