Studies have found that 50-75% of women will experience sexual harassment on the job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" and identifies two types - "quid pro quo" and "hostile environment".
Equal Rights Advocates (a women's law center) explains the difference: "Quid pro quo, a Latin term meaning 'this for that,' occurs when your boss offers you benefits, or threatens to change your working conditions, based on your response to his demands for sexual favors. 'I'll give you a raise if you go out with me....' or 'I'll demote you if you don't have sex with me' are examples of 'quid pro quo' harassment.
'Hostile environment' harassment occurs when physical, verbal, or visual sexual harassment is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment. This type of harassment does not require a loss or threat of loss of your job, or the promise of benefits. Comments about your body, sexual remarks, pornographic pictures displayed at the workplace, and touching and grabbing may all create a hostile work environment. In addition, the conduct must be unwelcome to you. If you like, want, or welcome the conduct, then you are not being sexually harassed. And if the conduct does not relate to your sex or have sexual references, it's not sexual harassment."
Starting in 1980, it was no longer OK, legally, for companies to expect female employees to tolerate things such as "blue jokes", aggressive, non-mutual "flirtation", persistent suggestive, lewd or sexual comments, public display of centerfold posters, and misogynist remarks at work. That was the year that the EEOC published its first Policy Guidance on Sexual Harassment. The following year, 3,456 sexual harassment complaints were filed with the EEOC. From 1990 to 1995 alone, cases reported to the EEOC increased 153%.
However, studies show that most women don't report sexual harassment, so these figures are only the tip of the iceberg. The statistics gathered in unofficial and voluntary reportage, such as magazine surveys and industry censuses, are higher and possibly more realistic. An oft-quoted study back in 1988 reported that a third of Fortune 500 companies had been sued for sexual harassment, and nearly 90% of them had at least received complaints. However, usually only the most outrageous behavior leads to lawsuits, and the plaintiffs are more likely to lose their jobs than to win monetary awards or settlements.In the U.S. military, 4% of all female soldiers said they had been the victim of an actual or attempted rape or sexual assault during the course of their military service, and 55% of the women surveyed in a 1995 Department of Defense survey said they had been sexually harassed.10
Actions, Information & Opportunities to Help
Links to websites that tell you how to tell when you're being harassed and what to do about it, definitions of terms, harasser profiles, statistics, organizations and individuals to contact.
- Sexual Harassment Resources
- NOW Issue Report: Sexual Harassment
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- 9 to 5 - National Organization of Working Women
- Shades of Gray - Products and Services to Stop and Prevent Sexual Harassment
- Sexual Harassment resources and publications for employers
- Sexual Harassment In the Workplace - A Primer
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