Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexual Harassment Apologies Forgiveness and Restoration

Tweeden's report of her long felt anger in the face of a revealing photo of sexual harassment by Al Franken makes big news for several reasons.

We know sexual harassment knows no political boundaries. It's not just a problem for conservatives who have been under fire. But now there is evidence of a Democrat's sexual assault-- plus a photo and an apology.

Leeann Tweeden says she accepted Franken's apology, which adds to the complexity of how to handle sexual harassment in society.

Sexual harassment is wrong. No one of a sound mind denies the obvious. Different groups concerned about people who are accused of sexual harassment handle reports differently. This difference raises the issue of what consequences should apply to Franken and others when there is evidence of harassment. Voters will judge when they have an opportunity regardless of what any official administrative group (ethics panels etc.) decides. So, politicians have consequences of a different sort than do other predators or those accused of harassment.

Consumers decide how to respond when the rich and famous are guilty of harassment. Movies are cancelled. Products are trashed or personcotted (neologism). But this can happen even without evidence. Accusations of sexual harassment carry emotional weight.

Religious people decide what to do when clergy and religious leaders are guilty. As is the case with politicians and celebrities, some people offer support, some denounce the predators, others sue for damages. Some leave faith altogether.

All of us must decide to take action to create a safer society.

What's the role of an apology?

Ms. Tweeden was the one offended. Sincere apologies help offended people forgive and let go of the past. In some cases, apologies provide the basis for reconciliation. These decisions are for Ms. Tweeden--not the rest of us.

The rest of us get to decide what to do when we learn of sexual harassment allegations.

Some thoughts 

Sexual harassment and assault produce psychological harm that lasts for years.

Anger is one common strong feeling that persists. Anger can be inflamed when we are reminded of times when we were offended.

The images of harassment and assault remain in the mind even when there is no photo evidence.

Humiliation is a common experience that keeps people from speaking out.

Fear of reprisal can keep victims from speaking out. The experience of fear is real even if the risk of reprisal is low.

Deciding if an incident is worth the personal cost of disclosue can keep victims from speaking out.

Self-blame and guilt can keep victims from speaking out.

The examples of others bold enough to speak out can encourage others to come forward.

Constant news stories can stimulate old memories, which will affect people in different ways.

Sincere, apologies help victims forgive and become survivors.

Apologies do not need to be accepted by victims or those who must judge the accused.

Forgiveness is for victims to gain release from the pain of the past--to let go of the anger and move forward.

Those of us who have not been offended by someone in a news story have no particular reason to accept their apology or consider forgiveness or reconciliation. But we may be in a position to influence consequences and restoration--for example by voting or supporting / not supporting sources of income.

Forgiveness does not require reconciliation with the abuser. Reconciliation requires trust.

Apologies do not mean we should restore a person to their former status whether politican, actor, member of the clergy, or spouse.

To move from victim to survivor usually requires letting go of the past. But self-forgiveness may be required when "victims" feel partly responsible for the abusive event. This is especially true for those manipulated by predators.

Restoration of abusers to their former social position requires evidence suggesting a repeat offense is unlikely. Restoration is something decided by voters, employers, organizational boards, and spouses.

Human memories are dynamic and not like photographs or videos. This applies to observers, abusers, victims, and survivors.

Related posts

Sexual Assault Allegation Research

Psychology of Hurricane Harvey (Weinstein) and the "me too" flood

Psychology of Sexual Harassment

10 Beliefs about Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness Quotes

Forgive? Yes. Reconcile? Maybe.

What I write

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sexual Assault Allegation Research

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife /Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Called Guercino, 1649
National Gallery of Art

In an experimental study, people reading accounts of sexual assault performed worse than chance (45.3%) when judging whether a report was true or false. The more confident the judgment, the lower the rate of accuracy (Peace et al., 2012).

Charges of sexual assault are clearly a serious matter. Many people are sexually assaulted each year. Most of the victims are women. Yet many innocent people have been imprisoned on false charges and lost years of their lives, which cannot be recovered.

