The epidemic of sexual harassment and assault has received a lot of attention recently because of high profile cases like movie producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, journalist Charlie Rose, and many others. The news has spawned a viral social media hashtag “#metoo” which women have used to inform others that they, too, have suffered from sexual harassment or assault. All of this publicity has focused a spotlight on this problem and there appears to be momentum building toward changing the culture that has allowed this epidemic to persist for so long.
Victims of workplace sexual harassment and assault usually do not report the people who harass or assault them. A recent study “found that gender-harassing conduct was almost never reported, and unwanted physical touching was formally reported only 8% of the time.” The study also found that “even sexually coercive behavior was reported by a mere one-third of the women who experienced it.” Instead, victims of sexual harassment and assault typically respond by avoiding the harasser, downplaying the severity of the harassment, or just enduring the harassment. Victims of sexual harassment fear that the response to a complaint will be disbelief, victim blaming, inaction, retaliation, ostracism, or harm to the victim’s reputation. The fear of retaliation is particularly well-founded; studies show that the majority of employees who speak out about workplace harassment experience some form of retaliation.
One way that victims of sexual harassment and their allies can change these trends is to band together and speak out about the harassment. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, you most likely are not the harasser’s first victim and, if the harasser is not held accountable, you most likely will not be the last victim either. In dealing with workplace sexual harassment, there is strength in numbers. Talk to people in the workplace who you trust to find out if there are other victims, even victims who no longer work for the employer. Encourage other victims and people who know about the harassment, against both you and others, to stand up with you and demand that the harassment stop.
An experienced employment lawyer can help you: (1) develop a strategy for banding together with co-workers; (2) develop the strongest case possible against your employer if it refuses to remedy the harassment or retaliates against you; and (3) manage the risk that others might be too afraid to stand up with you against the harassment. So, before you begin the process of trying to band together with co-workers, it is a good idea to contact an experienced employment lawyer to discuss the problem.
The attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group have fought against sexual harassment in the workplace for decades. We can help you fight back against sexual harassment and, if necessary, bring legal action against your employer. Contact us for a free initial consultation.