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Our Tradition of Callousness

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Dear Editor,

The Chicago mentality (and one of your writers) strikes again. It has been quite a year for the Reader. This summer, Justin Hayford told us about how much he hated Kimberly Bergalis ["The AIDS of Innocents," May 6]. She was making a major fuss about a little thing like being infected with AIDS (and being condemned to a very premature, horrible death at 21). This, of course, happened to her as a result of a visit to see her dentist--scarcely something that one would expect to be a life threatening ordeal. This led to her "draconian" suggestion that prospective patients be given the opportunity to know if their physicians are HIV-positive and to decide for themselves if they wish to incur the risk involved in continuing to see those physicians. This, of course, was an opportunity that she had been denied--with fatal consequences for her.

Mr. Hayford and his friends took the incredible position that patients should be denied the opportunity to make this decision for themselves because the HIV-positive physician wouldn't be able to make as much money as before. Usually such a position, often associated with the robber barons of old (who wanted to keep their customers similarly uninformed about the dangers of their products), would be considered a sign of unprincipled, almost sociopathic, greed. Utter the magic buzz phrase "gay rights," though, and suddenly the withholding of such information is OK.

I won't claim that Mr. Hayford has been topped, but he's had some worthy successors lately. Michael Glab [September 9] did a puff piece for the promotion of women's boxing, in which high-school-aged girls are encouraged to batter each other because other people like to watch them do so. Not that there is anything misogynistic about this.

Paul Pekin [Our Town, September 16] contributed to this growing tradition of callousness. An air-traffic controller, who was not reported to have even been accused of sexual harassment himself, was ordered to attend a "sexual harassment workshop," at which he was molested, in order to "teach men how it feels to be a woman who is being sexually harassed." Mr. Pekin referred to the victim, who is now suing the FAA over the incident, as "silly" because he wasn't physically threatened by his assailants.

Of course, we don't outlaw sex crimes because the victim feels threatened by them. That's what the offense of "assault" (and related offenses such as "intimidation") was devised to cover. Rather, we outlaw them because they are degrading for the victim, who is denied the right to refuse the contact in question. While one may try to argue that physical force wasn't used against the victim (a dubious point, given the fact that he was outnumbered), one can't deny that economic coercion--the threat of dismissal from employment or demotion--was used. And, of course, this is exactly the sort of force used in sexual harassment. The moment the victim ceases to have the freedom to say no--and have that position respected under any reasonable definition of the term--sexual assault has occurred. Mr. Pekin, though, apparently thinks that this is just good, clean fun.

I can remember a time when "liberalism" meant something other than masking attitudes that would have been backward 100 years ago with a thin veneer of progressive rhetoric. What a shame it is that the Reader can't.

Joseph B. Dunphy

N. Dearborn

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