This concerns my home town of St. Petersburg in the US. I’d just left…
Tyron Lewis was an unarmed teenager. Of course he was black. Hence automatically considered dangerous. And shot. Killed.
I watched the news about it on TV from Amsterdam but for most people around me, it was just another Rodney King story that happened on the other side of the world. It did not concern them.
Particularly for young people (?), the internet – still in its infancy back then, with most people not even using e-mail – enabling like-minded strangers from all over the world to connect has changed this.
(Or has it?)
I knew from my own experiences in St. Petersburg that there were officers in St. Pete who were scared. For their own lives. Expecting the worst. (I once had to ask for police assistance when I came home and found my front door locked from the inside. Seemed a bit peculiar, best to take no risks and let the professionals deal with it. To my astonishment, the officers were much more scared and nervous than I was.)
This video has great sound. One of the reasons why I am posting it.
The uproar over allegations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually abused and harassed dozens of the women he worked with is inspiring countless women (and some men) to share their own personal sexual harassment and assault stories.
With these issues trending on social media with the hashtag #MeToo, it’s getting harder to ignore how common they are on the job and in other settings.
I have studied sexual harassment and ways to prevent it as a diversity and inclusion researcher. My research on how people often fail to speak out when they witness these incidents might help explain why Weinstein could reportedly keep his despicable behavior an open secret for decades.
Of course, Weinstein’s alleged wrongdoings went well beyond sexual harassment, which University of British Columbia gender scholar Jennifer Berdahl defines as “behavior that derogates, demeans or humiliates an individual based on that indiviudual’s sex.”
But sexual harassment is such a chronic workplace problem that it accounts for a third of the 90,000 charges filed with the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2015. Since only one in four victims report it, however, the EEOC and other experts say the actual number of incidents is far higher than the official number of complaints would suggest.
The usual silence leaves most perpetrators of this toxic behavior free to prey on their co-workers and subordinates. If sexual harassment is pervasive on the job, and most women don’t report it, what can be done?
Some business scholars suggest that the best way to prevent sexual harassment, bullying and other toxic workplace behavior is to train co-workers to stand up for their abused colleagues when they witness incidents. One reason why encouraging intervention makes good sense is that some 70 percent of women have observed harassment in the workplace, according to research by psychologist Robert Hitlan.
The trouble is that most people who witness or become aware of sexual harassment don’t speak out. Screenwriter, producer and actor Scott Rosenberg has both admitted to and denounced how this dynamic enabled Weinstein to become an alleged serial abuser. “Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing,” he wrote in a private Facebook post published in the media. “Everybody-f—ing-knew.” He also said:
“in the end, I was complicit.
I didn’t say s—.
I didn’t do s—.
Harvey was nothing but wonderful to me.
So I reaped the rewards and I kept my mouth shut.
And for that, once again, I am sorry.”
Researching how people respond
To understand why witnesses often don’t speak up, a colleague and I did a study in 2010 that asked participants to review hypothetical sexual harassment scenarios and indicate if they would respond.
The results seemed promising: Participants generally said they would take steps to stop harassing behavior if they saw it happen. People indicated they’d be more likely to respond if two conditions were met: It was a quid pro quo – that is, if the harasser promised benefits in exchange for sexual favors – and the workplace valued diversity and inclusion. In such cultures, there are open lines of communication, and leaders embrace diversity and inclusion.
Other researchers find similar patterns with reactions to racists. People think they will recoil and experience distress when hearing racist comments. But when they actually hear those remarks, they don’t.
Participants, all of whom were women, expected to feel angry, confront the harasser and refuse to answer the hypothetical interviewer’s inappropriate questions. Some of the questions, for example, included asking the job applicant if she had a boyfriend or if women should wear bras at work.
However, when they witnessed this simulated behavior during the experiment’s mock interviews, people responded differently. In fact, 68 percent of participants who only read about the incidents said they would refuse to answer questions. Yet all 50 of the participants who witnessed the staged hostile behavior answered them.
Drawing from these studies, my team conducted an experiment in 2012 to determine how harassment bystanders would react to hearing inappropriate comments about women.
Some of the female participants read about a hypothetical scenario in which harassment took place, while another group observed harassment occurring in a staged setting. We determined that the participants, who were college students, overestimated how they would respond to seeing someone else get harassed.
The reason this matters is that people who don’t feel distress are unlikely to take action.
What stops people from reacting the way they think they will?
Psychologists blame this disparity on “impact bias.” People overestimate the impact that all future events – be they weddings, funerals or even the Super Bowl – will have on them emotionally. Real life is messier than our imagined futures, with social pressures and context making a difference.
