Letters

Compensating sexual harassment victims

IN THE OCTOBER Monitor , Dr. Louise Fitzgerald of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recommended "Congress eliminate damage caps in sexual harassment cases and ban the taxing of discrimination awards so that victims will be properly compensated." Such comments are lacking in fundamental justification and inappropriate for an outlet that promotes science. In contrast to Dr. Fitzgerald's opinion, there is demonstrable evidence of problems inherent in the lack of damage caps. Apparently, Dr. Fitzgerald's alternative justification lies in her belief that sexual harassment is a special class of crime.

Is the victim of medical malpractice somehow a lesser victim? Is the victim of a violent robbery "less" of a victim than someone who was sexually harassed? I am not minimizing sexual harassment here, only saying that such an approach to studying human behavior--i.e., assigning special victimhood status--has led the general public to have a high degree of skepticism of our profession in areas that have a legitimate call for study (e.g., PTSD).

A lack of damage caps has led to problems in other areas of society, most prominently in medicine, where malpractice insurance is high enough to run professionals out of a job. Damage caps are indeed an appropriate measure to curtail the jackpot justice mentality that is rather rampant in our society. Jackpot justice is something that need not be supported by APA publications or members.

TODD C. BUCKLEY, PHD
Boston University School of Medicine

 

RESPONSE FROM LOUISE F. FITZGERALD:

DR. BUCKLEY CRITICIZES excerpts from my APA address, delivered on acceptance of the association's 2003 Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy. I suggest his comments might be more informed if he delayed them until he has an opportunity to review the entire presentation, which he evidently did not attend; the paper appears in the November issue of the American Psychologist.

Contrary to his assertions, one of my main points was that sexual harassment plaintiffs should not constitute a "special class of victims" but rather be treated identically to other individuals who qualify for emotional damage awards; that is, their awards should not be specially taxed and they should not be required to pay taxes on fees awarded by the courts to their attorneys. Currently, only civil rights awards are so treated, creating exactly the special class of victims that Dr. Buckley decries.

With respect to damages caps, my comments were based on the current practice of determining awards based on the size of the employer, to which they bear no reasonable linkage. Although punitive damages, designed to deter and punish employer behavior, could logically be linked to employer size, compensation to victims is designed to "make them whole" and should logically be linked to their injuries--as they are in tort cases.

Dr. Buckley's passionate opinions about a presentation he has apparently neither heard nor read provides more data in support of the hypothesis that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

LOUISE F. FITZGERALD, PHD
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

Hate, disgust and good taste

TWO ARTICLES--"Enough of hate" and "Ewwww, gross!"--in the October Monitor offer converging opinions on the psychologies of "ethnic cleansing" and good taste.

Dr. Rozin's citation of Ernst Mayr's preadaptation concept suggests how "disgust evolved into an emotion that can be triggered by interpersonal and moral events." When differing ethnic characteristics (e.g., Dr. Rozin's example of a Westerner contaminating the cleanliness of a Japanese house by wearing dirty shoes indoors) elicit disgust reactions, the likely emotional reactions are not "hate" but rather the "self-righteous feelings of anger and aversion" described by Dr. Sternberg [in his presidential column].

Insofar as propaganda idealizes the purity of the majority group and denigrates the perceived loathsomeness of targeted minorities, the majority membership internalizes "negation of intimacy" stories ( per Dr. Sternberg) about minorities, rather than respect, empathy and compassion for them. As disgust has shifted "from a reaction to avoid bodily harm to one that wards off harm to the soul," (per Dr. Rozin), the self-protective solutions readily trend toward cleansing the soul by eradicating the contaminants and their vectors.

When ethnic "hatreds" are more coldly considered as variants on disgust, their intractabilities can more easily be understood. Given the human penchant for gut-level feeling over brain-based analysis, the solution to ethnic hatred may have to be more gustatorially satisfying than intellectually illuminating. Developing an appreciative taste for minority cuisines may be an important first step toward combating hatred. "Hey, if their food tastes pretty good...How disgusting can they be?"

 

PAUL TURNER, PSYD
Norwalk, Conn.

Diversity is all inclusive

WHILE I WAS PLEASED ON THE one hand to see the APA's 2005 presidential candidates being asked about their vision for increasing diversity within some facets of the APA ("Candidates answer last two questions," September Monitor), I was wholeheartedly disappointed to see that, with one exception--Dr. Stephen A. Ragusea--the candidates defined diversity based solely on race.

While race and racial awareness are essential pieces to the multicultural pie, our racial identity is only one part of who we are, of how we are different and diverse from one another. Gender (which Dr. Ragusea mentioned), sexual orientation, social class, religion, age and ability, among other social identities, need to be included in our presentations and discussions of diversity as well.

As Audre Lourde argued, if we are to work for true social change and justice, there cannot be "a hierarchy of oppressions." Rather, inclusion is key. As a field, as scholars, as teachers and as APA presidents, let us all rise to the challenge of working to increase true diversity in every aspect of our professional lives, in all that we do.

SANDRA L. NEUMANN, PHD
Community College of Baltimore County

 

Ethics and personal self-disclosure

I WAS PLEASED TO SEE THAT THE focus of "Ethics Rounds" in September was Dr. Stephen Behnke's review of changes to the APA Ethics Code affecting the educational process. As a graduate student, I have experienced personal disclosures in the educational setting to be paradoxical in nature.

On the one hand, these disclosures are encouraged by faculty as well as by the structure of some training programs. On the other hand, student self-disclosures may include revelations of personal vulnerability or sensitive private information. In turn, these revelations may result in decreased confidence on the part of professors, supervisors and peers in the student's abilities to function professionally. Furthermore, there may be increased student discomfort and apprehension related to self-disclosure.

My comments are not meant to discount the possible positive effects of student disclosures, but rather to call attention to the possible negative effects. Professional psychology has always emphasized the value of respecting privacy. How nice, then, that this value has been extended to students, and that Dr. Behnke has brought this to our attention.

SHANNON SALTER
Auburn University

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