Baerbock unwillingly kissed:  A case of sexualized workplace harassment

Photo by KS KYUNG on Unsplash

Croatian Foreign Minister kisses Annalena Baerbock on the mouth during a group photo without her consent. Annalena Baerbock quickly turns away and appears visibly uncomfortable.

What is the problem?

The behavior of Croatian Foreign Minister Radman constitutes a form of sexualized harassment known as “unwanted sexualized attention.” This includes unwanted attempts at closeness, physical touches, or verbal sexualized attention. Approximately 40% of women and non-binary individuals in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland report experiencing unwanted sexualized attention in the workplace within a 12 months interval.

These statistics, along with the fact that this “kiss” attempt is possible on such a public stage, highlight how normalized sexualized harassment still is. This is despite research showing that harassment is degrading and has serious psychological and work-related consequences for those affected. There is still insufficient awareness of what harassment is and the consequences it can have for victims.

In his initial statement, Radman says, “I don’t know what the problem was. I didn’t see it; I was not aware of it.” He does not admit any fault, positioning himself as a victim of circumstances, a behavior that is common in cases of sexual violence known as victim-blaming.

In another statement, he says, “Maybe it was an uncomfortable moment,” justifying his behavior with, “We always greet each other warmly. It is a warm human interaction among colleagues.” He seemingly fails to recognize that he would not kiss any male colleagues in such a situation, making his behavior clearly sexist.

Moreover, the entire public discourse immediately revolves around him and his perspective. There is discussion about what he meant, whether he apologized, and whether his career is now at risk, instead of addressing the fact that the way Annalena Baerbock was publicly degraded is a common form of sexualized harassment and what we can do about it. The blame question is immediately in the foreground (“Did he behave wrongly, or is she exaggerating?”). The discourse is thus oriented towards legal definitions, ignoring the fact that not everything that is legal is also morally justifiable.

My work with victims of sexual workplace harassment shows that few want punishment for their harassers. What victims want is security and the ability to work in peace. The narrative of the vengeful woman is a myth and shows how misogynistic (strongly prejudiced against women) our society still is.

The shifted discourse deflects from the perspective of the victim and the necessary concern, ensuring that we do not properly address the issue on a societal level.

In reality, the unwanted kiss is anything but an isolated incident; about 60% of women and non-binary individuals experience at least one harassing behavior in the workplace within 12 months. Sexualized harassment is a structural, highly prevalent problem.

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