This suggests a possible solution. Since context matters, organizations can take steps to encourage bystanders to take action.
For example, they can train their staff to speak up with the Green Dot Violence Prevention Program or other approaches. The Green Dot program was originally designed to reduce problems like sexual assault and stalking by encouraging bystanders to do something. The EEOC says this “bystander intervention training might be effective in the workplace.”
Especially with workplace harassment, establishing direct and anonymous lines for reporting sexist incidents is essential. They also say employees should not fear negative reprisal or gossip when they do report harassment.
Finally, bystanders are more likely to intervene in organizations that make their refusal to tolerate harassment clear. For that to happen, leaders must assert and demonstrate their commitment to harassment-free workplaces, enforce appropriate policies and train new employees accordingly.
Until more people take a stand when they witness sexual harassment, it will continue to haunt American workplaces.
One might expect mixed feelings about the soldiers’ departure. After all, since the arrival of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in June 2004, after former President Jean-Bertrande Aristide was forced out by a coup, the island has seen neither war nor armed conflict.
Despite these challenges, reports from the island suggest that most Haitians are ready to see the mission depart. That’s because, beyond stabilizing the country during a period of political tumult, the U.N.‘s troops have also done harm in Haiti.
Between 2004 and 2007, MINUSTAH carried out at least 15 heavily militarized operations against criminal gangs living in Cité Soleil, a seaside shantytown of 300,000 to 400,000 people. In these crowded neighborhoods, where most homes are made of scavenged sheets of corrugated metal and other scrap materials, the U.N. troops battled local organized crime groups using heavy weaponry, including automatic rifles and grenades.
During Operation Iron First, for example, which took place in the Bois Neuf section of Cité Soleil on July 6, 2005, the U.N. reports that it used 22,700 bullets, 78 grenades and five mortars and killed seven gang members.
But, according to some residents interviewed in “It Stays with You,” unarmed civilians also died in this raid. Douglas Griffiths, then deputy U.S. ambassador to Haiti, has also confirmed that “credible sources” have accused U.N. peacekeepers of killing “more than 20 women and children” in the operation.
Some were shot inside their homes by U.N. soldiers in helicopters, whose bullets easily penetrated their metal rooftops. These accounts have been substantiated by witnesses and international aid workers interviewed for our film, including by one American doctor who saw bullet holes in the roof of a home that he visited while treating a young girl for gunshot wounds.
In 2005, Jean-Marie Guehenno, who was then the U.N.‘s undersecretary general for peacekeeping, essentially confirmed these reports. At a press briefing at the U.N. headquarters in New York, he said, “A number of operations have been conducted by MINUSTAH… I have to be honest with you, there may have been some civilian casualties.”
The following December, just before Christmas in 2006, the U.N.’s Operation New Forest went through some 10,000 bullets over two days. Numerous people with no connection to gangs, including children, were killed or injured in this raid.
The exact number is unclear, however, since the U.N. has carried out no investigations involving a visit to the neighborhood into this raid or others in Cité Soleil. The Haitian police have conducted no investigations, either.
These accusations are not the first to damage the reputation of the U.N.’s vast peacekeeping operation, which currently has soldiers stationed in 15 countries around the world. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are an endemic problem in multiple missions.
It is not surprising, then, that the international organization’s response to the killings in Cité Soleil has been lackluster. The end of the Haiti mission this month offers an opportunity for an independent investigation into the unintended harms of U.N. operations in Cité Soleil, particularly in Bois Neuf.
Based on our on-the-ground research, we believe a full accounting would find that the repeated military raids not only killed innocent bystanders but also exacerbated the precariousness of residents’ already marginal existence. Poor families lost their breadwinners; homes were destroyed; children were made orphans and had to be taken in by neighbors.
After a pot-maker, Nelson Ti Lari, was inadvertently killed in his workshop in 2005, his wife, Veronique, told us that she repeatedly visited the U.N. base at Camp Delta with a photograph of her dead husband, seeking acknowledgment that the breadwinner of her family had been killed. But, she says, the staff there sent her away every time. Eventually, she gave up.
Failing U.N. support – such as medical assistance to those injured in raids or financial support to people who lost their homes or livelihoods in the crossfire – people were compelled to seek help from the cohort of international NGOs that have provided the bulk of citizen services in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.
In making our documentary, we found that Cité Soleil residents aren’t just sad for their losses – they’re also angry that the U.N. hasn’t taken responsibility for its actions. MINUSTAH may be pulling out of Haiti on Oct. 15, but the the agency’s misdeeds will live on in Cité Soleil long after the last peacekeeper departs.