The story of Picking Cotton is a powerful reminder of a bright woman who appeared quite credible but was sadly mistaken. Jennifer Thompson was convinced it was Ronald Cotton who raped her. But it turned out she was wrong. Her story was presented in a 60-minutes special in 2011.
The point is, when an accused person claims innocence, the person may be telling the truth. In cases of sexual assault, observers may be limited to the claims of two people and no physical evidence.

Detecting Deception

The research reviewed by Peace and her colleagues indicates a history of difficulty in detecting deception with accuracy levels running close to chance levels but confidence levels running at inflated levels.

There is an emotional belief bias. That is, emotional stories add a believability factor. When a report contains emotional content, and is presented with intense emotion, the report leads people to believe the report as true. Reports of rape and other forms of sexual assault are the kind of reports that lead to credibility.

Some have wondered about the role of personality in judging the accuracy of reports. Unfortunately, research does not provide a consistent pattern.

RAND Corporation Report

In a massive report (319 pages), the Rand Corporation team compiled A Compendium of Sexual Assault Research. (Download pdf).

One problem is that although most agree that sexual assault is a widespread problem, estimates vary considerably from 15 to 51%. A study of men reported a 4% rate. On college campuses, the assault of women ranged from 21 to 42% in various samples.

Victims tend to know the perpetrators. The risk factors for predicting perpetrators were described as follows:

"Among perpetrators, hostile masculinity was most often found to be a significant predictor of sexual assault perpetration; men who adhered to aggressive sexual beliefs were also considered at high risk of perpetrating sexual assault, as were those with a history of being coercive or committing assault." (p. x)


Psychotherapists and counselors have a different task than does the forensic psychologist. Clinicians are concerned with the well-being of their clients. Clinicians must deal with the symptoms reported and the client's perceived experience. Helping victims become survivors is the joint effort of clinicians and clients.

Anyone wanting to be objective about the evaluation of sexual assault charges may be on the defensive when faced with an emotional report of rape, which may be believed by many. When stories are published, the accused is judged in the court of public opinion.

The forensic psychologist seeks to determine credibility along with the mental status of the person reporting the assault. Efforts to be objective by examiners can be frustrating to victims.

The reports of sexual assault are often true even when some details may be incorrect. An incorrect detail or an inconsistency does not necesarily mean a claim is false.

But some reports of sexual assault are false for various reasons including mistaken perceptions and false memories.

To learn more, consider the RAND report and the Peace study along with the references provided in those documents.


Respectful comments are welcome, including corrections. Others will be deleted.


Peace, K. A., Porter, S., & Almon, D. F. (2012). Sidetracked by emotion: Observers' ability to discriminate genuine and fabricated sexual assault allegations. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 17(2), 322-335. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8333.2011.02013.x

Related reading on sex and morality  A House Divided

Friday, October 20, 2017

Psychology of Hurricane Harvey and the metoo Flood

We are currently awash in #metoo notices on social media sites. A catharsis of massive proportions has followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  As with any storm, news sources  examine the origins and publish a chronology. The current storm hit the U.S. 5 October when the NYT published salacious allegations.

Now, two weeks later, the storm has abated. Other news stories are headlines. Meanwhile, clean-up after Hurricane Harvey continues. We don't know how many lives have been destroyed. Heavy rains have affected many beyond the eye of the storm. People are hurting. Some still await care.

As with any storm, accusatory fingers point in many directions. There are reasonable calls for climate change-- we must end the rape climate that creates the conditions giving rise to such sexual hurricanes. They are right of course. Men are responsible for most of the problems. We do need to change. 

The helpfulness of metoo reports provides a Johari-like window of insight for sensitive men. Looking back, some of us can see how we contributed to the destructive climate. I apologize for insensitive comments. Other have too. 

