Public & Private Institutions Protect Sex Harassers In The Past, Psychologist says

But times are changing, especially for victims.


Frederick, Md (KM) Sexual harassment has been in the news in recent months. Men in positions of power in the media, entertainment, politics and other professions have been brought down by accusations of harassment by women who were their employees, patients or clients.

Dr. Greg Powell, a clinical psychologist, says sexual harassment was common practice in the past in government agencies and businesses by men in positions of authority. If the victims complained, they were usually ignored. “Men generally were in a position where they have more power, more influence, and so they merged  that with the idea that they also had sexual privileges,” he says.

But Dr. Powell, who was a guest recently on “Success Happens” on WFMD, says that’s changing, as a lot of companies and government agencies are not tolerating this type of behavior.”It’s creating all kinds of daylight where there was no daylight before. So there was institutional support and enabling of people in power being able to be sexually inappropriate and they weren’t held accountable for it because they were the powers that be,” he said.

He points to the example of Dr. Larry Nasser, a USA Gymnastics physician who treated female athletes’ injuries, but sexually assaulted them, claiming it was part of their treatment. Dr.Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. “The girls were required to see him. There was no one else in the room during the exams. He was not accountable to anybody. And when complaints came up, they were dismissed. So he was basically enabled, strongly enabled, by the institution around him,” says Dr. Powell.

During the program, Dr. Powell said  he was a victim of sexual harassment. At age 17, he had applied for early admission to the University of North Carolina, and it was required that he visit the campus at Chapel Hill. He says he met with an admission counselor, a male, who came on to him. “I kind of walked the tightrope and worked my way out of the situation, and I did end up getting into the school. I remember at the time feeling extremely uncomfortable and extremely compromised. And I did not report him,” says Dr. Powell. He notes that in 1971, when the incident occurred,  his complaint would not have gone very far.

However, Dr. Powell says there is a different between sexual abuse and sexual harassment. “At the one end, it’s crime when you have sexual perdition  and sexual abuse. At the other end, it’s a matter of civility and treating people with dignity and human rights. It’s not a crime to have an interest in a woman or a man,” he says.

But for anyone, a man or a woman, who has been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, Dr. Powell urges them to seek help. “It is not a hopeless situation. There is help. Depending upon whether you have insurance or don’t have insurance, the affordability of it is an issue. But there is help,” he says.


By Kevin McManus