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Discrimination And Abuse In Firefighting

A firefighter in Virginia was found dead after an apparent suicide this week. A note found near the body of the 32-year-old female suggested that the death was self-inflicted. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death found that she had been the target of cyberbullying by her fellow firefighters. The attacks were sexual in nature and fit a long-standing pattern of so-called "slut shaming" of women who chose to work as firefighters.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around twice as many volunteer firefighters as paid career firefighters. The jobs are predominantly for local governments. The Cornell Institute for Women and Work reports that more than 96 percent of firefighters are male. That kind of disparity can easily give rise to the type of abuse and hostility found in this tragic situation. 

Federal law and the laws of New Jersey make gender discrimination illegal. This is true for volunteer firefighters as well as for paid firefighters. There are legal remedies available for the victims of workplace bullying, harassment and gender discrimination. Whether or not you are paid, you are entitled to be free from harassment and abuse. You are volunteering your time and your effort. You are not volunteering yourself as a target for vicious attacks, snide remarks or sexual advances.

In an environment as male-dominated as many fire departments, it may be difficult to raise the issue of discrimination. It is important to document the instances where you were subjected to inappropriate conduct. If you are not sure about your legal rights, you should speak to an employment law attorney as soon as possible. Discrimination is not acceptable in any work environment, including in the firehouse.

Source: Connections.Mic, "Reports of Slut Shaming and Harassment Surface After Firefighter Takes Her Own Life," by Leigh Cuen, 25 April 2016

Occupational Health & Safety, "Report: Nation's Firefighting Ranks Are 96 Percent Male," 13 May 2008 

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