The strong wave of contemporary femminism ocurred in the 1990s ,though there were earlier movements to be sure. The movement itself helped create a greater awareness amongst sensitive men about the insensitive treatment of women. Like others born many decades ago, I learned to change my language and beliefs about women's roles in society--including governments, churches, and the military. I saw how feminism was a blessing to society. Too many keen intellects were missing from solving the important problems we all face.

As the clean-up after the current storm proceeds, we must see if there are any lessons to learn that have not already been identified. This will not be easy because the emotional waters are still high. A lot of mud has covered the landscape.

Disgust is a powerful emotion-laden, expulsion-driven, life-saving response to cleanse us from germ-infested filth. Disgust quickly generalizes beyond vomit and manure to reject the dirty side of sex that robs people of their humanity. Women have been degraded in our eyes. We humans can only take so much disgust before we avert our eyes. We need to wash our souls.

Look for the word disgust in so many articles and comments about sexual harassment and abuse. Look for attitudes of contempt. There are powerful emotions behind the words. There is anger. And sometimes there is hate. There is a world of hurt. As my psychologist friend, Dr. Grant Jones, says, before hurt people can forgive they need to claim their "pound of flesh."

Like any dirty job, people want a break. We see the desire for a break in the change in headlines. We see the need for relief in those men who fight back against blame in the comments sections of accusatory articles. Overexposure robs workers of their capacity to clean-up.

But like all important work, the clean-up must continue. After a short break-- a time to refresh and see beauty once more, we must return to the arduous task. We must continue to read the stories of those who have been hurt. We must be about changing the climate of relationships. We must help survivors recover. We must strengthen social levees and rebuild our culture with stronger foundations of respect.

As the emotional waters subside, we will be better able to re-examine the words and actions that cross the line of respect between the sexes at work, school, places of worship, and everywhere. We need examples to see the difference between what is funny about sex and what is degrading. Men and women need to learn how to approach each other. We need to keep up the rhetoric about consent. We need to see how power and sex combine to hurt others. We need to report sexual harassment. And we need to support those who have been harassed.

As with any serious clean-up effort, some people are better prepared than others to deal with the stench. Rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking are repulsive. Workers will see disgusting things about humanity. We need workers equipped for the task. We can look to our universities to prepare such workers. Those who feel ill-equipped to do such work can support the efforts of these responders.

We must not forget

     There are millions of loving couples.

     There are women who love the men in their lives. 

     There are men who respect women.

Psychology of Disgust: Related Posts

Why Christians Have Problems Loving the "Unholy"

How Metaphors Mess with our Minds and Destroy Lives

Sexual Harassment and Assault: Related Posts

Psychology of Sexual Harassment


About Sexuality and Morality in Christian Cultures

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Thursday, October 19, 2017


The greed that leads to market tops and crashes can account for the arguably more painful aftershocks too. And there's more psychology at work.


In 2007 the DJIA topped on 29 Sept at 14, 164.53. Then plunged 777.68 on 9 October. But the bottom did not hit until 6 March 2009 at 6,443.27 - more than a 54% loss!

The US markets famously crashed 18 October 1929 (almost 90%) BUT the market did not hit bottom until 8 July 1932. The "bargain scoop-up rally" did not last.

Some may recall 19 October, 1987, the market crashed again losing 23% in one day (DJIA).


Markets are not things. Investments may be analyzed, but markets are about human behavior--people trying to be smart when buying and selling. Some try to get ahead of the herd. Some get greedy when markets fall and try to jump on a bargain only to find out it's cheap for a reason-- no one wants what they bought.

Stocks, bonds, and houses are not worth anything unless someone else is willing to buy what you are selling. Unless of course, you derive income from what you own that outweighs any drop in value below what you would have if you just held cash. That takes some calculation.

Like many things in life, the psychological principle of sunk costs applies. When an investment goes south, people often throw good money have bad rather than cut their losses. This situation is worse for individual stocks, bonds, and houses compared to people who hold an index fund. Any particular investment can go to zero! But large index funds like the S&P500 are probably too big to fail even when they drop 50%.

