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Sexual Harassment @ Your Library

If you’ve seen any news in the past couple of weeks, you might have heard of a guy named Harvey Weinstein. It’s hard to make out any details from the dearth of news coverage, but he’s allegedly sexually harassed or raped numerous women over many years.

I don’t see how that was a big secret. It’s right on his Wikipedia page and everything.

He’s the stereotypical Hollywood casting couch producer who for some reason Hollywood decided to suddenly declare its concern about.

Weinstein is perhaps typical of men in powerful positions surrounded by vulnerable people they desire to exploit. What’s to stop them when everyone’s afraid of them or wants something from them?

By an odd coincidence, the library world got its own sexual harassment scandal last week. It didn’t receive quite the news coverage of Weinstein, but you might have seen this story about sexual harassment at the Wagner College library in Staten Island, NY.

It’s a sordid tale of a librarian being allegedly quite openly and even physically harassed by his supervisor, and the college doing nothing to stop it.

The headline is remarkable on its own: “Explosive lawsuit: Male boss at Wagner College library sexually harassed male worker.”

From what I could tell, the lawsuit was just a sexual harassment lawsuit, nothing “explosive” about it other than the usual dealing with the grimy behavior of sexual harassers. I’m speculating that the “explosive” part was the male on male sexual harassment.

I find that angle offensive. The implied notion is that sexually harassing women is so common it’s hardly worth bothering about, but when the victim is a man suddenly it’s “explosive.”

It’s as if even in the domain of sexual harassment, being a harassed man makes the charge worth taking more seriously, sort of like the difference between how police shooting deaths of unarmed people get treated when one is a black man and the other a white woman.

Maybe if it’s a woman being harassed by a man, it’s just “boys being boys.”

Unlike the Weinstein type of case, this wasn’t a gatekeeper sort of power. The supervisor in question wasn’t saying “have sex with me and I’ll make you a famous access services librarian.” He was just, allegedly, very persistent in his fondling, verbal suggestions, and verbal abuse.

Although there’s a Weinsteinian feel to the complaint that the harassment was typically “between the hours of noon and 1 p.m. when they were alone in the office.” Perhaps the harasser also went out to slip on a bathrobe.

Predators know when their victims are the most vulnerable, and alone is often the most vulnerable of all.

If you’ve worked in situations more or less free of sexual harassment, it hard not to agree with the victim’s lawyer that, “It is amazing how an academic institution in this day and age could tolerate such egregious conduct and not protect the plaintiff the way he is entitled to be protected under the law.”

I’ve heard stories of sexual harassment in libraries, but nothing as little as egregious as this or the Weinstein story. They are probably a lot out there, though. 

On the other hand, if you keep up at all with news about colleges and universities, this sort of behavior isn’t that unheard of. It just usually occurs in the typical gatekeeping relationship of male adviser and female graduate student. There have been numerous such scandals around the country the past few years.

The hard part is the proof, which might be why the librarian’s initial complaint was dismissed by HR. Maybe the only solution is that those of us with the potential to be harassed, which includes all of us except the predators, should wear recording devices at all times.

That, and maybe be a little more willing to believe victims of assault than we normally are.

Oh, and if someone texts you “a sexually suggestive picture of himself,” as the alleged harasser here did, save it. That’s going to look great in court. And maybe on Twitter.

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