On The Belief That Some Women Deserve It

I don't have to look very far to find victims, or the people who think they deserved it.

Many of them seem to think so, too.

There's the girl I knew who was taken from the playground and "something happened" to her. She disappeared from school, never to be heard from again.

No, she was just a kid.

There's the one who was sitting at home when the doorbell rang. The guy said he was "from the power company." 

She opened the door and he lunged. 

Should have checked his ID under the door. 

Should have called the power company.

Shouldn't have answered the door at all.

Another one had a dinner party and one guest stayed after the other people had left.

She knew him, he was "a nice guy."

But he overcame her.

Shouldn't have had a guy over to her home.

Shouldn't have been there with him alone.

Having a male in your home, when you're female, is an invitation to have sex.

Yet another person joined the military.

The only girl in the unit.

Attacked when she went to the bathroom.

What was she doing with all those guys?

Everybody knows that women in the military aren't safe.

The stories go on and on. As do the justifications.

Harvey Weinstein? Everybody knows that actresses sleep their way to the top. 

Let's face it, Hollywood is sleazy. 

They knew what they were getting into.

They didn't call the police.

How about women who want to become successful business executives?

You know what goes on at these conferences. 

I had a friend once who told me that she was sick on a job interview.

The interviewer said, "I'll give you a ride home."

"No, I don't think so," she replied, a bit suspicious.

"Don't worry about it," he said, in a tone that conveyed understanding. "I'm talking about a carpool."

And at that he nodded toward his colleague, who had helpfully appeared in the hall.

"Sure," she said. "Thank you."

In the car he said, "Let's stop off for a minute and get something to drink."

"I thought you were giving me a ride home," she said, now a bit afraid again.

"It's nothing," he said, nodding at the other fellow in the backseat. "We'll get you a cup of tea."

In the hotel -- "it's right in the middle of the city" -- he sat next to her in the booth, where he promptly grabbed her breast.

"What????" said my friend. She tried to get up, but stumbled.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said the man. "I lost control of myself, I swear it. It won't happen again."

My friend was unemployed, sick, and had no money to get home.

It seemed that the "carpool" had disappeared, too.

She nursed her tea and prayed for "happy hour" to be over.

Thoughts raced through her head, like this can't be happening and I don't know what to do and maybe it's all in my mind.

She went with him to the car and he took her to where she lived. The ride went uneventfully.

"Let me walk you to the door," he said.

"No, that's quite alright."

"Please, let me be a gentleman," he said.

Against her better judgment, she let him walk her to the door.

"Well good night," she said.

He stood there.

The mistake she made, in her tiredness and wish for all of this to be over, was to unlock the key and step in.

Because then the man pushed her in. And what happened next wasn't good.

"Look, I'm just not interested," she said. But by then it was too late.

He physically attacked her. 

Change course, she said to herself. Let's pretend this is a date.

"Can I make you a cup of coffee?" 

The idea was to "convince" him that he, with his immense charm, had somehow "magically" won her over.

He was lulled for a moment and she went into the kitchen and fumbled around. 

"Cream? Sugar?"

Frantically she picked up the phone, and brought it into the living room, where her attacker had made himself at home.

"This," she pointed to the phone, "is my boyfriend asking where I am."

The attacker, a clean-cut man with his government ID still hanging around his neck, looked at her intently. He seemed unsure if this was true.

"He is about three blocks away, and he is expecting dinner," she said, in a very serious tone. "If he shows up and you are here, then I am not responsible."

My friend is an unbelievably good actress and the attacker was convinced. 

Somehow, by the grace of God, he left her home.

A few years later, she went to a conference about sexual harassment.

My friend hit it off with another woman in attendance. 

They got to talking, and my friend shared her story about that horrible night.

"Oh my God," said the other woman. "Are you talking about---" 

With that, she named the attacker.

"Yes!" said my friend. "Why?"

"Because he did the exact same thing to me!"


"Yes, I had to jump out of a moving car to escape him."

Chills ran down my body as I registered the import of this story.

I recalled what I knew about sexual assault: It's usually not the boogeyman, but rather someone you know. A friend, a family member, a trusted member of the community, a person in authority. Even an acquaintance.

Add "potential employer" to that list.

My friend told me another story, about how she used to work in human resources, way back in the day.

There were always men in charge, men who held "parties" where women "voluntarily" attended to sleep their way to the top.

Men who protected her against other men who insisted she attend a "business conference" to "take notes," then confessed they "dreamed of seeing your hair on the pillow next to me."

Her protector at that time said, "If he ever tries that with you again, you tell me."

* * * 

So who are the women who deserve it, exactly?

Are they the ones who are "inherently slutty?"

Are they the ones who get drunk and pass out?

Are they the ones who run away from home, sometimes to escape the fathers and brothers who rape them?

Are they the ones who work as prostitutes or make porn?

Are they the ones who have career ambitions?

Are they the ones who want to work in Hollywood?

Are they bad girlfriends, bad mothers, terrible wives?

Did they make a wrong turn into an alley?

Should they have learned mixed martial arts?

Should they pack a gun, legally?

What are the women of the world to do?

Should they pay a man to protect them?

Should we always walk in a pack?

Stay out of the park?

Confine ourselves to busy streets, in daylight--no parking garages or parking lots or stairwells?

* * * 

It is easy to believe that "some women deserve it."

The belief makes you feel safer, I think. 

If it's their fault, then you have at least a tiny measure of comfort.

But the truth is, if someone gets a thrill from being a sexual predator, then they will find a way to attack.