A market that sells off 7-10% seems bad to an average investor. Some hang on and endure losses of 20-50%. Others cut their losses and move to cash or find something better. A person's tolerance for risk is evident in their behavior. Most stay put or add more money until finally shaken out during the aftershock -- the date when everyone who wants out got out. The recovery can be a matter of years or decades.

Young people with a long work history ahead can afford to remain investors for the long hual. Wealthy people with diverse holdings can afford to remain in the markets as their wealth passes to the next generation via assets that will surely improve at some distant date.

But people near retirement who are heavily invested may not live long enough to enjoy a recovery if they lose double-digit percentages.

So, we must know our tolerance for risk. Recognize the trap of sunk cost psychology. Learn when to cut losses. Manage greed and fear (you may have more to fear than fear itself if you lose lots of money).

And consult a financial advisor when unsure. They might make you feel better even if they don't have a clue about the future. Really, who can predict the future? But they may help you think more clearly about your situation.


By the way, the principle of sunk costs applies to personal investments in relationships, education and career paths as well as commitments in politics and religion.

Of course I'm not giving financial advice. I am not a financial advisor - just a psychologist.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is Scouting Safe?

wikimedia commons

Not long ago, I was shocked when a friend told me of personal sexual abuse in a scout-like program in his church. I learned of his long-term suffering--years of depression. Those of us in clinical work are sadly used to learning of people who have been sexually abused as children and adults. But abuse happens to our friends as well.

Recently, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be welcomed into their program. It didn't take long for the Girl Scouts to respond with "Why admitting girls is a 'terrible idea.'" (Garcia, 2017)

It doesn't help that a Boy Scout Leader made news earlier this year for the sexual abuse of five boys (USNews, 2017, March 4). The problem of child sexual abuse is not new. And the sexual abuse is not limited to scouts (e.g., CNN).

The history of problems of child sexual abuse and the recent reports of sexual harassment by aspiring female actors, make it clear. Vulnerable people are at risk for sexual abuse.

Getting our cultural house in order begins with every adult taking responsibility for themselves and their children. All organizations must carefully screen and monitor their leaders. Policies must be in place for safety and reporting. Education about sexual abuse must be ongoing.

When we see weaknesses in a system, let us point them out to the administrators.

Download and read the free booklet on preventing child sexual abuse: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth-serving Organizations -- available from the CDC.

Scouting can be a positive and fun experience. Let's keep it that way.

My ad for a related book.

Learn more about sexuality and morality in Christian Cultures.



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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Psychology of Sexual Harassment

I changed the channel from the struggling Mizzou to CNN whilst waiting for my wife to join me in plans to watch something entertaining on Netflix. The talking heads were reviewing the latest Weinstein sex scandal allegations. Just seeing the pictures of famous women across the screen has an effect. One man with power can influence so many lives.

We saw this before when Cosby was in the news.

We've seen stories on college campuses and reports of clergy abuse.

One attorney is tuned in to the psychological trauma.

"I heard (attorney) Gloria Allred say the other day on CNN: 'Sexual harassment harms people,'" said Kendall. "And it's true. It does. Your body remembers the trauma. Your heart remembers the trauma. It changes you and makes you make decisions about life, like, I'm going to go in another direction. You don't know the harm it can do." (US News)
Beyond the Film Industry

The talk about what to do in the film industry is certainly appropriate. But I see others who are keen on examining the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. The thing is, when you're young, as were so many of these women when first approached, you don't know what to do. It's totally unexpected. You're scared and angry. You want to attack and don't know how. I know. I've been there. Emma Thompson aptly called W a bully and a predator.

Invading personal space has consequences. We naturally want to defend ourselves against intruders. Sexual intrusion deserves a strong response. A strong response necesarily arouses fight and flight action and emotion. 

The other thing about harassment, the mental rape and grope kind, is it's often short of physical rape so you don't feel like you deserve the same kind of outrage that goes with those horrid reports of child sexual abuse and rape that keep popping up in the news. We know those survivors deserve a great deal of attention with vigilant efforts to protect their welfare, prevent further acts, and help survivors heal.

