Leader comment: Fight against sexual harassment will take years

Time magazine named women who broke the silence over sexual harassment as Person of the Year 2017 (Picture: Time via AP)
Time magazine named women who broke the silence over sexual harassment as Person of the Year 2017 (Picture: Time via AP)
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It will take years to reverse cultural attitudes that allowed men to sexually harass and abuse women, so keeping the issue in the spotlight is important.

The revelations about the extent of the sexual harassment and abuse of people in the worlds of entertainment and politics have been an earth-shattering moment for society.

Victims, mostly women but also including some men, who have kept silent for fear of losing their careers and their livelihoods have been able to come forward in search of justice or simply a recognition that what happened was wrong.

Moreover, people whose lives had been untouched by such issues have woken up to the extent of the problem. Many men – and the abusers appear to be entirely male – have questioned their own actions.

So the decisions by Time magazine to declare those who first spoke out, dubbed the “Silence Breakers”, as the Person of the Year for 2017 is fitting. And it is also welcome that the Scottish Parliament is undertaking a survey of its staff to find out the extent of sexual harassment in the building.

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It is right that this is being done anonymously to enable the overall situation to be accurately assessed before further steps are taken, but the results of the survey should be a starting point.

Further action will need to be taken to ensure any criminal behaviour is punished, disciplinary action is taken where necessary, and the required cultural shift in attitudes is achieved at the heart of Scottish democracy.

Our elected representatives need to clean their own house and then work on achieving the same across our society.

For make no mistake, similar problems are likely to be as widespread in the private sector as they are in Hollywood or Whitehall. Accounts of harassment in factories, shops and officers may be relatively rare, but that is almost certainly because they have a lower profile and do not come under similar scrutiny.

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The culture that has allowed men to believe it is acceptable to sexually harass or abuse women, or use positions of power to their advantage has built up over generations and it will not be transformed overnight.

So there needs to be a sustained effort by politicians, the media and everyone else to ensure that this appalling blight on the lives of innocent people is eradicated.

The prospect of Brexit and the antics of Donald Trump may be dominating the news agenda, but this is one issue we cannot allow to fade away.