Sexual harassment didn't start with Bill O'Reilly or Harvey Weinstein. It has been around since women entered the workplace. For countless women, going to work has meant being targeted by their co-workers and their bosses. Being hit-on, propositioned, threatened, even sexually assaulted, has just been the price for being employed. Victims have included women who kept quiet because they needed their minimum wage jobs in order to support their families to women executives who took it because they felt their careers would be stalled if they ever spoke out.
But has something changed in 2017? In April, Bill O'Reilly, with the best ratings in cable news, was finally fired after years of sexual harassment complaints and confidential settlements with the women who he had harassed. In August, Taylor Swift won a symbolic verdict of $1.00 against a radio host who had sexually assaulted her and then sued her because she had complained to his employer about the assault.
Then in October, the New York Times published an article detailing years of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Since then, 83 victims have surfaced to tell their horrific stories. Then in November, Matt Lauer was fired, and finally in December, Minnesota Senator Al Franken resigned his senate seat amid sexual harassment allegations. If 2017 has shown us anything, it is that sexual harassment happens in every field of employment, at every income level, is committed by Republicans and Democrats alike and is a plague on our workforce.
I, like the rest of the country, am wondering if we are in the middle of a revolution that will lead to real change. But I am left with another unanswered question that I have had since I first began practicing law: How did we get here? To a place where men in power feel entitled to proposition or even touch the women they work with, and women think of these actions as another hazard of the workplace.
If anything changes after 2017, I hope it is that more women come forward. I have represented women who have been subjected to sexual harassment, and I know with certainty that it is NOT easy to come forward. But the silence has spanned decades, and silence changes nothing. I hope that with more women coming forward it becomes easier for others to speak up. That people start to realize that blame doesn't belong with the victims. Women go to work for the very same reasons as men—to make a living, to support a family, to find a purpose, to get ahead, to change the world for the better. There is no place for this kind of conduct in our workforce.
If you have been sexually harassed at work and would like to discuss your options, please call me at (319) 826-2250.