There are too many problems in the world to be passionate about them all. It is only natural that some societal problems will simply escape public notice until an event draws our attention. Anyone working in employment law is well aware of gender-based inequality. The recent attention given to high-profile cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault and other misconduct by men in politics, entertainment and business may, hopefully, bring about change.
Sexual harassment is a societal, not individual problem
Individuals commit acts of sexual harassment. The origin of the problem, however, is not an aberrant upbringing or unusual personality. Our society fosters the belief that some people are entitled to sexual access to others. The victims of this belief are mainly women and LGBTQI members of society, though sexual harassment is a problem large enough to encompass virtually everyone.
In an employment situation, sexual harassment comes in two forms. The first is hostile work environment harassment. A boss, coworker, or other person in the chain of employment creates this environment with unwanted and pervasive sexual conduct. That can be in the form of touching or groping, stalking, harassing emails or calls, sexual jokes, sexual advances or similar conduct.
The second form of harassment is quid pro quo harassment. Those situations involve an employer conditioning a workplace benefit, a promotion or continued employment for example, on you granting a sexual favor. Both forms of harassment are illegal and can make the workplace an unbearable nightmare.
Where to go from here
Surveys show that a majority of men and women agree that sexual harassment reflects a widespread societal problem. Attacking those problems should be a priority, then. For victims of sexual harassment, the problem is personal and painful. Getting relief requires a number of difficult steps. It requires you to report the harassment to your employer. It requires you to document the harassment and pursue justice through legal means. That is a lot to ask of someone who has done nothing wrong and deserves so much better.
Sexual harassment thrives on secrecy and fear. When we doubt victims who report their abuse, when we allow the powers that be to suggest a victim was “asking for it,” when we stand by and do nothing, we contribute to the problem. Only by shining a light on sexual harassment and its purveyors can we hope to eradicate the problem.