today the news breaks that roger sutton is resigning from CERA as a result of allegations of sexual harrasement. he announces and holds a press conference, apologising for the hurt he has caused. and yet, there is still a certain dismissiveness of his own behaviour: "hugs, jokes, i do do those things...", "i am who i am", "i never meant to cause any harm" (yeah, intent isn't magical) and "i've worked my guts out for the last three and a half years" (sorry, that doesn't give you a free pass to harass anyone). on the other hand, there were statements taking responsibility for inappropriate jokes and a strong statement that he is not the victim here.
sadly, but somewhat predictably, there has been a lot of minimising of the behaviour in various media reports. the focus has been on the language - "really, calling someone honey or sweetie is sexual harassment now?", but there has also been minimisation of the unwanted hugs (oh but women hug men, hugging is common etc etc). despite his own statement that he isn't the victim, there are a lot people who are trying making him one.
it was pretty infuriating listening to gary mccormick on radio nz, worried about what a terrible impact this was going to have on nz. very little concern at all for the woman who made the complaint, no acknowledgement that mr sutton mentioning that he may have hurt other women by his behaviour as well. in fact, no recognition that the sum of his behaviour over a period of time may have created a difficult work environment for the women who had to work with him.
we have heard from his tearful wife, and i can completely understand that she is upset by what has happened and feels protective of her husband. when she says "She says she is baffled that his "hugs and jokes" have been misinterpreted and that Mr Sutton is simply a "touchy-feely" person.", one has to wonder whether or not she has spoken to the woman who laid the complaint or to the other women who may have been hurt, and whether she has been part of the investigation or read the full report. maybe she has done all of the above & still supports her husband. but in doing so in the manner that she has, she is further harming the women in the workplace.
i've also seen, on social media, the "nice guy" defence. the one where people refuse to believe that a person could have committed particular acts because they are so nice, they do such good work, they have benefited society in xyz ways. except we have so many, many examples of people who behave extremely well in many spheres but who have also been abusers or harassers. just because someone is nice in their behaviour towards the majority of people they come across, or just because someone donates to charity or does other "good works" doesn't mean they haven't behaved badly.
in this particular case, the state services has investigated the complaint against mr sutton, and while the conclusion is that the behaviour didn't justify dismissal, it was considered inappropriate.
the problem with the current media narrative, with the minimising of the behaviours complained of, is that it creates an environment where it's almost impossible for the complainant and other women to come forward and tell their side of the story. after all, we live in a culture where women who come forward are subject to all kinds of abuse, death and rape threats, character assassinations and more. it's hard enough as it is. but given the climate created by the current media narratives, it is going to be even harder for these women to speak out.
and of course, there is the ripple effect. minimising mr sutton's behaviour makes it harder for other women in other workplaces to lay a complaint. in
fact, in choosing to resign, mr sutton has placed the complainant in an
even more difficult position. she will now be blamed for costing him
his job, even though that may not have been the outcome she wanted. it has created a higher level of hostility. i can understand that he no longer feels comfortable in that workplace, but there is no doubt of the impact on the complainant. even state services commissioner iain rennie said "There are no winners. This is a sad day for the complainant in terms of the impact on them."
one has to wonder, with some of the people being dismissive of the significance of mr sutton's behaviour, whether they are feeling just a little threatened or defensive because they know that their own behaviour might have been upsetting to another person. a hug isn't always welcome. just because you are a "touchy-feely" person doesn't mean that the person you are touching is the same. and yes, the touchy-feely person needs to check that their way of being isn't making other people uncomfortable, because each person has the right to determine how, when and where they are touched.
i've heard that there are more details to be revealed on thursday. by that time, it may be too late to upset the impression that has been caused by today's reporting.