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November 25, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

Sexual harassment exists.

  1. Recently, author Katie Roiphe wrote in the Sunday New York Times, “After all these years, we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime.”
  2. It is strange that she does not remember this lady, Anita Hill. Do you remember her, and all the gross stuff that she testified about under oath that her boss, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told her? My mom told me that when I was watching it at the tender age of 9 or so, I ran out of the room and locked myself in the bathroom because I was upset by the bestiality mentions. I dream of a world in which the United States can boast a full bench of Supreme Court justices who do not scare small children.
  3. Sexual harassment has a legal definition. It is made of words. Words, as she notes, can be “slippery.” But the law is less slippery, and these cases have been adjudicated many times over. Here is the legal definition:  “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” It is from the website of Equal Rights Advocates.
  4. It’s hard to tell if something is “unwelcome,” or if it is “severe,” or even if it’s “sexual,” sometimes, right? In Herman Cain’s case, some of his actions were described by Politico as “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

  5. This prompted New York magazine to speculate: “Jazz Hands?….or boob-grabbing hands?”
  6. By the severity definition, even if it occurs once, it can count as “sexual harassment” if, for example, it is severe or violent, as in the case of rape. In this case, which was eventually dismissed, Jamie Leigh Jones, a contractor for Kellogg, Brown and Root testifies in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about her rape by colleagues while working in Iraq and her subsequent treatment by her employer. 
  7. Jamie Leigh Jones Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee
  8. Here’s one of many parts of Anita Hill’s testimony. I picked one at random so hopefully I did not hit upon the bestiality clip by chance. That would be awkward. 
  9. Anita Hill’s Testimony Part 24 – Clarence Thomas 2nd Hearing Part 33 (1991)
  10. But I digress. I would like to demonstrate that sexual harassment exists, and it has quantifiable effects. Off to the statistics we go! [NB: Huge thank you to Tanya at the National Women's Law Center, for her help in researching this.] Let’s start with recent statistics, courtesy of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From 1997-2001, the number of complaints it received hovered in the mid-high 15,000s. In 2010, that number was 11,717. The percentage of cases filed by men has crept from 13.7% to 16.4%. Here’s a full chart with all the data, including how the cases were resolved:

  11. What does that mean for companies, businesses, harassment victims? Here is some more interesting data, from a fact sheet by the Feminist Majority Foundation (emphases mine).

    Sexual harassment psychologically hurts the women involved and the work atmosphere. According to the National Council for Research on Women, women are 9 times more likely than men to quit their jobs, 5 times more likely to transfer, and 3 times more likely to lose jobs because of harassment (The Webb Report, June 1994). There may be serious economic consequences as a result of sexual harassment. A woman’s job status may be jeopardized and and she may lose wages if she is fired or takes extended leave to avoid the harasser.
  12. Okay, so, women are far more likely than men to quit their jobs, transfer or lose a job because of harassment. And women are still 84% of the victims. What does this mean? It means that this is not inconsequential for all of the other factors that relate to female poverty: more time spent out of work, more time spent looking for a job, the unease of having to explain what happened in your last job, the decreased likelihood of promotion to higher-paying positions, etc. It also costs employers a bunch of money. From the ERA site:

    “The costs are borne not only by the victims of harassment; they create financial havoc for employers as well. Sexual harassment costs a typical Fortune 500 company $6.7 million per year in absenteeism, low productivity and employee turnover. That does not include additional costs for litigation expenses, executive time and tarnished public image should a case wind up in court.”

    The federal government loses cash over this too. Taxpayer cash. Our cash.

    Sexual harassment cost
    the federal government $327 million from 1992-1994:

    o   Job turnover — $24.7 million

    o   Sick leave — $14.9 million

    o   Individual productivity –
    $93.7 million

    o   Workgroup productivity –
    $193.8 million

    o   Total — $327.1 million

    Full report here:

    http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=253661&version=253948&application=ACROBAT

    There are other sucky things that happen because of sexual harassment, such as:

    “A Cleveland State Law Review Article entitled “The Present State of Sexual Harassment Law: Perpetuating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Sexually Harassed Women” reported that 90% to 95% of sexually harassed women suffer from some debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem and sexual dysfunction. They experience job-related costs as well: from job loss, decreased morale, decreased job satisfaction to irreparable damage to interpersonal relationships at work.”

