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Sexual harrassment declining, but still pervasive

by Ano Puchalski, Etcetera editor


When people think of sexual harassment, they typically picture an office setting where the boss is sitting on the edge of his female employee’s desk, like a vampire ready to sink his teeth into her neck, while she tries to ignore his staring at her breasts and instead imagines the day she will confront him and probably lose her job.

If you have experienced a situation like this one, or know of someone who has, then you have an idea of what sexual harassment is, but it can be a lot of other things too, and a lot them are more subtle than a slavering male chauvinist pig.


Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, that requires one to submit to or face adverse consequences, or that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination against another person based on race, religion, color, sex and national origin.

Sexual harassment is punishable by law. In 1991 Title VII was amended, giving victims of sexual harassment the right to jury trials as well as the right to seek compensation and punitive damage awards. During the same year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines to Title VII to help victims easily identify instances of sexual harassment. These are very helpful if a person takes their offender to court.

The two most important guidelines are known as “quid pro quo” (Latin for ‘this for that’) and “hostile environment.” An example of quid pro quo is when a person (usually an employer) offers you benefits or threatens to change your working conditions depending on how you respond to their sexual advances. Hostile environment is physical, verbal, and visual sexual conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile and stressful work environment. Sexual comments, touching oneself or another person in a sexual way, pornographic pictures/posters on walls, sexual humor, are all examples of hostile environment.

Victims of sexual harassment can be either male of female, of the same sex or opposite sex. Also a victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone indirectly affected by the offensive conduct.

Think HPU is harassment free? Think Again.

A number of students and athletes who believe they were victims of sexual misconduct, both physical and verbal, have admitted that they did not report these incidents because they felt their scholarship or job here was in jeopardy.

In one case, a young woman who graduated from HPU and was subsequently employed elsewhere said that the sexual harassment she endured from her supervisor actually caused her physical pain. “He was so annoying sometimes that it stressed me out,” she said.

She reported that initially her supervisor would buy her expensive gifts, offer to take her to dinner, and make sexually suggestive comments to her during working hours.

One day, she said, he accused her, in front of everyone at work, of leading him on and seeing someone else while she was on a trip. He continued to humiliate her by saying that he was instituting an unofficial point system to rank everyone’s work performance, beginning with hers, which had been a “10” (the highest) but was now a “one.” After that incident, the young employee she took him aside and threatened legal action against him if the harassment continued. The threat had little effect, however, and the atmosphere at work was “uncomfortable,” for awhile. “It felt like he was watching my every move.”

Feeling her job was in jeopardy, she decided to talk to one of her supervisor’s confidants, another department head, before taking any further action. The other department head spoke to hers, she said, and things immediately got better. Her working relationship with her supervisor even improved.

Stories like this one rarely ever end on such a good note. Statistics show that almost all victims who take their employers to court for sexual harassment end up losing their jobs later on.

Last year more than 14,000 sexual harassment reports were filed in the United States. Only 15 percent of these reports were made by men. Out of all the charges filed, the EEOC determined that about 1,148 of these cases were clear violations of Title VII. Only 1,300 cases settled out of court, and only 350 victims actually won their cases. A total of $50.3 million in compensation was awarded to the victims.

Statistics show that of the 40-80 percent of women who experience sexual harassment, only 11 percent actually report it. The good news is that sexual harassment has been on the decline since 1997, when the highest number of cases reported was 17,000.

If you experience sexual harassment in any form, the place to file a complaint is the University E.E.O. officer, Linda Kawamura, who is also the Associate Vice President of Human Resources. Kawamura recommends students first see their advisor, who will explain the process and accompany the student to Kawamura’s office. “Facuty and staff should see their dean or department head first,” Kawamura added, “or they may go directly to Human Resources.”



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