Rape and Sexual Harassment Around the World - Arassment In The Federal Workplace
women victims action study
In the study Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace (Washington, DC: U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 1995), the latest report on sexual harassment in the federal work force available, workers were polled about sexual harassment in 1980, 1987, and 1994. According to these polls, rates of sexual harassment remained fairly stable over the fourteen-year period. In 1987, 14% of men and 42% of women reported harassment, compared to 19% of men and 44% of women in 1994. These rates included behavior that ranged from pressure for dates to sexual jokes to rape.
In the 1980 survey, 91% of women and 84% of men thought it was harassment for a supervisor to pressure for sexual favors. By 1994 nearly all of the respondents thought pressure for sexual favors from a supervisor was harassment (99% of women and 97% of men). Some portion of the observed shift in thinking and apparent heightened awareness of these issues may be attributable to Anita Hill's 1991 appearance before the U.S. Senate during Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Hill, who had worked as Thomas's assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleged that Thomas had repeatedly pressured her for dates and made lurid remarks during her employment. An estimated thirty million households watched the three-day televised proceedings, which made sexual harassment one of the year's most hotly debated topics. In the year following that hearing, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recorded a 50% increase in sexual harassment complaints.
The Merit Systems Protection Board study revealed that men and women view sexual teasing, jokes, and remarks differently. In 1987 less than half the men, or 47%, thought this behavior was harassment when it was done by a coworker, compared with 64% of women. In 1994 these percentages rose to 64% for men and 77% for women. At least twice as many women as men reported experiencing sexual harassment throughout the period of the study.
This difference in perception is at the heart of a legal controversy about how to define sexual harassment. Normally, a court defines behavior as harassment if a "reasonable person" views the situation as harassment. Some advocates insist that harassment should be defined on a "reasonable woman" standard instead. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in the 1991 case Ellison v. Brady, advocated a "reasonable woman" standard when it argued that words and actions men might consider mild harassment, women found threatening and perhaps a prelude to more serious sexual assault. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., disagreed, charging that this standard would have the effect of "gutting the concept of neutrality under the law."
Differences between male and female perceptions were underscored in the Merit Systems Protection Board study. Nearly twice as many men as women thought the issue of sexual harassment had been overemphasized.
The Merit Systems Protection Board study found that the most frequent response to sexual harassment was to ignore it—44% of harassment victims did just that. The reason for some of this inaction may be related to the perceived insignificance of the offense. For some, however, the harassing behavior was quite serious, and yet they did nothing. The next most common reaction to unwanted sexual attention was to ask or tell the perpetrator to stop. About one-third of harassment victims said this was the approach they used. Another 28% responded by avoiding the harasser.
The survey found that respondents felt that the most effective methods of dealing with harassment were to ask or tell the person to stop and to report the situation to a supervisor. The strategies that survey respondents considered most effective for preventing harassment largely relied on the adequacy of communication and the organization's ability to get the word out to employees at every level. Onequarter of harassment victims filed grievances or adverse action appeals, 30% filed discrimination complaints or suits, and 42% requested an investigation by the employing organization. Less than 15% of victims requested an investigation by an outside organization, and 17% took other actions. Although some victims took more than one action to report and seek recourse against those who harassed them, others chose to take no action at all. Half of the victims who chose not to take formal action said they did not consider the offense serious enough, 40% felt other actions resolved the situation, and 29% feared that taking formal action would worsen their work situations.
There are sharp penalties for violating federal agency sexual harassment policies. Employees risk suspension, demotion, and loss of their jobs. Victims opting to sue the federal government for on-the-job harassment may seek as much as $300,000 in compensation for the abuse.