It has not been an easy couple of months for law enforcement in the Bay Area. Early this September, it was found that eleven Oakland Police officers were having sexual relations with a teenage girl. Scandals with law enforcement and sexual harassment have not stopped here. A week ago, multiple male firefighters in San Francisco’s Chinatown have sexually harassed one of their female coworkers. The details are ugly–officials claim the perpetrators had urinated in the bed of the female firefighter, and had made verbally abusive remarks. Astonishingly, this occurred over a six month period. The Fire Chief, Joanne Hayes-White, ordered those who participated in the incident to be transferred to other stations. While the chief declined to comment on the case, a department spokesman stated that “[The department has] taken swift and comprehensive actions to remedy any situation so that our workplaces are safe and welcoming for all.”
The only way to combat this kind of behavior is with severe consequences for those involved, so that others at the department will understand that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. The question remains, was the punishment for the officers severe enough to prevent another incident? A punishment’s purpose is to provide the victim relief, but just as important is the effect it has on people in the surrounding environment. If these men did in fact participate in this behavior, repeatedly for months, as well as taking into account the grotesque nature of their harassment, we urge the department to not just transfer the firefighters, but deny them the right to serve the public. If the department cannot hand out severe enough punishments to the male firefighters involved, how can their fellow colleagues be shown that proper justice will be served?
The firefighters should understand that sexual harassment is emotionally damaging and traumatizing. This is especially pertinent in a firehouse, where the female firefighter slept near these men on a regular basis. Work is a place where one should feel respected by their colleagues, not worried about their own safety. We, as an editorial board (and for the female members in particular), can only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to sleep in the next room over from a man who catcalled you during work. Now compare catcalling to the alleged actions of the male firefighters. That certainly makes for a frightening environment, and puts into question the punishment that was handed to the firefighters who committed harassment.
Justice not being properly served is one thing; even more appalling is the stain that is now permanently on the hands of several public servants in the city, and the waves of distrust in our local government that will inevitably follow. Our police officers, firefighters, teachers, mail workers and bus drivers all work tremendously hard to make the beautiful city that we all enjoy–but standards for hiring, firing, and management are clearly in need of review and reworking by senior officials of the city government.
We can start to make a dent in the widespread sexual harassment seen in the Bay Area with better hiring processes. What citizens of San Francisco deserve is justice, and the harassment that the female firefighter received puts fractures in this very crucial pillar of civil society.