Essay VI

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Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

In the course of our detailed, difficult, and frequently poignant discussions of rape and sexual harassment, we failed ask to whether and how there could be a connection between the two.

For example, one could argue that sexual harassment encourages sexual assault in the sense that those who sexually harass are ipso facto more inclined to acts of sexual assault. Thus a 'boys-will-be-boys' culture which sees boorish sexual jokes and degrading comments as normal behavior is not merely offensive: It is deeply troubling in that one would expect sexual assault to be common if not pervasive in such a culture.

Yet it could also be argued that this 'sexual harassment leads to sexual assault' argument commits a sorites or slippery slope fallacy. Off-color jokes and sexual banter and teasing is just good clean--albeit adult--fun. The suggestion that having some adult fun would lead to or encourage a grave moral harm like sexual assault is absurd and itself an offensive claim.

To be sure, the question of whether a greater incidence of sexual harassment coincides with an increase in sexual assault is an empirical--specifically, sociological--question.

Be that as it may, our inquiries into the nature of sexual harassment and the nature of sexual assault presumably shed some light on the question, does sexual harassment lead to sexual assault? In light of our inquiries, do you think sexual harassment leads to sexual assault? Why or why not?