“ME TOO” dominated my social media feed this morning. It was usually accompanied with a statement about the poster having been sexually harassed and or assaulted in their lifetime and the “me too” was declaring solidarity with other posters. Nearly every woman on my social media feed posted it. And thousands more. And it was not just in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Or to Bill Cosby. Or to Presidents, both past and present. Or to the countless other men in power accused of sexual harassment or assault. It is in response to far too many girls and women being harassed and assaulted every day; whether it is occurring in the streets, at home or in the workplace.
As a man, I am far less likely to experience unwanted sexual attention. Whereas the majority of girls and women will during their lifetimes. Certainly men can be victimized, but at a much less frequent rate and with far less dangerous consequences. And although I can’t speak to women’s deeply personal experiences with these behaviors, I can speak to being a man with power, both inherent and directly linked to my positional authority. As the Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance, North Lake Tahoe/Truckee’s service provider for victims and survivors of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse, I cringe everytime I hear of another male leader being accused of abusing his power. How cliche.
I am the first male Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance in its 32 year history, and one of very few male ED’s in the greater Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault fields. As such, male leaders are blessed to be trusted with the leadership of these incredible feminist-based, grass-roots born organizations. Our staff, boards and communities entrust in us to use our power for good. And this does not always happen. Male leaders in the nonprofit sector are not immune to abusing their power. And while the behavior of one does not reflect the behavior of all, it does reflect a culture that we are all complicit in if we are not actively working to end sexist and abusive behaviors.
I have 24 staff members, 21 of whom are female. I do my best to use my authority to create a just, equitable and safe working environment for everyone. As the Executive Director, it is my job to lead the organization, internally and externally. And what an honor and gift that is. It is incumbent upon me to create an environment where everyone feels safe and valued. And how easy it seems to be for men with positional authority to use that power to sexually harass, intimidate and assault women. Many men with power, but not all, feel as though they are entitled to women’s bodies and attention. We live in a culture that, if it is not rewarding this type of behavior, it is certainly looking the other way. This takes shape in many forms, whether victim blaming or excusing the behavior with the notion that “boys will be boys” and protecting the accused because of their status. The list is exhaustive.
At Tahoe SAFE Alliance we provide “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” trainings to local employers. In our trainings, employers learn the best practices of addressing sexual harassment and how they can provide safe environments for people to come forward and report sexual harassment. In addition, we work with local youth around identifying sexual harassment, the harm it causes and the behaviors that support it. We show youth how sexual harassment occupies a place on the same continuum as sexual assault and is a form of sexual violence. We work with young men, teaching them about the impact of unwanted sexual advances, both physically and verbally. We teach them that “no means no”, whatever shade it may come in. We work with with young women, supporting their self-confidence and autonomy. We teach them that to be treated with respect and dignity is their right and that they should expect nothing less. It is our goal that the youth in our communities strive for and engage in healthy relationships.
We may not have control over what happens in Hollywood, Washington or in professional sports, but we do have control in our communities. We have the power to model respectful and equitable relationships. Men with positional authority must demonstrate through their actions to young men that there is great responsibility in having power; it is a gift and must be exercised with care, empathy and compassion. We must hold those who use abusive behavior accountable. The coverage of sexual harassment/assault in the media is a teachable moment; it gives context to necessary conversations with the youth in our lives about healthy relationships, what behavior is appropriate and the consequences of our actions. We have the power to end these cycles of violence. As the Executive Director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance, I commit to my staff, board of directors and community to lead with integrity, equity and love.
Paul Bancroft, MA
Tahoe SAFE Alliance