Is sexual harassment in the workplace under-reported?
The answer? An estimated 65% of cases are believed to go unreported. However, given that the estimate of unreported sexual violence is likely 90%, this statistic is almost certainly on the low side of the actual number. When we look at the sudden volume of women who have spent years in the Fox News environment, enduring some fairly egregious sexual harassment, and who are only now reporting it, we can get a fairly accurate understanding of how this issue manifests itself and why it continues to stay “in the closet.” These women simply did not come clean until they were leaving their jobs, because they understood the consequences of revealing the truth.
After a fairly thorough Google search for up-to-date figures surrounding the current reporting statistics for women who had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it can be concluded that not only is the practice of sex harassment wildly under-reported, it appears to be on the rise. While it is disappointing to acknowledge, it is hardly surprising, given the genesis of the problem and its deep roots in patriarchal attitudes toward women in the workplace.
The EEOC’s website contained this alarming tidbit:
“A recent study surveying over 2,200 part-time and full-time female employees concluded that sexual harassment is sadly still very rampant in American workplaces.” They went on to state that “about 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18-34 have been sexually harassed at work, and 81% of women have been verbally sexually harassed”
This translates to eight out of ten women finding themselves, at a minimum, verbally harassed at work, at some time during their careers. Thus, one may conclude that it is not a problem that appears to be going away any time soon.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Psychology Today provided some insight into categorizing the ways in which this practice may present itself in the workplace:
● “Sexual coercion: involving job-related threats or bribes to force unwilling workers to enter into a sexual relationship with the harasser. One example of this is when an employer threatens to fire an employee if he/she doesn’t agree to sex. While often the most damaging, most harassment tends not to be this blatant.
● Unwanted sexual attention: involving unwelcome sexual advances towards someone else in the workplace that are regarded as unwelcome or offensive. This can include sexual touching, and pressuring for a date. Since it can involve threats or bribes, there can be considerable overlap between this category and the first one.
● Gender harassment: involving hostile behavior aimed at undermining workers simply due to their gender. This can include denigrating comments, off-color jokes that are intended to be offensive, mocking, and even violent threats. Women expressing strong feminist ideals are often targeted this way. While this is the most common form of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is also the least likely to be seen as harassment.”
Are some jobs high risk?
In a study from the National Women’s Law Center the results of researching the relationship between low paying jobs and incidents of sexual harassment, found that women in these types of jobs are especially susceptible to sexual harassment. These workers, primarily domestic workers and janitorial staff in the hospitality industry, continue to feel they cannot report this activity, as they cannot risk losing their jobs.
“Low-wage workers—three-quarters of whom are women and more than one-third of whom are women of color—juggle multiple personal, caregiving, and financial responsibilities and can least afford to have their livelihoods threatened by harassment.”
A survey from Cosmopolitan in 2015 revealed that:
“[…]sexual harassment is still widespread: Roughly 1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 has been sexually harassed at work, reveals our study of 2,235 full-time and part-time female employees, conducted by the polling firm SurveyMonkey. The problem is at its worst in the restaurant industry, where 42 percent of women say they’ve experienced it, but it has also affected 36 percent of women in retail, 31 percent in science/tech, 31 percent in arts/entertainment, and 30 percent in the legal field.”
A related study performed by Cosmo found “women who said ‘no’ when asked if they’d experienced workplace sexual harassment responded ‘yes’ when asked if they’d experienced a sexually explicit or sexist remark.” This statistic would indicate a gap between actions that may fall under Title VII and what many women understand to be unlawful sexual harassment. As long as some women fail to understand that sexually explicit or sexist remarks can be found to be unlawful harassment, depending on the context and the women experiencing them, many of these acts will go unreported.
In 2013, PBS ran a documentary entitled “Rape in the Fields” that was the product of years of field research in the farming industry. The work was a collaboration by Frontline, Univision and several students from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. It focused on the alarming number of instances of rape and/or attempted rape reported by female workers within the agriculture industry here in California. Although the study was unable to pinpoint a precise number of women who had been sexually assaulted within the food industry, it was determined that the problem is significant, and with over half a million women currently working on U.S. farms, there are a great many women at risk.
A similar problem lurks beneath the surface of the restaurant industry. In a survey entitled The Glass Floor, the issue of victim-blaming was determined to be a major factor in the under-reporting of these practices.
“Both the harasser and the very authorities that are supposed to protect from sexual harassment make victims feel that they are to blame. Fear of retaliation—being fired, being passed over for promotions, or increased harassment—is real and often inhibits survivors from seeking justice or support.”
These surveys, and the statistics gleaned from them, all seem to underline one another in support of the conclusion that women, in large part, continue to still face, and routinely deal with, being minimized, clumsily seduced, overtly assaulted, and in the worst cases raped, while on the job. At the same time, many women feel helpless to report or otherwise address the behavior, so that it will stop and they can continue to perform their jobs unmolested.
What happens when you report harassment?
As a recent article on the issue in the New York Times underscores, the problem continues to exist, and while reporting statistics vary, they all hover around 65% of women failing to report being harassed due to fear of retaliation. It is not an unreasonable fear, as many women are brushed off or worse, terminated, for pointing out sexual harassment, particularly when they are harassed by a man in a superior position in their career. How realistic is it to expect a woman to turn in her boss, or a Venture Capitalist, who might be in a position to decide whether to get her ideas off the ground, for groping her during a presentation? So very often, these cases remain buried, unless and until a woman is fired, at which point she is labeled as a “disgruntled” former employee and her claims are chalked up to animus for not quite living up to expectations.
From Psychology Today
“From a feminist psychological perspective, sexual harassment arises from traditional expectations and relationships between the genders that overflow into the workplace although they are irrelevant or inappropriate. It is also conceptualized as being about power. Because it intimidates and discourages women in the workplace, it reinforces workplace gender hierarchies that privilege men.”
THE TAKE AWAY
Sexual harassment will continue to exist until society deals with the underlying issues that create an atmosphere where under-reporting is the norm, because women must choose between their careers and a safe and harassment-free working environment. The correction to this problem is twofold:
★ Women must be brave enough to report the behavior, and the courts and legislature must provide them stronger laws to protect them when they do.
★ Those laws should include much higher penalties against men who use positions of power to subjugate women in the workplace.
Should you be experiencing sexual harassment in your workplace, give the team at Lazear Mack a call. We will let you know where you stand at no cost to you, and if you are not ready to report it, we can guide you through the documentation process, so that when you are, you will have a clear record on which to act.
Lazear Mack, LLP
Employment Law Attorneys
436 14th Street, Suite 1117