The “Me Too” movement is bringing awareness to what many of us have known for years, to be an all too common occurrence in the lives of women. That is having to be put into a position to be sexually harassed and assaulted as part of a job interview, requirement and/or acquisition. Now that is just one aspect that women have to be subjected to but we know that there are many other areas that women are being harassed sexually as well: walking down the street and having cat calls, whistles and sexual remarks being hurled; being discounted at a business meeting and told your suggestions/input is not necessary as you are to just look pretty; forced to be put into an uncomfortable work place situation where you noticed another co-worker being sexually harassed but told you will lose your job if you say anything to HR; college campus abuses and on and on. Shame, fear, and cultural norms all allow sexual harassment to go underreported.
I have experienced many times throughout my life, inappropriate sexual behavior. I was told during a job interview that it was “expected” that I sleep with the boss at least twice a week as part of my job duties. I was sexually abused as a teen, physically and emotionally abused as an adult and told over and over again that my job in the workplace was to look pretty but not to give suggestions, ideas, or “supervise/lead” co-workers. I had a medical doctor behave inappropriately during an exam and when I told him “no” and that I was going to report him, he laughed and said many had tried before me but nothing ever happened. (I reported him anyway and he lost his job but not his license as a medical doctor). I have actually had a man pat me on the head and say “now, now. You just sit there and look nice while us men get the real work done.” My mother told me of how she was sexually abused as a teen and how she had to be silent about it. She explained to me what she was told to do about it by others she disclosed to – “toughen up, be quiet, and just “deal” with it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as the saying goes”.
My own experience taught me when I did report some of it (and because of shame some was not reported) that it was “my word against his word” and that it couldn’t be proven so be quiet and do my job. The code of silence surrounding those who perpetrate sexual abuse supports them in the continuing inappropriate behaviors. We MUST break the colluding surrounding perpetrators of abuse. We MUST hold perpetrators accountable. Change must take place now.
There is so much we don’t know about how many have been sexually harassed and abused because of under reporting, but there is research that tells us some specifics about the state of the problem and the factors that make it better or worse in different workplaces.
Harvey Weinstein’s long alleged history of sexually preying on actresses, journalists, and musicians — and then scaring them into silence — has spurred a deeply charged national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
What we know about sexual harassment in America. Updated by Tara Golshan, 2017. She states that:
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency responsible for processing the sexual harassment complaints that do get reported, says nearly one-third of the 90,000 complaints received in 2015 included a harassment allegation — but the agency notes that that number is far too low to reflect reality. They also estimate that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported altogether.
In 2016, the EEOC released a comprehensive study of workplace harassment in the United States, which concluded that “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” It’s a strikingly wide gap, but one that is very substantial even in its most conservative estimate — statistically predicting one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment.
1) Some industries are worse
Sexual harassment is not an industry-specific problem, but some environments are worse, according to Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center: In male-dominated industries like construction, where women are seen as interlopers, women experience high levels of harassment.
Service-based industries, in which employers rely on tips and customer approval, can also breed an environment of harassment. Reports have also indicated customer behavior can impact how supervisors treat their employees.
Women in low-wage jobs, like hotel cleaners or farm workers, experience high levels of harassment because they do not have bargaining power to push back.
“Part of what sexual harassment is: an expression of power and expression of hostility,” Martin said. “When there aren’t women there to do the job, some men think women can’t do the job.
While workplace sexual harassment is often discussed in terms of women, men also experience sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a Washington Post survey, 10 percent of men have experienced sexual harassment at work. According to the EEOC, reports of men experiencing workplace sexual assault have nearly doubled between 1990 and 2009, from 8 percent to 16 percent of all claims. This could be a sign of more incidents among men, but also is largely indicative of a changing culture around reporting, in which more people feel comfortable coming forward.
2) 75 percent of harassment victims experienced retaliation when they spoke up
As the Weinstein case exemplifies, women often don’t come forward with their experiences out of fear of retaliation. These fears are very valid and well-founded. “One 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation,” the EEOC report found.
In Weinstein’s case, the Hollywood executive would threaten up-and-coming actresses’ careers if they did not engage with him, or place negative stories about them in the media to mire their names in scandal. These tactics aim to isolate and silence victims.
When people do come forward, Vox’s Anna North explained, it’s usually when others around them do — strength in numbers. Once some of Weinstein’s accusers came out, more followed.
Formal reporting is the “least common response” among men and woman who have experienced harassment in the workplace — “approximately 30% of individuals who experienced harassment talked with a supervisor, manager, or union representative,” the EEOC study said. It continued: Unwanted physical touching was formally reported only 8% of the time; and sexually coercive behavior was reported by only 30% of the women who experienced it. … Studies have found that 6% to 13% of individuals who experience harassment file a formal complaint. 63 That means that, on average, anywhere from 87% to 94% of individuals did not file a formal complaint.
A lot of this underreporting comes down to a fear of retaliation from the employers or colleagues. Victims often fear they won’t be believed, or will receive blame or be subject to professional retaliation — like being fired from their jobs.
Here are some definitions for those who might not know about sexual abuse.
Sexual Assault Includes:
Being forced to watch porn when you don’t want to.
Being touched in a sexual manner against your will, regardless of where you were touched.
Being prevented from using a condom or other protection during sex.
Someone putting a penis, finger or object in your vagina, mouth or anus when you didn’t want them to.
You Did Not Give Consent if You:
Were pressured, intimidated or forced to do sexual things you didn’t want to do.
Were incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol.
Changed your mind about engaging in sexual activity.
Coercion in Rape and Sexual Assault
Coercion is being pressured or forced to do something sexual you did not want to do. Any sexual activity that involves coercion is sexual assault.
Some forms of coercion are:
Use of threats (i.e., if you don’t do this, I’ll get you in trouble)
Intimidation (with looks, gestures, or body language)
Encouraging or forcing you to drink or do drugs
Use of a weapon
Underlying threat of violence if you don’t submit (if there’s been violence in the past, for example)
Not respecting someone saying “no” or “stop”
Making you feel like you owe the person sex
“Me Too” is just the beginning of hopefully ending the stigma, silence and colluding around sexual abuse of all kinds.