People keep asking me why all these women have been so silent for so long. They blame the victims for keeping their mouths shut. While different women have different reasons, I can opine as to some of them. I think the major reason most women don't come forward is that we, as a society, tend not to believe them. Women who complain about sexual harassment at work are frequently demonized, mocked, called liars, and retaliated against. Women who take these cases to court have a tough time getting past a judge to a trial, and then have an even tougher time convincing a jury. In a he said-she said, we tend to believe the "he" over the "she."
Look what happens to the first woman (or even first few women) who reports sexual harassment against any famous person. She is almost universally ridiculed and vilified. To this day, Monica Lewinsky is a punch line and Anita Hill is still a villain to the right wing. Look at the women who first came forward more recently about Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein. Read the comments as they are trashed and humiliated.
We have to do better. We, as a society, know this is happening and do nothing. Women, in particular, need to support those who come forward. Victims are told to be quiet or they will be destroyed.
The laws need to be stronger and less of a maze in order to protect sexual harassment victims. The trouble started with the Faragher and Burlington cases where the Supreme Court said victims had to report sexual harassment to HR or management under the company's sexual harassment policy and give the company a chance to fix the situation. If they didn't, they lost their right to sue.
Then there's the whole "severe or pervasive" standard that frequently makes a mockery of Title VII. For it to legally be sexual harassment, it has to be so severe or so pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. Most women I know that a single boob grab is severe and alters tthe terms and conditions of your employment, but the courts disagree. And then some say "severe and pervasive" and impose even more difficult standards.
Don't believe me about how tough the courts are on sexual harassment victims? Here's one of my least favorite cases saying sexual harassers get four free gropes a year in the workplace before the company can be held liable. In Myers v. Central Florida Investments, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 51504 (M.D. Fla.), here’s what the federal judge said about the case:
Additionally, from an objective standpoint, consideration of the factors noted above does not support severity or pervasiveness in this case. First, the harassing conduct, considered as a whole, cannot be said to have occurred with great frequency. Ms. Myers alleges ten to twenty touchings – mostly of her legs, but sometimes of her butt – over a period of approximately five years – two to four per year; thus, the touchings were infrequent. . . . In sum, considering the totality of the circumstances, from an objective standpoint the harassment did not rise to the requisite level of severity or pervasiveness.The case was reversed later, not because of the four gropes rule.
Sure, things have gotten better for sexual harassment victims with President Obama's judicial appointees, but that's about to change again with the slew of Trump appointments. We'll have to rely on Congress and state legislatures to change the law if we want to protect sexual harassment victims better, and that won't happen anytime soon.
Because of #metoo, I thought I'd share just one of my own sexual harassment stories. When in college, I took a job that was posted in the college career office. I was an art model. Yes, nude. But it was for an older man (oh, hell, he was probably the age I am now or younger) and I was in his house. His wife was in the house at all times I was there. I thought I would be safe because the college referred me and because of the wife being there. Yet, midway through our sessions, he decided to do a double boob grab from behind as I was getting dressed. I was probably 19 or 20. I didn't know squat about the law, but I knew it was wrong. I also knew he was my ride back to the college so I pushed his hands away and stayed quiet. I was terrified of what might happen if I screamed.
After he dropped me at the college, I reported the incident to the college career office. I asked them to remove his listing. They refused. They saw that it was an art modeling job and then discounted everything I said after that. They clearly didn't believe me or care. They gave me the impression they assumed I asked for it. This was a women's college that was supposed to be all about empowering women. Yet they ignored my plea. They kept his posting at the college, and I assume he continued to be a sexual predator. He actually begged me to come back and let him finish the painting. I refused, of course.
While this wasn't my only sexual harassment story, it was probably my worst because I felt utterly betrayed by my college. I believe they would have a different reaction now if a student reported something similar. At least, I hope they would.
Since Anita Hill, I think some folks woke up and realized that sexual harassment was a real thing. Now, every time there's a big story, some more people wake up.
Who knows? Maybe one day I won't have to handle sexual harassment cases anymore because employers will know the law and take prompt action to protect the victims. Nah.