Fighting sexual harassment locally
The widespread recognition of sexual harassment that the country is experiencing now is for the most part playing out on the national stage. A parade of men is being knocked off lofty perches in the worlds of politics, entertainment, news and beyond.
There is much discussion about whether the emerging standards about what constitutes unacceptable behavior are being applied even-handedly. Most recently, Republican Rep. Trent Franks discussed pregnancy surrogacy with two women in his office. Before that, Democratic Sen. Al Franken had been accused of forcibly kissing women against their will; he acknowledged wrongdoing and ultimately decided to step down.
In making that announcement, Franken noted that President Donald Trump has been credibly accused of much worse behavior by more women, and he is still president; further, the Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, has also been credibly accused of molesting a child, and he is still on the ticket.
Perhaps as society adjusts to the issue, universal standards will emerge to which everyone will be held regardless of that person’s power or influence. In the meantime, sexual harassment remains a significant problem not just in the halls of Congress but in countless workplaces across the country and world. In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more than 90,000 complaints, and about 12,000 of those were sexual harassment complaints.
Just about all analysts agree that sexual harassment in the workplace is very often unreported, and survey responses often depend on the questions. A 2016 study by the EEOC revealed that when women were asked without definition if they had experienced sexual harassment, about 25% said “yes.” When they were asked if they has experienced specific types of behavior such as requests for sexual favors or crude jokes, the number jumped to 60%.
Many grey areas and differences of opinion remain. In one British survey (tinyurl.com/yarcvojc), for instance, more than half of all men and woman thought wolf-whistling is just fine, but among people aged 18 to 34, 38% said it was unacceptable, while among people over 65 only 13% thought it was unacceptable.
Still, just about all professionals in the field agree that sexual harassment is a problem, especially in workplaces.
In Sullivan County, one organization that gives advice to individuals who may have been the subject of sexual harassment is the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission.
As the many national cases of sexual harassment were coming to light, the commission issued a press release about the topic. It said, “Just like harassment against people because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation/preference, marital status, or criminal conviction, sexual harassment is equally wrong and should not be tolerated.
“Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
“Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
“Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” Source: tinyurl.com/zowk4k7
The commission, whose mission is to make the county “the best possible place to live,” can be reached at 845/807-0189, and can advise residents on how to report harassment and seek relief.