What the victims do to prevent them can only go so far.

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

How Poor Government Communication Strategy Fuels Paranoia

By and large, Americans in 2017 have a fairly negative perception of government–and things are far worse than they were 20 years ago. The government's failure to adapt its communication approach to reality is only making things worse.

Let's take a look at some data.

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,501 adults age 18+ nationwide, conducted April 5-11, 2017, asked people to pick one of three words that "best describes" their feelings about the government--"basically content," "frustrated," or "angry." To enable a comparison of data over time, Pew has repeated this survey annually.

Since 1997, the likelihood of describing oneself as "frustrated" has remained pretty much static, at slightly more than half (55% now, 56% then). But the likelihood of calling oneself "basically content" with the government is statistically much lower, with 29% choosing this word in 1997 versus only 19% in 2017. Meanwhile, the level of anger has nearly doubled in 20 years, from 12% to 22%.

Survey respondents don't trust "the government in Washington to do what is right," either, and their fondness for "the swamp" is diminishing speedily. In 1997, fully 39% said they trusted government integrity "always/most of the time." But 20 years later, that credibility--which could also be viewed as brand equity--has diminished to just 20%.

Mistrust of the government, of course, is part and parcel of American culture. Zelikow et al.'s classic work, Why People Don't Trust Government, points out three obvious reasons why: “Age-old suspicion of authority"; the “sense that politicians have lost their dignity"; and a “deeper set of accumulated grievances with political authority, institutions and processes in general."

The book was published in 1997, before the drop in citizen trust and contentment documented by Pew's annual survey. It was around this time that social media began to take off. And there can be little doubt that this technology, by enabling citizens to talk among one another and back to authority, has compounded the problem of mistrust in government.

It's hard to say for sure when exactly social media went mainstream. But the first bulletin board systems were online by the 1970s, and forums, newsgroups, instant messaging, and other forms of peer-to-peer continued to proliferate. By 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto captured the spirit of the day:
“Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine....Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies.”

As social media picked up steam, corporate, not-for-profit, academic and government leaders alike were confronted with a growing demand for immediate and thorough answers to their questions. As organizational consultant Gavin Rouble has pointed out, their tendency has been to do one of two ineffective things in response. One tactic is to "interpret being questioned as an attack on them," and instead of answering the question, "attacking the person who raised the question." Another is to "answer the question without actually answering."

Regardless of the reason for ineffective government communications, the result is the same: a not-very-tasty (to the citizen) layer cake, where "feelgood" efforts are the most prominent, and "unpalatable," difficult-to-handle, social-media-driven conversations are not only de-prioritized, they're left out of the cake altogether.

In the middle of the cake, there is visible compliance-driven reporting, but it's hard to get people excited about complicated data that doesn't always result in a good news story.

There is also a layer dedicated to customer service: In 2011, then-President Obama issued an Executive Order mandating improvements in this area, noting that "the public deserves competent, efficient, and responsive service from the Federal Government. Executive departments and agencies (agencies) must continuously evaluate their performance in meeting this standard and work to improve it."

Yet in 2017, the energy around customer service, from my experience and observation, remains at the individual level. Though there appears to be forward movement on a number of fronts (for example through the use of artificial intelligence-driven avatars), there remains a systemic problem handling complex inquiries, in multiple languages, with personalized and satisfactory resolution within a short timeframe, along the lines of successful mass retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Open data was the subject of another Executive Order, issued in 2013, and the Office of Management and Budget issued a Memorandum outlining the expectation that government data would be issued in open, machine-readable format. In a relatively short time (meaning, the past several years) The General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Service has made a number of strides toward improving the citizen experience with government by leveraging open data; see for example the work of its 18F unit with the Federal Election Commission.

However, open data is still, for the most part, not a concept that most government communication shops see as integral to their missions. The graphic below, which I produced, shows the result of ineffective government communication strategy, using the layer cake analogy.

The U.S. government should have a clear and well thought out communication strategy, based on communication standards that stand regardless of which political party is in power. (Full disclosure: I co-authored a research paper on this issue for the Federal Communicators Network, for which I volunteer.)

The strategy should be updated annually, and success should be measured according to a clear set of goals and objectives. The U.K. has done this for several years.

Until the U.S. formally develops a strategy, we can establish a general, citizen-centered framework that takes into account the realities of today's social attitudes toward government.

The graphic below shows what this might look like: Responses to social media grace the top of the cake, followed by customer service, then open data, then compliance reporting, and finally outreach efforts based primarily on making citizens aware of the products and services they are entitled to.

The bottom line is this: Citizens are more educated and empowered than ever.

At the same time, their perceptions of government are deeply negative, and the situation is not getting better.

As such, if the government does not adapt effectively, citizen-to-citizen communication will ultimately eclipse what it has to say.

Moreover, mistrustful, angry and frustrated citizens are likely to misinterpret legitimate government communications as nefarious. The consequences of this misinterpretation include compounded hostility toward government, with myriad potential negative consequences. One of the most prominent among these is the tendency to favor unsourced “fake news” over accurate data.

The government can respond effectively to this situation by reversing its traditional approach to communication. In this framework, responding to social media is of critical and primary iportance.

To make this shift effectively, the default attitude must be to communicate, even if it’s to say that “we’re not at liberty to say.”

It goes without saying that corruption must be rooted out and eliminated regularly in order for any communication strategy to work.

Note: If you'd like to see this article in the form of a brief presentation, please click here.


Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own. Graphics produced by the author. Image source: Clkr-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

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