If Penn State were a federal agency ...

Monday - 11/14/2011, 2:15am EST

While hearing arguments in a freedom of speech case — which hinged on the definition of what pornography is — Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart said that while he couldn't define pornography, "...I know it when I see it."

His "know-it-when-I-see it" definition is probably the way lots of us would describe our take on two high profile (alleged) scandals du jour: One involves a presidential candidate accused of being a serial sexual harasser. The other a football dynasty and its newly-fired coach accused of ignoring or covering up accusations of long-running sexual abuse against very young boys.

Sexual harassment and sexual crimes are nothing new. In the past, a sitting president and a Supreme Court nominee were accused of it. Both survived. A lot of us have experienced it either first hand, or heard about it through the office grapevine. It — whatever "it" is — happens. And it is very serious. Boys will be boys doesn't hack it anymore.

Generally (not always but most of the time) the victim, real or alleged, is a woman. But it can also be a man accusing a woman of improper conduct, or a same-sex situation.

Often, it is a subordinate who claims the big boss, a lower-level supervisor or even a coworker is guilty of repeatedly doing things that are offensive, frightening or threatening. Sometimes more than once. Sometimes there is more than one accuser.

Typically, the guy says he didn't do it. Or if he did it, he didn't mean anything by it. Sometimes they are proved right. Sometimes they aren't.

Not so long ago, corporations (maybe the government too) were infamous for possibly disciplining or transferring the man and firing — or paying off — the female accuser. Or of ignoring it and covering it up, which is the allegation at Penn State right now.

When it is high-profile, we get excited. Presidents aren't supposed to do what actors or rock stars do. Priests, ministers and rabbis are (supposed to be) held to a higher standard.

I'm not sure everybody is working from the same playbook.

Like Justice Stewart, I'd have a hard time defining sexual harassment (without looking in the company manual) but I think I'd know it when I saw it. But maybe not if it was a friend or colleague that was accused. Or if somebody pointed the finger at me!

Sexual harassment appears to be a problem just about everywhere. Government offices are probably no better, or worse, than the private sector. Despite a rigid code, the military has its problems too.

Over the years, as a reporter, I heard lots of complaints of sexual harassment — ranging from a hostile work environment to rape — from women. In and out of government. The private sector is not immune to that sort of thing.

So here it is — 2011. What exactly is a hostile work environment? Do we always know it when we see it, or do different people see it very differently? Have you seen it in action, dealt with it or are you living with it right now?

No matter how the current high-profile cases play out, it will happen again. In Congress, maybe in the Army, somewhere in the media. Maybe your office.

If you have thoughts, comments, examples, drop me a line: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

Open Season

The federal health insurance (FEHBP) opens today. Some plans are raising premiums a lot, some not so much and a couple are actually lowering them. Picking the best (as in right) 2012 plan for you and your family is an important financial decision. Today at 10 a.m., on our For Your Benefit show, Bob Leins and John Elliott will be joined by a representative from Kaiser Permanente. You can call-in questions at (202)465-3080.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

While most in the United States were commemorating Veterans Day on 11/11/11 last Friday, Egyptian authorities planned to close the largest of the Giza pyramids because of a fear that unidentified groups would attempt to hold a ritual at the site to "to take advantage of mysterious powers coming from the pyramid on the rare date," Huffington Post reported.


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