It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed. If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham
Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times. Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife. Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment. Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them. This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.
Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything. Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.
Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere. It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places. It’s a form of sex discrimination. Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them. Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t. Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family. “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
How should sexual harassment be handled? For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over. This way of treating women ends now.” Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.
Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:
- Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
- Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
- Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
- Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
- Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
- Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.
It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby. It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators. It took courage for the victims to come forward. Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve. It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.
Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.
Sources: National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government