Sunday, 4 March 2018

As long as there are power imbalances people will continue to be abused

Since the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual abuser and the #MeToo campaign on Twitter, there have been many other exposures of sexual abuse, most recently in the charity sector. Hopefully, these revelations will result in the prosecution and conviction of men who have serially abused women and deter others from doing so, but, in the longer term, will anything really change? 

Sexual abuse is not about sexual gratification. Though abusers may get some sexual pleasure this abuse is really about power and domination. According to Lyn Yonack - who posted here:

"Far and away, most sexual assaults and sexual violence are perpetrated by men, and typically arise within asymmetrical power dynamics, where the perpetrator occupies a more powerful or dominant position in relation to the victim...........These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the center of power."
So although the exposure and prosecution of serial sex abusers may reduce the amount of sexual abuse going on we still have the essential problem - an imbalance of power. Such imbalances are commonplace in our culture - most obviously in the workplace. And power imbalances don't just lead to sexual abuse. They also lead to bullying and harassment which can have a serious impact on the victim. As a former union representative, I have first-hand experience of this.

So how do we combat this abuse and prevent it from happening, or at least significantly reduce it? The answer, of course, is obvious and is staring us in the face - we need to remove the imbalance of power that facilitates abuse and bullying. To many people, this would seem impossible because we are used to living in a stratified culture in which we take the roles of 'bosses' and 'workers' for granted. That's just how things work, isn't it?

Well yes, but it needn't be. We don't need hierarchies of any kind, either in the workplace or society at large. We are perfectly capable of running businesses and our society as a whole cooperatively and collectively. Naturally, the people who have power aren't going to give it up readily and will work hard to persuade us that they are necessary. But we can start to change things now. I've written about how we can do this in more detail in this post and this blog contains many examples of businesses and groups that are run in a non-hierarchical way.

If you are really serious about ending sexual abuse and bullying - get serious about ending power imbalances in the workplace and wider society!