According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment based on the sex of an individual is illegal. According to every dictionary, an illegal act is one prohibited by law.
But illegal is not equivalent to a crime. So logically, sexual harassment is often not a crime. Simply unlawful.
In the eyes of far too many lawmakers, certain complaints of sexual harassment are insubstantial, merely unqualified to stain a harasser as criminal. However, what lawmakers fail to understand is, according to the EEOC, sexual harassment, by definition, is substantial.
By definition, sexual harassment is when “it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” So, my question to lawmakers is, if by definition, minor incidents don’t even qualify as sexual harassment, how can certain complaints of harassment not merit repercussions? If lawmakers can’t see that every complaint is legitimate enough, maybe we shouldn’t be entrusting them with the highest authority in the land.
Here’s another tidbit for lawmakers: an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. While sexual assault differs slightly from sexual harassment, both occur without explicit consent from the victim. It is extremely problematic, but not shocking, that only 28% of these incidents are reported to police.
A decreasing but still ever present stigma surrounding victims, especially women, prevents victims from reporting harassment. According to the EEOC, 75% of women faced a form of retaliation when they spoke out. A woman who comes forth is more often than not, labeled as “hostile” or “hard to work with.” Or worst of all, a liar.
If legislators would remove the blindfold they are wearing, they would see, a liar is far from what she is. Only 2% of allegations, as much as any other crime, filter out as false. So why is the initial reaction always that the victim is the culprit?
It is this flawed stigma that allows harassers, assaulters, and rapists to walk in society – free- while the victims not only suffer the trauma of the incident but the shame crafted and casted on them by others. Congressmen and women must take the much-needed stand against these crimes and pass legislation that requires employers to launch investigations once allegations are made. They must take a stand to prove to victims that they are never alone and someone is listening.
But, such legislation did exist- until March, at least. Via executive order, Trump reversed an Obama-era policy that forbid federal contractors from keeping sexual harassment and discrimination cases secret. It is appalling that the people we have entrusted to shape our country are those who can be marked as most guilty.
Even more disturbing, it has been reported that several congressmen were using taxpayers money to settle sexual harassment cases between them and their accuser. Essentially, we are paying for their crimes.
Nevertheless, it is extremely important to add: women aren’t the only victims of sexual harassment. The percentage of reports from males increase each year and members of the LGBTQ and TGQN community face a high risk for sexual violence.
To all victims of sexual harassment: society can’t continue to turn a deaf ear forever. We will continue to fight for your justice, but the conversation can’t die like it always does. It starts from us and grows with us. Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE