A recent rally in Washington Square Park sought to shine a national spotlight on the widespread problem of sexual harassment in New York City. The event was organized by Hollaback, an organization that’s dedicated to stopping sexual harassment on New York City streets and public transportation. The rally was part of a worldwide event that spanned 60 cities including Mumbai, Brussels, and San Francisco. But as participants shared their stories with media outlets, it soon became clear that sexual harassment in the workplace is still as much of a problem as it ever was.
According to research conducted in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences” account for the vast majority of sexual violence against both men and women in the United States.
Even government offices aren’t immune from this sexist behavior. Recently uncovered data shows that the state of New York has had to pay in excess of $5.9 million in sexual harassment settlements involving employees at agencies such as the Office of Children and Family Services.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains components designed to protect individuals against sexual harassment in the workplace but many times the definition of the term is framed vaguely or misinterpreted in company policies and handbooks: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
But workplace harassment also includes another component: discrimination. The United Nations believes that harassment is also discriminatory when “the individual has grounds to believe that her objection [to certain behaviors] would disadvantage her in connection with her employment.”
Solving the Problem of Sexual Harassment
Speak out! One of the Washington Park rally participants, Joan Abel, pointed out a fundamental problem in the fight for equality: “men don’t realize that women feel constantly threatened by such forms of attention.” Giving voice to the problem is the first step. The Working Group on Girls, a young women’s rights group, recommends combatting “female passivity.” Inaction is often misperceived as consent when in fact it’s often a symptom of fear or embarrassment.
Get help! If sexual harassment or the fear of discrimination at work has crippled you, reach out. This type of behavior is not only unacceptable, it’s illegal. If your employer fails to respond to your complaints, follow the example of the three waitresses suing their Brooklyn employer and contact a lawyer. The women all work at “La Fogata” bar in Bushwick and are suing their employers for forcing them to drink with customers, attaching their wages if they fail to meet quotas, and encouraging “fraternization” with male clientele.
The bottom line is you don’t have to go it alone-the law is on your side.