It’s Not Just Hollywood: Women Are Attacked by Men in Nearly Every Workplace

The Harvey Weinsteins of the world aren’t confined to Hollywood studio executive suites—men sexually harass women in the workplace in nearly every industry, threatening women’s safety and career prospects.

In its most recent report, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it received 28,000 sexual harassment complaints from employees working for private or government employers in 2015—nearly one-third of the 90,000 charges of workplace discrimination. 

And roughly three out of four people who experience sexual harassment fail to report it, largely due to fear of victim-blaming or retaliation, the agency added.

The problem is getting worse. In 2011, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found one in four women has been a victim of workplace sexual harassment. By 2015, Cosmopolitan found that one in three women ages 18 to 34 reported being sexually harassed at work before.

Stories like Harvey Weinstein’s alleged reign of terror against women for more than two decades only add to the anger.

“When women do come forward they often realize nothing is going to be done,” Maya Raghu, the Director of Workplace Equality at the National Women’s Law Center, told Newsweek. “Even when people do file reports, companies don’t take action. There’s no accountability for the harasser or the assailant, in which case the person who came forward has taken a huge risk.” 

Those risks were high for the women Weinstein allegedly harassed, assaulted or raped, many of whom were young aspiring actresses who’d hoped the Hollywood titan could jumpstart their careers. Instead, many of them left the industry, signed nondisclosure agreements with Weinstein in exchange for a settlement or kept silent out of fear that Weinstein would plant stories in the media, ruining their reputation, or worse. It’s only now that actresses like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have broken their silence with allegations about Weinstein. 

But the stakes are even higher for low-income women, Raghu said, who depend on their income to support their families. 

“When we hear sexual harassment stories in the media, they tend to be very high-profile people in media or entertainment—the women who come forward have a certain amount of public presence and resources,” she said. “What we don’t hear about are the stories of people who are working in retail or fast food.… Coming forward could be devastating to their family’s economic security.”

Women in any industry have little reason to believe that the men who harass or assault them will face the consequences of their actions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated 6,822 sexual harassment cases in 2015, but it dismissed 52 percent of them, saying they lacked “reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred.” 

Some people have speculated that the dozens of allegations against Weinstein might become a “tipping point” for the country’s workplace harassment problem and society’s tendency to let powerful men get off scot-free. Raghu isn’t so sure. 

“The real work is still to come,” she said. “That’s in no way to take away from the incredible courage of the women who came forward [to speak out against Weinstein].… But it’s on the companies and the culture to fix the problem.”

Many companies continue to use mandatory arbitration to settle complaints of sexual harassment outside of court, keeping cases out of the public eye and legally binding victims to silence. President Donald Trump has taken steps to make sure those companies could continue to do so: In March, Trump rolled back the Obama-era Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which had banned forced arbitration for sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination cases. 

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