Some say sexual harassment is not about sex-- it is about power. I disagree. Sexual harassment is not just about power. Sexual harassment is about about both sex and power

There is harassment of a nonsexual kind. People bully others all the time. Nonsexual harassment makes you angry too. And it can cause fear. Sexual harassment evokes disgust as well as anger. Disgust is more powerful. Disgust makes you feel dirty. It's repulsive. Sexual harassment gets to one's soul.

Weinstein is the kind of story we need to rally support to strengthen laws so that all humans are protected from sexual harassment. We have enough evidence now that women and men are victimized in high school, at college, in sports, when applying for jobs, as interns in many fields, and now of course in the film industry where beautiful people compete for limited, high paying jobs. Attractiveness attracts money and unwanted sexual advances.

So what can harassed people do?

It is not easy when you think you are alone. The CNN story provides a little more advice--there is strength in numbers. And timing is important. Employees have rights and companies have policies nowadays. It is not so clear what people can do when attacked in other venues like contractors or people seeking employment. And the problem in high schools and colleges remains unresolved.

If there is any good news, high profile people are drawing attention to the problem of sexual harassment. There are some laws. There is a glimpse of justice when the powerful lose their power positions so they can no longer harm others. And the risk of getting called out adds some external brake to those who lack inhibitions. The support for survivors is growing along with an intolerance for sexual harassment. And men who are not predators are becoming more aware of how their words and actions can be construed as sexual harassment.

I have worked in places where the lack of policy enforcement is pathetic and the lack of serious sexual harassment training was either lacking or not up to anything close to a strong, persuasive, and persistent educational effort.

Complacency is the enemy. There will always be predators who are not inhibited by the threat of embarassment, loss of employment, or prison. 

  • We must stay informed.
  • Support survivors wherever they may be.
  • Warn our youth-- make sexual harassment part of sex education.
  • Speak up on company, school, church, community boards and committees.
  • Read company policies and advocate for stronger ones when they are weak.
  • Advocate for the most effective sexual harassment education programs available.
  • Provide treatment for victims.
  • Parents-be careful but not overly anxious.

Sexual harassment is everywhere:
   News & Resources

Middle School and High School (CS Monitor)
     This is why parents must ensure sexual harassment is part of sex education.
     Sexual harassment begins early in life.

Colleges and universities (USA Today College)
    Despite major news stories, the problem continues.

Religious settings (UMC advice) 
     Check on the policy at your congregation

CT "The Law on Sexual Harassment"

    A reminder to the religious.

Assault in the military (NBC) (DOD report)

    This is serious.

U S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC

Facts about Sexual Harassment and Title VII

    There are limitations on scope

Sexual Harassment in sports   SI story

   Just a reminder-- it happens.

What to do at work (Forbes)

    Some good notes here of things to do if you are in a situation now.

Read more about the psychology of sexual harassment at this link

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Do we need a sign: Do Not Feed the Children?

There's little doubt that children love sweets and show an interest in adults who provide them.  But many parents work hard to keep their children on healthy diets.  And some children require special diets.

I was thinking of the care shown to donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle. The staff reminded guests not to feed them.

Most of us have seen signs advising us not to feed animals because of their special diets. As I read various reports on research it is clear that many children and adults consume much that is unhealthy.

I have joked about diet options such as the variety of chocolates one can choose (my photo of chockies at the outlet in Portsmouth above).

But, health is no joking manner. Perhaps parents need to post signs saying: "Do Not Feed the Children," and explain that they are on a special diet.

Cheers to parents who provide their children with healthy foods in sufficient quantities. And set limits on high calorie treats. Extra cheers to parents who demonstrate healthy eating plus a healthy lifestyle by adding exercise to healthy eating.

And more. May those parents who resist fads and unscientific claims about nutrition and supplements be blessed for they shall save money and demonstrate wisdom when it comes to unsubstantiated health claims.



Twitter @GeoffWSutton