Behavior results from the way a person thinks. A person’s thinking processes largely define his character. In considering how to prevent further victimization of employees in the workplace, it is essential to understand the mental makeup of the victimizer.
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape obviously are sex offenses. But they have little to do with sex itself. The people who are making headlines for their exploitation of women employed by their company likely have had no shortage of opportunities for consensual sex. Sexual predators have plenty of sexual experience but it is shallow. Sex is a control operation for them. They ordain the time and place of the encounter. Seeking a conquest is the overriding aspect. The perpetrator cares little what his “partner” experiences. The idea is to conquer a body, not have a relationship. Achieving his objective provides him with a buildup. He has sex on his mind a great deal of the time, looking at females as potential targets.
In his approach to potential sexual targets, the individual regards himself as irresistible and seeks to have this affirmed. He is certain that any person whom he finds desirable will be attracted to him. A friendly smile may confirm that he is desired, and that he can proceed with his conquest. This thinking occurs even with complete strangers whom he quickly regards as his property.
The person who exposes himself hopes to entice someone into a sexual act. He seeks an admiring gaze and directs that gaze. He may do this by walking around naked. He experiences excitement in fantasizing and in the exhibitionism itself.
The assertion of power is most obvious in sexual assault and rape in which the perpetrator forcefully takes “possession” of his target. Again, this has nothing to do with sexual need. Men who have an active and varied sexual life at home still attack women. It is characteristic that, both in fantasy and action, they find it most exciting to use force in making their conquest.
The workplace provides an arena for these behaviors. The perpetrator has leverage over his victim who is a subordinate. He knows that she is unlikely to inform because she thinks she will not be believed, that she will lose her job, or perhaps lose opportunity to advance at all in her chosen line of work. The victim also thinks that the people in charge will support the perpetrator, especially if he is well-known and important to the reputation and success of the organization.
Four thinking patterns figure prominently in the commission of sexual offenses in the workplace.
The pursuit of power and control. A critical part of the perpetrator’s self-image is being able to dominate others. He proceeds to do this as he pursues whomever he finds attractive.
A sense of uniqueness. Everyone is unique – physically, psychologically, and experientially. But the person who engages in sexual harassment, assault, or rape considers himself one of a kind. Part of this self-perception is his certainty that he is irresistible to women, the answer to every woman’s desires. When it comes to right and wrong, he makes his own rules.
Deception. These individuals are often extremely intelligent, charismatic, and talented. Even people who know them well cannot conceive that they are even capable of exploiting others sexually. Such predators are masters of deceit.
An ability to compartmentalize and shut off fear of consequences. Perpetrators of sexual harassment, assault, and rape know right from wrong. They are fully aware of the potential consequences of being apprehended. They have an uncanny ability to ignore them long enough to do what they want, all the while maintaining a sense of invincibility. They eliminate considerations of conscience behaving as they please without regard to emotional, physical, or other damage they might inflict. When they are unmasked, their chief regret is getting caught with little or no remorse for the victim. Instead, they regard themselves as victims because of the unpalatable consequences they must face.
As the issue of sexual predation in the workplace has become increasingly prominent, there are calls to provide employees with special training to minimize this behavior in the future. Such training will not change the character (i.e., the thinking processes) of predators. What it may succeed in is establishing clear policies and deterrents so that potential predators may be deterred from engaging in this extremely destructive behavior at work.