Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is the act of harassing an individual, male or female, based on the person’s sex. The behavior may include asking for sexual favors, verbal or physical harassment containing a sexual component, or unwelcome advances. The harassment is not limited to a sexual nature and may also include verbal remarks about a person’s gender. In the area of employment, such discrimination is a violation of the Title VII section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Employers can be held liable for violations of these civil rights. Therefore, victims can seek assistance from workers’ compensation lawyers when such behavior is encountered in the workplace.

Growing Awareness

With the power of social media and the speed at which news travels, more cases of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct seem to appear. The increase in cases may be caused by a boost in awareness mixed with growing confidence that remaining silent is not a viable solution. The issue is not new, and it is not clear if it is becoming worse or if the targeted demographics are simply no longer being silenced or remaining quiet about the negative experiences. What is clear is that the world needs more training and education to prevent this issue from continuing to be a problem. Most training and intervention programs start at the college level; however, many specialists believe that by that time it is often too late to change attitude or behavior.  

Experts in sexual harassment believe that prevention programs fail because they do not address the fact that, in most cases, the behavior originates from a person in a position of power. In fact, there are many examples of individuals facing retaliation for harassment accusations by people in power, such as employers or teachers. Furthermore, society condones and ignores a lot of the societal behavior, and this is visible to young people that are viewing these instances and learning that such behavior is tolerated. Additionally, these programs focus on the issue of sexual violence or harassment as a victims’ issue. For example, many programs focus on how victims (primarily women) should fend off attacks and defend themselves. However, a critical component is preventing the behavior in the first place; therefore, programs that teach defense strategies are not dealing with the root of the problem.

The Major Problem

Aziz Ansari, who was at the center of a sexual assault allegation, is a perfect example of why training programs must deal with the problem differently. The comedian was accused of pressuring his date to perform sexual acts. The actor indicated that he believed that the encounter was consensual. At the very least, if Ansari was honest about his recollection of the events, he is guilty of sexual misconduct and misreading verbal and visual cues. However, if his account is accurate regarding his perception, the problem is a lot worse than most people realize. The reason is that if Ansari believed that the act was consensual, then the definition of consent and the interpretation of cues from a male and female (generally speaking) perspective are divergent. Society needs to be teaching its members how to interpret cues and what constitutes consent. Otherwise, cases of sexual discrimination and assault will continue to rise.

For programs to be effective, they must begin at a young age and continue throughout the growth and development process, while also shifting the issue toward being everyone’s problem and not just a problem that victims face. It is impossible to deny that sexual assault and sexual harassment continue to be a problem worldwide. Kids will grow up to be adults, and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they learn how to behave and how to defend themselves.