Have you ever been sexually harassed on the job? Unfortunately, your answer is probably “yes.”
Did you report the incident? Almost certainly, you did not.
Nearly every woman I know has experienced the degrading, even traumatic experience of workplace sexual harassment. Just ask any of your friends, and the stories begin: The manager who put his arm around her shoulders while going over an invoice, letting his hand casually drop onto her breast. The co-worker who, within earshot, described her outfit in detail on the telephone. The boss who made a suggestive comment.
The vast majority of women under 35—81 percent—has been sexually harassed at work, according to a recent poll. Forms of harassment include sexually explicit comments or jokes, unwanted touching, and lewd texts or emails. (And yes, men are sexually harassed, too—as many as 1 in 3, Psychology Today reports.)
Recent events in the City of Spokane involving our former chief of police and his communications director have sparked many conversations in our community about sexual harassment and assault. Predictably, some blame the victim, saying she lied in order to get a pay raise. If she were telling the truth, she’d have filed an official complaint, right?
But most sexual harassment and assault victims do not complain. In a survey last year by the Angus Reid Institute in Toronto, four of five respondents who were sexually harassed at work did not report the incidents to their employer—often because they felt ashamed.
You know this feeling, right? Is this my fault? Did I lead him on? Was I too nice?
While we congratulate ourselves about how far we’ve traveled on the road to gender equality, sexual harassment remains our dirty little secret. Women who speak out often lose their jobs, or get blamed, shamed, scrutinized, and even sued.
A system that silences sexual harassment victims only protects the perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly male. Patriarchy wins, and those of us who dream of equality for ourselves and our daughters are the losers.
We need a revolution—one that starts with us. Women are the only ones who can change our culture that says sexual harassment is “no big deal,” and that stigmatizes women who complain. How do we do it? By telling our stories of sexual harassment and discrimination to one another, showing our sisters that they are not alone. By encouraging other women to speak out, and supporting those who do. By striking back at the victim-blamers, telling them that misogyny is not OK.
Standing together, in solidarity, we must not only demand, but also provide, the safe work environment we all deserve.
Sherry Jones is a Spokane author and founding member of Spokane Area National Organization for Woman (NOW).