Geopolitics

In #MeToo Times, Cuomo Saga Shows Abusers Still Hold Sway

Putting New York Governor Cuomo's delayed departure in light of the #MeToo movement.

In #MeToo Times, Cuomo Saga Shows Abusers Still Hold Sway

Cuomo held on longer than he should have

Sandy Hershcovis, Ivana Vranjes, Jennifer L. Berdahl and Lilia M. Cortina
The Conversation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's resignation came after more than a week of bad news, starting with a damning report from the state attorney general's office that detailed his sexual harassment of 11 women, some of whom worked in his office. An executive assistant to Cuomo, Brittany Commisso, filed a criminal complaint against him with the Albany County sheriff's office. The state Legislature readied impeachment proceedings.

Then, top aide Melissa DeRosa resigned amid a flurry of questions surrounding her role in protecting Cuomo. Attorney Roberta Kaplan also resigned from the #MeToo advocacy organization Time's Up after the attorney general's report revealed that she helped draft a letter that denied Cuomo's wrongdoing.

As news emerged about the silence from Cuomo's staff, who had long protected him, and his victims who feared blowback, our thoughts turned immediately to our research on harassers.

“See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" is the title of our new article for the Journal of Applied Psychology, which describes the role witnesses play in helping and protecting harassers. Evidence suggests that, rather than helping victims, witnesses often protect the harasser.

I was terrified I was going to lose my job.

The report on Cuomo's sexual harassment is replete with examples that showcase how members of Cuomo's top staff, known collectively as the “Executive Chamber," silenced victims. One victim explained in the report: “I was terrified that if I shared what was going on that it would somehow get around … and if senior aides Stephanie Benton or Melissa DeRosa heard that, I was going to lose my job."

Although #MeToo gave voice to millions of women to speak up about sexual harassment, it remains rare for victims to report sexual harassment to employers. They are afraid of blowback. They think management won't believe them. They fear being blamed or shamed. And these fears are warranted.

Research shows that reporting mechanisms rarely work and often backfire.

For example, employees who speak up about workplace harassment frequently face retaliation, both personal and professional. This is evident in multiple victim accounts in the Cuomo investigation.

One victim was quoted in the report saying that “she did not feel she could safely report or rebuff the conduct because, based on her experience and discussion with others … it's kind of known that the Governor gives the seal of approval who gets promoted and who doesn't."

But what about bystanders? Colleagues? Leaders? Why don't they speak up when they see sexual harassment?

Part of the problem, we have found, lies with social networks – the webs of interconnections among victims, perpetrators, co-workers and managers. The way these networks are configured encourages members to be silent, silence others and not hear victims who voice concerns about sexual harassment.

One of Cuomo's 11 alleged victims, a state trooper, described a conversation she had with Cuomo while driving him to an event. The governor questioned her clothing choices, asking why she wasn't wearing a dress. After the conversation, the victim's state police superior, who was in the car during the interaction, messaged her, saying that the conversation “stays in the truck."

Why do people protect harassers? A number of factors are at play.

First, a harasser can establish a central status by having many strong ties to others in the network. Strong relationships within a tie require an investment of time and resources on both sides, and in turn, they yield loyalty and reciprocity. So network members close to the harasser are more likely to stay silent about his misdeeds, and to silence or manipulate those who speak up into questioning their sanity.

Also, when the harasser is the sole link between disconnected members of the network, he can isolate victims, control information and conceal wrongdoing. The result of all this: Victims, witnesses and would-be supporters stay silent.

In the case of Cuomo, he had many loyal ties. The attorney general's report states that the Executive Chamber had “an intense and overriding focus on secrecy and loyalty that meant that any and all perceived acts of 'disloyalty,' including criticism of the Governor [Cuomo] or his senior staff, would be met with attacks of a personal and professional nature."

When central men sexually harass women, network members stay silent.

The second reason people protect male sexual harassers lies in how certain network beliefs prize men and masculinity. These beliefs normalize male dominance over women, encouraging support for those who enact displays of masculine superiority.

When these beliefs pervade a social network, and central men sexually harass women, network members stay silent. They also rally to defend and protect harassers by silencing and not hearing those who speak up.

Because women are devalued in these networks, powerful witnesses have little motive to hear sexual harassment complaints or take action to support female victims. The investigation into Cuomo's conduct concluded: “This culture of fear, intimidation, and retribution co-existed in the Executive Chamber with one that accepted and normalized everyday flirtations and gender-based comments by the Governor."

Finally, mythologies about sexual harassment are frequently found in social networks such as the one that surrounded Cuomo. These common myths deny that sexual harassment has happened, often by questioning women's complaints – for example, suggesting that false allegations are common. Or they downplay the gravity of these offenses.

When harassment becomes undeniable, myths lead network members to move on to justify it: absolving harassers of responsibility or blaming victims – asking what women did to invite sexual advances.

Myths such as these silence network members because speaking up is likely to be futile or even dangerous. Throughout the report, senior staff members in Cuomo's office denied wrongdoing by Cuomo. One victim, Ana Liss, testified that Cuomo had held her hand, kissed her cheek and been flirtatious. She did not want to report it because “the environment in the Executive Chamber deterred her … she was fully expecting the Governor's team would deny, deny, deny, character assassinate."

It is rare that scholarly research and current events so perfectly reflect each other. But the Cuomo case is – no metaphor here – a textbook example of a network of complicity and silence around sexual harassment.

[The Conversation's Politics + Society editors pick need-to-know stories. Sign up for Politics Weekly._]The Conversation

Sandy Hershcovis, Professor at Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary; Ivana Vranjes, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, Tilburg University; Jennifer L. Berdahl, Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia, and Lilia M. Cortina, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Psychology, Women's & Gender Studies, and Management & Organizations, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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