Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new phenomenon, but the cultural shift in response to recent revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood is most certainly a new wave. Historically, sexual harassment, and especially sexual harassment of women, has been ignored and even accepted as an expected hazard of the workplace, as an experienced sexual harassment lawyer can explain.
Further, in the past (and, sadly, even the recent past), sexual harassment has often not been reported or openly objected to for fear of job loss or the possibility of mistreatment or retaliation that can (and often does) result from reporting. This has been especially true where the harasser is well known, highly valued, or widely revered. Though the majority of sexual harassment victims are women, anyone can be the victim of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment victims may be male, female, or non-binary. Harasser and victim may be the same sex or different sexes, and they may be the same sexual orientation or may differ in their sexual orientation.
In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines declaring sexual harassment a violation of Section 703 of Title VII. In theory, this provided employees protection from unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature by establishing that the employer could be held liable. In practice, however, eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace has not been quite so straightforward. Despite having this law against sexual harassment on the books, many workplaces, especially male-dominated workplaces, have long supported a culture of sexual harassment and intimidation that has been difficult to extinguish. Even in the reports of sexual harassment that are coming to light currently, there is shocking evidence that coworkers and management were well aware of pervasive sexual harassment, yet such behavior was allowed to continue unchecked (and in some cases was even encouraged).
Everyone deserves respectful treatment, and especially so in the workplace, where we must spend so much of our time earning the money necessary to live. No one in a position of power over someone else’s earnings or career should be allowed to exact sexual favors or impose sexual harassment without repercussion. After too many years of silence about this rampant workplace problem, it’s a relief that the emerging trend is to speak up. It also helps that the tide of public opinion is favoring victims now, instead of drowning out victim voices with shame and guilt. Could it really be that the days of blaming the victim and protecting the harasser because of who he is or the power he holds are coming to an end? Thankfully, that seems to be the case. Bob Dylan’s lyrics may never have been more poignant than today: the times, they really are a-changin’.