Sexual harassment has been illegal in the workplace for over half a century under Title VII of the Civil Rights Ac of 1964. However, as the #metoo movement made clear, being illegal does not mean it does not continue to happen.
Most sexual harassment at work is never reported. A 2018 study found that around 5 million people suffer sexual harassment in their workplace each year, and 99.8% of it goes unreported. The cases involving high profile celebrities are a perfect example. Most of these incidents took place a long time ago, yet the women were scared to speak up until recently. Once they did, it gave others the courage to do the same.
Why don’t people report sexual harassment in the workplace?
There are several reasons why sexual harassment is underreported by American workers:
- They do not know who to report it to: Employers should have policies to clarify how you can report incidents.
- They think no-one will do anything: If a company has not taken action over harassment in the past, others may wonder if there is any point.
- The experience can be humiliating: Managers need sufficient training to deal with these incidents sensitively. When people fear the whole office will start talking about them, they may prefer to keep silent.
- They are scared of being labeled: People might accuse someone who reports sexual harassment of being a troublemaker or of being promiscuous in the way they dress or behave.
- They fear retaliation: The study found that around two-thirds of people who filed complaints about sexual harassment lost their jobs despite retaliation being illegal.
If someone sexually harasses you at work or has done in the past, seek legal help to understand your options. The more people that stand up to this behavior, the better the chance of stamping it out.