As the issue of sexual misconduct has catapulted onto center stage in our culture, social scientists continue to provide assessments as to its causes and possible remedies. Particularly prominent has been a discussion of the role of the environment in which sexual predators operate. A repeated observation is that a laissez-faire environment allows these individuals the opportunity to operate with impunity especially if that person is valuable to his employer and has a high-status position within the organization. As he gets away with more and more inappropriate behavior, he develops a sense of invincibility. Victims are reluctant to come forward because they think they will not be believed and they do not want to risk destroying their reputations and entire careers

The same is true of circumstances surrounding powerful individuals who commit “white collar” crimes. Contributory to their perpetrating fraud is that they know there is little oversight to their activity. Rarely held accountable, they are pretty much at liberty to operate as they choose. They are a law unto themselves while no one seems to be watching.

Unquestionably, the environment in which a person lives, goes to school, works, and socializes has an impact on behavior. People react differently to similar environments depending on their personalities. Poverty affects people in different ways. One person may be a chronic thief and go to jail. Another may react to poverty as a motivator to work hard and succeed in legitimate endeavors, thereby overcoming his adverse circumstances.

To be clear then, what we are talking about are “criminals” whether they are bank robbers or television personalities who force themselves sexually upon co-workers. These people injure other human beings as a result of personality characteristics that flourish especially in environments where there is little supervision. However, these characteristics exist independent of the environment and include:

  • A readiness to exploit one’s status to exercise power and control in ways that are personally gratifying.
  • Developing a sense of invincibility resulting in their shutting off from awareness their knowledge of the potential consequences of their criminality freeing them to do whatever they please.
  • A failure to put themselves in the place of other people. Single-mindedly, they pursue their objectives, heedless of the impact.
  • Living a double life so that they succeed at deceiving others, including family and friends and, in the case of celebrities, their employers and millions of people who admire them. 
  • Holding a view of themselves as unique in that they believe rules and policies existing in their workplace do not apply to them.
  • While appearing to be sensitive and caring, they treat people as objects in order to gratify their desires.

In short, criminals are unfettered when they live and work in environments where there is little deterrence. This is true whether one is speaking of street criminals, corporate criminals, or criminals who are media personalities.

The environment can provide fewer or greater opportunities for sexual misconduct to occur. In addressing the current issue of sexual misconduct, much can be done to change workplace environments to hold people accountable. Providing greater deterrence to irresponsible and criminal behavior will reduce the opportunity to engage in such conduct on the job. Perpetrators of crimes are unlikely to significantly change their basic personality. But they may cease their misconduct on the job because of fear of consequences that, with certainty, will be imposed resulting in imperiling their fame and livelihood.

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