Wrong Advice On Sexual Harassment


I was disturbed by Erica Brown’s column concerning our response to sexual harassment (“A Teachable Moment On Sexual Responsibility,” Nov. 3). She tells us that she, too, has been the victim of unwanted harassment and while she makes clear that it’s awful, she nonetheless urges women to respond confidentially, not in public. She doesn’t want women accusing men in public because “the stories may not be true and ruin a person’s reputation.” Instead, women should seek “counseling to heal from these deep, inner wounds.”

If someone sets my house on fire, should I seek counseling rather than go to the police? If someone robs and beats me, should I protect his reputation and not press charges? Should rape not be prosecuted because it might “create the impression that all men cannot be trusted”?

Sexual harassment is illegal and must be prosecuted and penalized by the state. It is also illegal under Jewish law. The aftermath for the victims is not simply, as Erica Brown writes, “broken hearts.” It can be broken careers, broken dignity, broken humanity, broken lives. It is violence against the body and violence against the soul.

Brown is correct that public accusations can become what she calls “witch hunts,” though I doubt society will conclude, as she fears, that no men can be viewed as “loving and true.”

Men who harass women rarely stop after one episode, but are serial harassers. Reporting sexual harassment is morally incumbent upon women to save other women from future attacks.

When someone is accused, we are all challenged. We should not gloat or mock, but ask ourselves: What have we, as a community, done or failed to do to create an atmosphere in which such horrors can take place with seeming impunity. Bad men may be guilty, but we are all responsible.

Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies
at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.