Monday 17 November 2014

on roger sutton not being the victim

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.  


Anonymous said...

I have some knowledge of this situation and based on that I would say the reporting fairly accurately reflects the situation. Sutton's behavior was inappropriate and rightly needed to be dealt with. There were several options available to do this. The path chosen by the victim led rather purposefully to the outcome we have seen.

Psycho Milt said...

she will now be blamed for costing him his job, even though that may not have been the outcome she wanted.

Tough. He inflicted some annoying behaviour on someone, they in turn cost him his job. So who's the asshole here? Neither one comes out of it smelling of roses, but only one of them gets publicly humiliated via the national news media so my sympathy's with that one.

Anonymous said...

I have zero sympathy for Sutton. His attempt to minimise his behaviour is despicable. If he feels he did nothing wrong he should tough it out and see it through.
Sean Plunket nails it in his questions to the SSC on his Facebook page.

stargazer said...

"He inflicted annoying behaviour on someone"

yup, that's exactly the kind of minimising that i was talking about in the post. sexual harassment is just written off as annoying behaviour. if a person is feeling unsafe in their workplace, they shouldn't have to shut up and put up. they have every right to put in a complaint. from mr sutton's own comments, he says he may have hurt other women as well.

there has been an investigation which found his behaviour inappropriate. that would make him the asshole here.

Anonymous said...

We have only allegations and those are not open to debate because no detail is available. We don't even know if the woman even asked him to respect her space when she realised he was a bit more familiar than she liked. An enquiry that supports your position is not necessarily "right" in its findings (were that not so rape victims would always win).

If he could have been hung out to dry they would have done that which indicates its an asexual issue where his attempts at being supportive were misguided and unwelcome. We all know sleaze when we see it and there is no apparent claim of that here.


stargazer said...

we don't just have allegations, we have statements from mr sutton as to his own behaviour. we have statements from him that he knows he has hurt one person and may have hurt others. we have a clear statement from him that he is not the victim. we have a statement from iain rennie that mr sutton's behaviour falls short of what was expected.

you're right that we don't know if the woman asked him to stop his behaviour. she may well have done. or given the power differential and the atmosphere created by a series of incidents, she may not have felt safe to do so. she may have feared an even more toxic environment had she said something directly.

your conclusion in the last paragraph do not fit any of the facts that are so far in the public domain. even mr sutton's own words don't support your conclusion. there was a complaint of sexual harassment here, that is not at all in dispute.

ChundaMars said...

These sorts of stories definitely get everyone's hackles up, and lots of misinformed opinions get thrown around.

For instance "...they in turn cost him his job". Well, no they (or she, really, as there's only one complainant) didn't - he wasn't sacked, or asked to resign, he did it of his own volition. So I think she can hardly be blamed for costing him his job. And it sounds as though leaving will be something of a relief for him and his family!

On the other hand, "in choosing to resign, mr sutton has placed the complainant in an even more difficult position" - isn't this a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of thing? Would you have been happier if he hadn't resigned? I kind of understand what you're getting at, but as with the above, he can hardly be blamed for other people's reactions towards her after his resignation.

Then there's this pearler from Anonymous: "If he feels he did nothing wrong he should tough it out and see it through." Wait - when does he say he did nothing wrong? Doesn't he say the exact opposite, several times?

Finally: "So who's the asshole here?" Why does somebody have to be declared an asshole at all?

stargazer said...

chunda mars, actually my preference would have been that he stayed, made his apology in the workplace & then worked on changing the culture. i'm not going to berate him for not doing that, but that would definitely be my preference. also, if someone has behaved badly, they need to be held to account for that - i only used the word asshole in response to PM. better wording is that mr sutton is the one in the wrong here.

on another note, this statement by tina nixon, "senior comms staffer" at CERA, is being circulating on twitter:

"just for the record people - CERA was a robust environment. the most robust environment of the half dozen or so government departments i have worked for. so do people really think that a hug was what it was all about? i call on all journalists to apply some logic to this and get past the breathtaking PR snow job perpetrated by the self serving egotistical dictatorial narcisisstic nasty prick sutton is. then start asking some very hard questions of SSC, as no woman in the public service should currently feel confident that any complaint would be investigated professionally and without bias."

so a little more than "some annoying behaviour" according to her.

Anonymous said...

More is emerging. This guy has form in previous employment

Anonymous said...

stargazer said...

anon, no that's the same job. the article is quoting tina nixon who used to work at CERA - see my quote of her facebook comment above. also, can you & other anon commenters please use a consistent handle as per our comments policy? thanx heaps.

Peony said...

I'm glad he resigned. Good riddance. The culture needs to be changed, but it would be better changed by somebody who isn't tainted by sexual harassment. (How about - shock, horror - a woman?) Everybody is better off with him gone.

Peony said...

And also, I have no problem branding him an arsehole. He sexually harassed a woman (probably not just one - we all know that for every woman who has the courage to come forward there usually many others bullied into silence) who worked for him. "Arsehole" is one of the nicest things we could call him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stargazer said...

last anon, please feel free to repeat your comment using a consistent handle. and to respond to your point, all parties have signed confidentiality clauses. mr sutton was in breach of that when speaking at his press conference yesterday (see

Anonymous said...

That would be Tina Nixon, The right wing Blogger (Busted Blonde),failed National party candidate and a work place bully while at Herself? Hidden Agenda perhaps?

Anonymous said...

sorry should read "at CERA herself"

stargazer said...

ok, last anon, this is the final warning on this thread. either use a handle or don't comment. even something simple like the letters LD in the first comment are sufficient. and if you're going to make allegations about tina nixon being a bully, please provide evidence.

AnneE said...

No - he was resigning as a result of a complaint of sexual harassment being investigated and substantially upheld. This is not the same as "claims of sexual harassment".

Anonymous said...

my anon handle would be HLVS, and I am only responsible for the comments about Tina are based on personal experience at CERA not hearsay.