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  • Reverend James Squire

Andrew Cuomo Sexual Harassment Allegations And a Key Issue That Is Missing and A Way Forward

Governor Cuomo is in a very difficult position as he has been accused of at least five sexual harassment offenses. Four of those women were part of Cuomo’s administration. One was a private citizen who was harassed at a wedding.

It boggles my mind that the New York State Government didn’t have a Sexual Harassment Policy in place to respond to at least four of these accusations along with a Sexual Harassment Officer. Sexual Harassment Policies empower women and provided much needed feedback to men or women who may be the offender. I know something about them because I wrote several of them first dating back to the 90(s) at EA. These policies are sometimes called Inappropriate Behavior Policies to reach into more general forms of non-sexual harassment. Sexual Harassment can be of two forms: (1) target behavior which is directed at a person and (2) Environmental Harassment which means that the environment in which the woman is functioning can make her uncomfortable such as sexually suggestive posters on walls or sexually explicit conversation that is going on around her.

Harassment policies usually include several important steps. We will assume that it is a woman being harassed by a man. The policy indicates that the first step that a woman should take is to speak directly to the man who is involved and state emphatically that whatever occurred in an exchange made her feel threatened and embarrassed. If the man is in a position of power and she is unable to address him directly because of this difference in status or that she just does not feel that she can do this, she can elicit the support of someone to go with her for the intervention with the perpetrator.

It is made very clear in the document that any form of retribution would not be tolerated. Hence, there should be someone who is either informed of the conversation or be part of the conversation. This is needed so that someone knows if there is any further harassment of others by the man. For many years that was me as it should be someone who is not attached to hiring or firing an individual or determining the salary of the man. I later expanded that role to other Chaplains at the school since some of the Assistant Chaplains were women. The important thing is to make it easy for the woman to come forward. If the woman went to another Chaplain, I would still need to know so that I had the overall experience of this man with any others.

The goal for this approach was to empower the woman to speak directly to the perpetrator, and for the male to be directly in touch with the woman so that he was not hearing this from someone else. This sort of policy also speaks to the issue of the “eye of the beholder”. It doesn’t matter how you thought you acted. It matters how the woman received your comments or gestures. At times the man knew exactly what he was doing. At other times it was a learning experience for the man to change his behavior.

It should be a requirement that every employee should read the Sexual Harassment or Behavior Harassment Policy at least once a year and sign the document as testimony that everyone had read it and everyone understand the process. Confidentiality was key in having this policy work for both the woman and the man. The document is a form of consent that everyone in the community had read the document and supported its steps.

Regarding Governor Cuomo and the woman at the wedding, I would hope that being familiar with a policy in his own state would heighten his sensitivity to avoid behavior in a public or private venue not directly connected with his office as governor.

Keep in mind that woman can harass woman, woman can harass men, and men can harass other men. My experience with this kind of policy was very helpful to maintaining an empowering community.

Back to Governor Cuomo for a moment. He has three daughters, Michaela, Mariah, and Cara, who have been involved with curtailing sexual abuse, another human rights, and another regarding worldwide social justice. The three daughters are living with him during this Pandemic. Can you imagine the conversations that he is having with his daughters right now? The mother of the girls is a Kennedy so the apple has not fallen far from the Kennedy concerns with justice. Cuomo also returned Harvey Weinstein’s campaign contribution when it was clear that Weinstein was a serial abuser.

He had so many external forces to make him more aware of his behavior than he exhibited. He is a bully, but I don’t think that is based in low self-esteem or a need to belong which is the usual case. I think that he wants to be seen as a tough guy from Queens. I would love to have a conversation with him regarding how he went off the rails of appropriate behavior. There is much that is good about him and contributions that he could make in the future to benefit others.

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