By Cheryl Mattox Berry
Sexual predators, like disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, aren’t just in Hollywood. They have lived among us for years – in all professions. Problem is, few women have called them out because they fear retaliation, career suicide, isolation or being shamed by co-workers.
My 82-year-old mother was one of the silent victims of sexual harassment.
When Mom was in her early twenties, she worked at a high-end dry cleaners. One day, her supervisor asked her to help him find a customer’s clothes. While she was looking, he walked behind her and rubbed his genitals against her butt. She knew immediately that it wasn’t an accident.
Mom said she was shocked and disgusted but couldn’t say anything because the “big, ugly man” was the owner’s son.
She tried to keep her distance, but he continued asking her to come to the back of the cleaners and help him. When she had no choice, she positioned her petite body so that he couldn’t make contact. Mom eventually found another job to get away from the pervert.
That was my mother’s only option in the 1950s but not in today’s workplace. Women have rights, but sexual harassment often goes unreported and unpunished because women fear losing their job, especially in this post-recession era where good-paying jobs are hard to come by.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll,* 64 percent of Americans said sexual harassment in the workplace was a serious problem, up from 47 percent in 2011. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said that men usually get away with making unwanted sexual advances toward female co-workers.
Nearly 60 percent of the women who experienced harassment didn’t report the incident to supervisors.
We tell our children that no one is supposed to touch their private parts, yet we allow men to take advantage of us. I’ve never seen a job description that lists sexual harassment and sexual assault as requirements.
If more women were in top management positions and owned companies, the corporate culture that has condoned and covered up sexual misconduct would change dramatically. Reporting bad behavior would be encouraged and handled with sensitivity. Until that day comes, we must speak up.
Sexual predators don’t target just one woman; every woman is prey. If you’re a victim, share your story and ask whether others have had a similar experience. Band together, document the behavior and take action.
Present your findings to the company’s human resources department, which should launch an investigation. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Fair Employment Practice agency.
Just like Weinstein and all the other sexual predators who’ve been brought down, so can male co-workers who make your job intolerable with their demeaning behavior.
*The poll of 1,260 adults was conducted Oct, 12-16.