Almost any woman that has held a job has been sexually harassed by a colleague at some point or another. Harassment can result in a myriad of issues for the victim. She can experience mental and physical issues, obstacles completing tasks during the day, and lower-income. (Shaw et al 2018) The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission describes harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the most at risk are women who work in service industries, agriculture, male-dominated fields, and workplaces with significant power imbalances. While this is a harsh reality of being a modern woman, but she can choose what happens next.
October 2017 was a pivotal moment in the conversation about sexual harassment. The launch of the #MeToo movement gave women the platform to share their experiences and embrace one another to heal and raise awareness. Sexual harassment is nothing new, so why is it only being brought to light in recent years? Reports show that “…77 percent of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment, and 51 percent had been sexually touched without their permission.” (Chatterjee 2018) In the 2014 fiscal year, the EEOC saw that sex discrimination compromised 30 percent of charges filed. 74.4 percent of these cases filed were from women. Sexual harassment can happen in many settings, but the areas where women are harassed the most are in traditionally male occupations. (Women) “…Women in the trades had higher rates of harassment (60 percent) and sex discrimination (56 percent) than clerical workers (6 percent and 8 percent).” (Gruber) Additionally, women in the armed forces and law enforcement have a more difficult time when it comes to harassment. Women tend to be harassed more in these occupations because they are built around a toxic, masculine culture. In the 2018 fiscal year, 6,676 sexual assaults were reported, involved service members. (Sexual Assault) Unfortunately, when this behavior occurs it is not always followed by reporting. Only one in ten people who are harassed make a formal complaint. This usually happens for fear of embarrassment, termination of employment, or lack of accessible networks to report misconduct. Many women are forced to leave their jobs to avoid the abuser which puts them in financial binds. “A recent study finds a high correlation between harassment and job change: eight in ten women who experienced sexual harassment began a new job within two years after experiencing harassment (compared with just over half of other working women).” (Women’s Policy)
Some groups of people are more likely than others to be targets of harassment. Gender, as well as race, play a large role in harassment. In a survey of 474 scientists between 2011 and 2015, 40 percent of women of color reported feeling unsafe in the workplace as a result of their gender or sex, and 28 percent of women of color reported feeling unsafe as a result of their race. Additionally, 8 percent of women of color and 12 percent of white women skipped professional events because they did not feel safe attending. (Clancy et al) Among black women, the race of the perpetrator is a powerful predictor of sexual harassment appraisal, and cross-racial harassment is perceived to be more offensive, frightening, and disturbing than intraracial harassment. (Golden) Black women are grossly affected by sexual harassment. Being a woman of color creates an extra spotlight for targeted harassment. Harassers are typically white, heterosexual, men who use their power and privilege to demean others.
Sexual assault and harassment can be incredibly detrimental to its victims. Victims can develop depression, anxiety, alcohol or substance abuse disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicidal tendencies. In a graph provided by Stop Street Harassment, 31 percent of women felt anxious or depressed after experiencing harassment. In addition to this statistic, only 10 percent of women filed a report and an even lower 7 percent of women sought mental health counseling. Victims of harassment and assault can experience adverse physical effects such as increased stress, headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and eating. The emotional toll on victims includes anger, fear, guilt, shame, and a feeling of powerlessness. Harassment does not just affect the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of people. Victims can experience the loss of wages due to stepping down from higher-paying positions, missed workdays, or quitting their job altogether. This can impact their social standing as people in lower-income occupations may rely more on their income to make ends meet.
The inception of the #MeToo movement has raised beloved household names to become tarnished amid misconduct allegations. Perhaps the most infamous offender is disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This movement of women to confront their abusers has stirred up decades of misconduct. Weinstein has had 85 women accuse him of behavior ranging from inappropriate touching, unwanted advances, and rape. Among his accusers are famed actresses Rosanna Arquette, Daryl Hannah, and Angelina Jolie. Besides these accounts of Weinstein’s deplorable behavior, most of all the accounts stated they were propositioned for. This type of harassment has cost dozens of women roles, their mental and physical health, and overall wellbeing. Weinstein purposefully used his position of power to abuse young women in the entertainment industry. Requesting sexual favors in exchange to help budding actresses secure movie roles is the perfect example of quid pro quo harassment. In addition to Weinstein’s disgusting behavior, it is recorded that he purposefully made securing roles difficult for the women that denied him. One of his accusers, Rose McGowan, has attempted to publish a book detailing her accounts of Weinstein’s actions.
“In late 2016, Mr. Weinstein hired Black Cube, a private investigative firm founded by former Israeli intelligence officials, to help him, a contract that was executed by Mr. Boies’s firm. In 2017, the suit says, an undercover agent employed by Black Cube started posing as an executive from a London-based wealth management firm interested in paying Ms. McGowan for speaking engagements related to women’s rights. The undercover agent gained Ms. McGowan’s trust and then covertly recorded Ms. McGowan reading the agent excerpts from her book, which the firm later shared with Mr. Weinstein and his lawyers…”. (Jacobs)
Perhaps some justice has come from the bankruptcy and dissolution of The Weinstein Company, effectively pushing him out of the film industry.
Not all sexual harassment comes from our male counterparts. According to research done by the EEOC, 1 in 5 sexual harassment complaints come from males. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 230 are reported to the police, 46 reports lead to arrest, 9 cases get referred to prosecutors, 5 cases lead to a felony conviction, and only 4.6 rapists will serve jail time. (The Criminal Justice System) While there are a significantly larger number of cases of women being harassed by men in the workplace, men are harassed as well. According to Stop Street Harassment, a sample size of 1058 men and 982 women reported, “Being harassed by one man was cited as the most common experience by both women (70%) and men (48%). It was also common to be harassed by two or more men (38% of women and 25% of men). Twenty percent of men said their harasser was a lone woman.” (Unsafe) Men do not report harassment for fear of ridicule from their coworkers. It has also been widely contested that men cannot be harassed or raped. We can attribute this to the conditioning of the male psyche; young boys are raised to show no fear, take control of the situation, and be strong. This is incredibly detrimental to how men express their feelings and experiences with assault and harassment. With both men and women, the number of cases that result in conviction is few and far between.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new. Men and women alike are targets for harassment, but unfortunately, the majority of harassment falls on women. Every person deserves to be respected, safe, and comfortable in their occupation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all citizens, regardless of their race, sex, or gender from unwanted harassment. Identifying the reasons why harassment occurs and confronting these issues is the only way to move forward in the conversation of workplace harassment.