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Women sexually harassing men

Sexual prowess

Complaints about women bosses preying on men have doubled since 1990. What's going on out there?

 

Then there are the women who aren't totally comfortable with their professional power and resort to flirting to get what they want out of their employees. "I've seen this happen, when the man thinks, Oh man, she wants me," says Rhoma Young, a human-resources consultant who investigates sexual-harassment complaints. "And the man might take someone wearing a shorter skirt who is trying to be stylish as a come-on, because that's how they relate to women."

 

A clear factor in cases brought by men is the difficulty society might have believing they would be offended by a come-on. No real man rebuffs sexual attention, goes the thinking, so how can he even be sexually harassed? "It's sort of a societal taboo. A man's going to complain because a woman's hitting on him? What's wrong with him?" says Alexis McKenna, a lawyer who litigates such cases. Men simply haven't been raised to think of themselves as potential victims — making it all the more difficult to protest. "It's much more shameful for men to have to confront sexual harassment and admit it," says University of Maine sociologist Amy Blackstone. "It's something that gets joked about."

 

Just ask James Stevens, a soft-spoken, devout Christian who worked for more than 15 years at a Vons supermarket in Simi Valley, CA, who claims that a coworker named Laura Marko was inappropriate with him every day for two years. "Most black men would love to have a white woman sexually harass them — that's what I'd hear," he says. "But I couldn't be more repulsed. She would ask me point-blank, Do I go down on my wife? When I announced that my wife was pregnant, she suggested that if my wife had done a different act, she wouldn't have gotten pregnant."

 

Stevens finally complained, and the company transferred him. "And the first thing out of my wife's mouth is, 'Why are they transferring you if she was harassing you?' In the back of her mind, she was thinking maybe I could have been harassing this woman," he says. His coworkers thought that, too. The rumor spread. And then Vons fired him.

 

"It really destroyed my family," Stevens says. "It destroyed my life." He spent most of his days lost in a prescribed narcotic cocktail — Zyprexa and Celexa and Vicodin — and then his wife took their baby daughter and left.

 

Determining that Vons fired him in retaliation for his complaining about being sexually harassed, a jury awarded Stevens $18 million, one of the largest decisions of its kind. (Vons has appealed.) But when I call Laura Marko and tell her that I'm writing a story about male victims of sexual harassment, she laughs hysterically (not to mention bitterly). "It was actually the other way around," she says. "He was just a guy waiting for an opportunity."

 

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