Abuse by People in Power

Written by John D. Winer
April 17, 2018

In the hands of the wrong person, power can be dangerous. That’s especially the case in the workplace, where the abuse of power can lead to sexual harassment. Almost always, sexual harassment is about power. It is about an individual controlling or threatening another individual which is wrong and illegal. Not only are there legal ramifications of sexual harassment, but it can also have a negative effect on the work environment. For men, power comes from formal authority, and they view managers and supervisors as potential sexual harassers. Women often perceive all members of the workplace as possible harassers, thinking it can be initiated by any person who is perceived as having power.

Sexual harassment is more likely to occur when there are large power differences. The supervisor-employee relationship best characterizes an unequal distribution of power. In this case, power gives the supervisor the opportunity to reward and coerce an employee, which the majority of the time will be female. Supervisors control resources that most employees want, such as positive performance evaluations, salary increases, and promotions. People in power usually tend to gravitate towards women who are vulnerable, for example interns, entry-level, and female assistants. Because of this, the less powerful employee is put in a difficult situation. We can see examples of this in Hollywood with many women falling prey to powerful men because they want the chance to prove themselves in the industry.

Dr. Gwendolyn Seidman of Psychology Today mentions three reasons as to why some powerful men might be more likely than others to sexually harass their subordinates. The first reason being men who associate sex with power are more likely to use power to get sex from someone in the workplace. Men’s unconscious tendency to associate sex with power have shown that men who link sex and power are prone to sexual aggression. One study found that men who link sex and power are more likely to use coercion to get subordinates to have sex with them. It also found that men who make this link were more likely to say that they would sexually harass a woman in hypothetical workplace scenarios. The second reason she states is that power may cause those who are seeking casual encounters to overestimate others’ sexual interest. Powerful people tend to have less empathy for others, and they can use that to their advantage. They are focused on their own goals which could include pursuing sexual encounters with attractive female employees. The last reason stated is that men who actually lack power are more likely to have a need to compensate for being powerless. Men who are insecure and low in social status are more likely to sexually harass women like men with higher power and status, putting them at the same level as them.

It comes with no surprise that men who harass or assault women also tend to have sexist attitudes, such as an opposition to gender equality or a favoring of traditional roles that have been imposed on women. Men who are aggressive toward women are more likely to look for a situation where women are more vulnerable. These types of men are the ones who seek out power, especially over young, beautiful women. The awareness on the abuse has become persistent since the #MeToo movement started and now many are gaining the courage to come out and speak about their experiences in order to help other women speak up and call out their abusers. This is helpful because it helps stop people with power to harass others in the workplace, and it brings more attention to the issue that we have today. The longer one waits to report, the more beneficial it might be for the abuser. Women are fighting hard to have their voice heard and their harasser punished. It’s only fair that we bring justice to those that have suffered abuse in the hands of powerful men.