“Zero Tolerance” policies are back in fashion, driven by the #MeToo movement. That sounds like a good step. But “zero tolerance” isn’t that simple. We should not tolerate any acts that reasonably causes a woman to feel insulted and unable to do her best work. But we risk lumping all kinds of acts into one bucket. The stories women have shared about experiencing “sexual harassment” are not all the same. And the consequences for acts that constitutes “harassment” can’t all be the same.
There is a spectrum from annoying to criminal. There is a difference between a hand on the shoulder, a hand on the waist or knee and a hand on the rear. There is a difference been flirtation and a sexual advance (unwanted touching or a request for sex). There is a difference between inviting a woman to lunch and inviting her to your hotel room. There is a difference between one crude joke and an environment where crude jokes are the norm and anyone (man or woman) feels uncomfortable. And there is a difference between a kiss and rape.
The more serious acts, on the end of the spectrum, are illegal; and the law provides the consequence. Having “zero tolerance” for a crime adds little. What is the appropriate consequence for acts that fall short of criminality? Where on the spectrum is a reprimand an appropriate penalty? Where is losing one’s job the right consequence?