How to Get Sexual Harassers Out of the Workplace

How to Get Sexual Harassers Out of the Workplace

By Fiona Zublin


Because they’ve got to be purged somehow.

By Fiona Zublin

As a general rule, anytime someone says, “It’s just like The Purge: Anarchy — it’s a great idea!” you should probably change the subject. This is the single exception to that rule.

As #MeToo maybe, slowly, wakes the half of the population not routinely getting sexually harassed at work to the fact that half the population is routinely getting sexually harassed at work, the question arises: How do we deal with all the people sexually harassing their co-workers? The harassers may well be internally cowering, knowing it’s only a matter of time before they’re found out, while those who have been harassed know if they come forward they’ll have to face an inquisition, attacks on their personal lives and history, and the anguish of reliving traumatic experiences.

What’s going to get you someplace is when leaders who are in charge put a stop to it.

Tove Hammer, Cornell University

In The Purge, one day a year people are allowed to do whatever they want — steal, murder, rig elections — with no consequences. The next day, it’s as if their slates have been wiped clean. So what if, for just one day, all men who have sexually harassed women during their careers could just … quit? Send an email, disappear from their offices. Like the rapture, but if only misogynist assholes disappeared. They’ll suffer no legal consequences for their actions, but they will disappear from the workplace and whatever industry they’ve been making unsafe for other people. 


Look, most of these men will never see legal consequences for their behavior anyway. This way, they get the advantage of numbers — nobody’s going to be dragged through the mud too badly if hundreds and hundreds of men resign on the same day; there are only so many journalists and so many column inches. Sure, their reputations and legacies will be tarnished, but that serves them right for creating a hostile work environment. 

For victims of harassment, it’s a win too: If a known harasser doesn’t out himself on Purge Day, victims can still come forward about him. And as the ranks empty of men who think their female co-workers are party favors, there’ll be room in those ranks for more people who treat women like people. Win, win, win.

To be sure, such a passive solution allows workplaces to ignore the culture that created a hostile work environment in the first place.

Tove Hammer, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, says that a review of data on workplace harassment indicates that some offices quash such conduct, while others offer what she calls a “license to misbehave” and tacitly encourage it by refusing to discipline the harassers. “What’s going to get you someplace,” she explains, “is when leaders who are in charge put a stop to it.”

Perhaps it’s not enough to wait for men to out themselves. But in a world in which women who step forward are routinely subjected to even more harassment for crying foul, it is tempting to hope that men — if only out of fear of seeing their names in headlines — might step aside of their own accord, if shown the off-ramp.