Over the past few weeks, it’s been almost impossible to find a news publication that hasn’t covered the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Famed Hollywood producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein was formerly known as someone who could ‘make or break’ an actress’s career in Hollywood. It was Weinstein’s name and production label that was behind critically acclaimed movies like Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love.
Weinstein’s reputation amongst Hollywood’s elite had been nothing but glowing – Meryl Streep once deemed him a “God” when accepting her Golden Globe for the The Iron Lady, a Weinstein Company film. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the The New York Times and The New Yorker published detailed reports of Weinstein’s criminal activity of sexually assaulting and harassing actresses that dated over three decades. Over 30 actresses, including A-listers actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Cara Delevigne, all spoke out describing horrible Weinstein encounters that followed the same, harrowed formula; an important man, attempting to manipulate a woman into sexual acts with both physical force and professional threats.
The reports, though chilling, raised a taboo conversation often swept under the rug by varying professions – sexual harassment in the workplace. Actress Alyssa Milano joined the Weinstein conversation on Twitter, prompting her fans and Twitter users to use the phrase ‘Me Too’ if they had ever experienced sexual harassment or assault. In a matter of days, half a million tweets surfaced with stories from both women and men alike.
Sexual harassment can be defined by the Civil Rights Act as as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Whether it’s a catcall, a crude comment or a physical touch – it is harassment, it is a big deal.
A staggering 1 in 3 women will experience sexual workplace harassment in their lifetime. 38% of that harassment will come directly from a boss or a person who has professional power over you, not unlike Weinstein and young actresses. Just as we’ve seen many actresses come forward about their mistreatment, an even larger percentage will stay silent, as 70% of sexual assault victims do not report their crimes.
If you are dealing with workplace harassment: you are not alone. You have a voice and there are people who will hear and support you. These are some recommended steps you can take in order to build a case and keep yourself safe, both at work and at home.
1. Take note of any quid pro quo. One big type of sexual harassment, one that Weinstein used often, is the exchange of sexual favours for professional opportunities like favours, promotions or actual jobs. This also stands if your harasser threatens negative action – like a demotion, penalty or loss of job – for not doing what they want. Any quid pro quo should be documented with date, time, place and witnesses – even if there aren’t any.
2. Document any kind of inappropriate communication. This means inappropriate comments, lewd e-mails, inappropriate touching or special treatment. Texts count. Social media – like Snapchats and Instagram DMs – count. Cards, gifts, post-it notes. As much as you may want to destroy these messages, they are imperative evidence. Keep them – or copies of them – for your records. Also, make sure to store them somewhere safe like on a personal computer, private notebook or locked briefcase that your harasser could not access.
3. Report your harassment at work. Some will suggest that you approach your harasser beforehand to confront them of their inappropriate actions. In some situations, you may find that you are able to do this. In others, you may not. Make sure you follow your company’s protocol when it comes to sexual harassment and do so with a written report. If you orally report the harassment, make sure to follow up with a written statement confirming your oral conversation. Approaching your HR department with a detailed history of your harassment will not only give you credibility but demonstrate the magnitude of the situation. Your company should take steps to rectify the situation and hopefully condemn your harasser.
4. If your workplace does not action against your harasser, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If your employer decides to retaliate against your claim for whatever reason, the EEOC will protect you and your position if you file a discrimination charge.
5. Find a good lawyer that specializes in sexual harassment in the workplace. Hand over the details of your case and let the professionals do the work.
6. Lastly and most importantly, quit. This may sound like defeat when faced with a workplace harasser, but it far, far from it. There is nothing better for your mind than getting out of a toxic work environment. Your employer has a legal obligation to make their workplace free of sexual harassment and at this point, you’ve done everything you could to try and do their job. Allow the legal professionals to do the rest. You’ve done the best thing you could’ve possibly done – you reported sexual harassment. And now that you have, maybe another woman won’t have to.