Don’t blame the victims of sexual harassment

There has always been sexual harassment in New York City offices, both before legislation banned it and well afterwards. It is certainly unfortunate that this kind of behavior continues, both for the employees who have to endure the harassment, as well as the coworkers who are caught in the cross fire. Yet it was Anita Hill’s Senate testimony that really brought sexual harassment and hostile work environments out of the shadows and into the public eye. Unfortunately for her, the senators before whom she was testifying and many members of the public blamed her for the harassment.

That too has not changed much over the years. There are a number of people who blame the men and women who are harassed by their supervisors and colleagues, told to perform sexual favors to keep their jobs, or demeaned and sexualized because of their genders. To that there is only one thing to say: don’t blame the victims.

First, it is against the law to sexually harass an employee or to create a hostile work environment. If the employee reports the behavior and management does nothing, the company can be held responsible under and employment lawsuit. Even if the employee could have conceivably reported the harassment sooner or distanced him- or herself from her harassers, it is not the victim’s fault.

When Hill testified about the sexual harassment that she allegedly endured under her former boss and then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas, the senators kept asking why she would follow Thomas to a new department and why she didn’t try to leave. Ultimately, those were Hill’s decisions to make and they should not have been held against her while she tried to shed light on the problem of workplace sexual harassment.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Clarence Thomas vs Anita Hill: She’s still telling the truth,” Robin Abcarian, March 12, 2014

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