Wednesday 19 June 2019

Editorial: 'No excuses - harassment crimes deserve zero tolerance'

Ireland jostles with larger countries to maintain a profile but singling ourselves out for the distinction of having the highest level of sexual harassment in Europe is something we can not ignore. (Niall Carson/PA)
Ireland jostles with larger countries to maintain a profile but singling ourselves out for the distinction of having the highest level of sexual harassment in Europe is something we can not ignore. (Niall Carson/PA)
Editorial

Editorial

Ireland jostles with larger countries to maintain a profile but singling ourselves out for the distinction of having the highest level of sexual harassment in Europe is something we can not ignore.

Among 40 countries ranking on gender equality, sexual harassment, we featured at the bottom.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan acknowledged this yesterday as he launched a new ad campaign aimed at highlighting sexual harassment, saying we suffer "disturbingly high levels" of the offence.

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Last year, 3,182 sex crimes were recorded by An Garda Síochána - this represented an alarming increase of 26pc on 2017.

Is there some unspoken collusion that turns a blind eye to sexual harassment and workplace glass ceilings? If there is, then surely it is time to call it out. The avoidance of sexual harassment can not just be a concern for women.

In her book 'Speaking Truth to Power', Anita Hill wrote: "Women who accuse men, particularly powerful men, of harassment are often confronted with the reality of the men's sense that they are more important than women, as a group."

The Government has launched what is described as a major national awareness campaign called 'No Excuses'. The notion that such a step is necessary in the 21st century seems scarcely credible.

However, the grim picture presented by damning statistics suggests otherwise. Until such time as there is a profound change in attitudes, such campaigns will be required.

Mr Flanagan says he hopes "to spark a conversation across Irish society, not only among some sectors but among everybody".

The fact of the matter is that most sexual harassment targets women. Men are mostly responsible: so long as there is a tolerance for it, or there are loopholes in the law facilitating it, women will continue to be preyed upon. Some may suggest it is encouraging more women feel strong enough to come forward thanks to the #MeToo movement.

How much better would it be if the incidence of sexual harassment was wiped out and the culture facilitating predatory behaviour eradicated?

There has been such a focus on consent over recent years, as well as changes to Irish criminal law to define consent.

Given such steps, it seems extraordinary it is necessary to spend €1m to drive home such a basic message.

We cannot pretend this is not happening. "Often times it goes without comment, often times it's unfortunately and regrettably taken for granted," said Mr Flanagan. "We need to change attitudes because much of our behaviour, in terms of sexual harassment is clearly unacceptable."

But as historian Yehuda Bauer put it: "Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander."

Last year, the number of sex crimes reported reached a record level.

The two previous years also saw levels of sexual offences Ireland had never seen before.

There really are no excuses.

Irish Independent

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