By Erica Shikunov, Esq.
It has been a hell of a year for women in the work place. Last October news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults broke and invigorated the #metoo movement. Women began to speak out about workplace harassment and assault in unprecedented numbers. In 2018 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) reported a 12 percent increase in the amount of sexual harassment cases from 2017 to 2018. Despite this impressive increase, as of June 2018 the EEOC reported that more than 80 percent of individuals who experience harassment in the workplace never file a formal complaint and that three out of four individuals do not even raise the matter internally. The 12 percent increase is encouraging, and demonstrative of the paradigm shift #metoo has brought about. However, the number of unreported incidents is staggering, and it is impossible not to be concerned about progress in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
The confirmation was a punch to the gut for anyone encouraging women to report incidents of harassment. It is difficult not to harken back to Anita Hill’s testimony prior to Clarence Thomas’s confirmation. Again, congress was presented with emotionally charged testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh himself. This time around, Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony was convincing enough to merit an FBI investigation, however, arbitrary deadlines were imposed upon the investigation and many witnesses who stepped forward were not interviewed. In a final death punch, a female senator, Susan Collins, was one of the deciding votes in Kavanaugh’s favor.
Throughout the proceedings the nation watched a backlash to the #metoo movement. The president openly mocked sexual assault survivors on stage and on Twitter. In light of the debacle, which has taken over every new outlet in the nation, how can we continue to impress upon women the importance of coming forward and reporting inappropriate and harassing behaviors in the workplace?
The Pew Research Center conducted studies concerning the influence of the #metoo movement, and while these studies occurred prior to the Kavanaugh confirmation they are telling of the shifting attitudes regarding sexual harassment (and perhaps the archaic mindsets that allowed the confirmation to occur in the first place). The studies found that of those polled, only 50 percent found men getting away with sexual harassment to be a major problem and 14 percent did not think it was a problem at all. By comparison, only 46 percent of those polled found women not being believed when they reported harassment to be a major problem and 18 percent did not think it was a problem at all. The survey also asked how Americans felt the focus on sexual harassment would impact women in the workplace. Fifty-one percent of those polled found that it made it harder for men to interact with women in the workplace and a whopping twenty percent felt it would result in fewer opportunities for women.
Taking a step back and putting all of this information in perspective, while it may seem like a step backward, progress is not linear. In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation maintaining control of the ever-shifting narrative is the most important thing women can do. If you are experiencing harassment in the work place, report it! If you are receiving such a report, give the woman reporting the benefit of the doubt. Do a proper investigation. One of the best things to come from Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony was a plea to #believewomen, to #believesurvivors. The Kavanaugh confirmation was a bump in the road. Acknowledge it and move forward. There is still much work to be done.