In the recent news several instances of sexual harassment and sexual abuse have been brought to light. These cases of sexual abuse highlight how powerful men, such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Matt Lauer can use their positions to exploit, harass, and cause harm to others.
There has been less focus on how these individuals were made powerful and protected by institutions that both enabled them to harass and gave them the tools through which they could cause harm. In my research, I explore the intersection between bureaucracy and harassment in the context of the United States military.
Earlier this year “Marines United” was identified as a closed Facebook group where over 30,000 servicemen shared nude photos of servicewomen. Many of the comments following the identification of “Marines United” asked whether the military had policies and regulations as well as avenues to prosecute servicemembers for online activities. We often understand policies, rules, and regulations as ways to prevent, address, and punish those who might perpetrate sexual harassment and abuse.
However, my research shows that it is also important to recognize the discretionary power that individuals have in interpreting, carrying out, and implementing organizational rules, policies, and regulations. The interplay between organizational polices, workplace climate, and individuals in power can lead to sexual abuse in the workplace.
In a recently published article, I use the term “bureaucratic harassment” to explain workplace harassment where bureaucracy is both the tool that perpetrators use to harass, as well as their source of power over others in the organization.