    If you need money to survive (most of us do) and you need to work to make money (most of us do), then sexual harassment will be a significant impediment to staying alive. And what about sexual harassment that starts before one gets to work? What if you’re a student? Imagine if female students were 9 times more likely than male students to quit school, 5 times more likely to transfer schools, and 3 times more likely to get kicked out of school because of harassment? Luckily, they’re not, but the statistics are still chilling. A new report out this month by the American Association of University Women documents this phenomenon, which affects 56% of girls and 40% of boys.

  13. One more time, all together now: 56% of girls in the survey of nearly 2,000 students reported harassment. Is it just me or is that, oh, 56% too many? That’s more than half of the girls in the survey. And only 12% of those girls told someone in authority about their experience. Consider Amanda Marcotte’s response: 

    “In the real world, one cannot simply separate an occasional comment from its context, particularly with adolescents. Being called “so hot” by your actual boyfriend is not harassment. Being called “so hot” or a “whore” in the context of pervasive harassment can often be traumatizing. Leora Tanenbaum’s book Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation is useful for understanding how serious this problem is.”

    And now consider what the costs of childhood sexual trauma are, according to a 17,000-person study conducted by Kaiser Permanente. Findings: 

    1. There’s a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, and some types of cancer.

    2. If a person experienced one type of trauma, there was a 90-plus percent chance that there would be more. In other words, trauma such as child sex abuse rarely occurs alone – substance abuse, mental illness or one of the other traumas also exists.

    3. Only 30 percent of people in the study had zero ACEs.

    4. Here’s the final stunner – the 17,000 people who participated in the study were 75 percent white, middle to upper-middle class, 76 percent had attended or graduated from college, and, since they were members of Kaiser through their employers, they had jobs and great health care. See the article below for a fuller explication:

  14. And this video for how exactly childhood trauma can cause long-term adverse health effects:
  15. Meanwhile, we know how to stop it. Here’s a video of how to avoid sexually harassing. (Note: if it’s being narrated by furry animals in robot voices, it’s likely a joke.)
  16. The bigger takeaway, though, comes from Lori Adelman at Feministing:

    “The only thing that this op-ed elucidates for me is that Katie Roiphe doesn’t care about women’s feelings of workplace safety and comfort as much as she does her own reputation for going against the grain.

    Her central question: “In our effort to create a wholly unhostile work environment, have we simply created an environment that is hostile in a different way?” implies that the real “victims” of sexual harassment charges are the people who are inconvenienced or annoyed by what she considers excessive political correctness in relation to sexual harassment claims. But this concern reflects an unhinged viewpoint of reality, one that doesn’t take into account real women’s real experiences in the workplace.

    Rather than aspiring to a “drab, cautious, civilized, quiet, comfortable workplace” I think many women would settle for one that is safe and fair.”

    Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President of education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, thinks that companies do recognize this. 

    “Having sexual harassment in the workplace isn’t good for employers,” she told me. “The question is whether they know how to handle it properly.”

    Unfortunately, as this Businessweek article points out, companies are increasingly employing mandatory arbitration clauses to keep workplace disputes like harassment cases from going to court.

     

  17. You may recall another recent case or two or three in which the victims settled instead of going to court. It is not clear why this was done – whether the settlements were mandatory or that was simply the way they were resolved – but it is troubling that without a legal record of the incidents, we are left to wonder…jazz hands?…or boob-grabbing hands?

One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. jestevens / Nov 27 2011 10:41 pm

    A friend who lived in Tokyo for a time related a story about how some women handled the gropers in the subway. During rush hour, Tokyo subways are packed like sardines. Gropers often consider it an opportunity to grab a woman inappropriately and anonymously. Apparently, somehow, women began fighting back by grabbing the groping hand, yanking it above their heads and yelling at everyone in the subway car to witness the groper.

    Your excellent post should inspire all of us who are harassed to YELL about it when it happens. Every. Single. Time. And to prepare, publicly, women for the eventuality of harassment. Enough of this training for attacks by strangers, which are highly unlikely. A few jujitsu moves, an app that broadcasts verbal harassment on a designated channel, training in using language to stop harassment in its tracks….what tools can we provide women — and men — to prevent them from becoming victims?

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