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Guest Commentary: Response to accusations sheds light, but raises issues

All of the recent press around accusations of sexual harassment and assault seem to be never-ending and baffling to many. These crimes are nothing new and have been happening in workplaces, in public spaces and in private locations forever. So why all of the attention now?

For many years, programs like ours (which provide support and assistance for victims/survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes) and many people in the general public have been helping to establish rules in our workplaces and schools and enact legislation to hold those who choose to harass and humiliate others accountable. There has also been much ground work accomplished through education of our youth and of the public. Through this work, people have become less accepting of these types of abuses and are more willing to come forward.

While there has been a sudden surge in reports, the reason for this is quite understandable: There is strength in numbers. Many of the reporters feel empowered by those who have taken the leap to speak out and it gives them the courage to do the same.

Are there false reports and accusations? Sexual assault and harassment are just like any other crime, and on occasion, unscrupulous people will make false reports, but for the most part, someone has been seriously injured either financially or emotionally by the crime committed against them. They deserve to have their perpetrator held accountable.

Sexual harassment can be difficult to define and, more often, hard to prove. Sexual harassment has many forms and can be perpetrated on men, women and children.

Consider fraternity hazing and locker room harassment experienced by men. Women experience harassment for merely going about their daily lives, from having someone make a lewd comment directed at them to being groped on the dance floor at a club.

Due to power differentials in the workplace, many men and women are put into situations for which they have no control and few choices.

The end result is the same for either gender: Victims first tend to blame themselves and wonder what they did to deserve being treated this way. Many are traumatized for life and can experience depression and may even harm themselves.

While we at WINDOW Victim Services are heartened to see this radical shift in public reaction to these crimes, it is concerning that they tend to be lumped together as a whole. Just like any other crime, there are degrees of severity and the punishment should always fit the crime.

As we move forward in our conversations about these issues, I am hopeful that together we can find new approaches to finally ending sexual abuse and harassment. This can be accomplished by holding offenders accountable either through law enforcement or simply standing up to offenders and providing assistance and support to victims when we see or hear them being mistreated or they are being coerced into a potentially unsafe situation. We all have a role to play so if you see something, say something and help out where you can.

For more information, please check out our website at window4victims.com, "like" our Facebook page or give us a call at 320-384-7113. Thanks for doing your part to help others.

Lisa S. Lilja is the executive director of WINDOW Victim Services & Visitation Center. Contact her at 320-384-7113.