Women struggle to speak about workplace sexual harassment, cases often dismissed by judges

(Source: AP)

As more and more actors and television personalities speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace, we’re asking why it’s often so hard for women to come forward and get justice.

“Sexual harassment isn’t about sex," said attorney Benjamin Stark. "It’s about power, and those in power use it to not only abuse their victims but force them into silence.”

Staying silent is what countless women do when faced with sexual harassment in the workplace.

It’s a tough conversation to have, and most people don’t want to talk about it.

“I think a lot of people are scared to report things. I was in situations before where I felt like I was bullied and I was afraid to report to anybody,” said Meike Mason.

On top of the fear of retaliation and embarrassment, attorney’s at Atlanta employment law firm Barrett and Farahany, say often the legal system doesn’t make coming forward any easier.

“The law says that what counts as actual sexual harassment has to be so severe or pervasive it has to alter the conditions of employment,” said Stark.

A study by the firm shows 93 percent of discrimination cases in the northern district of Georgia in 2011 and 2012 were dismissed. This includes sexual harassment claims, which are also called hostile work environment claims.

Often times a judge thinks a case is just too one-sided.

Stark said “the numbers are shocking. The problem is judges are dismissing too many, almost all, cases based on their understanding of what a reasonable person would find severe or pervasive.”

Stark, who used to work for the United States Department of Labor, says the numbers from Barrett and Farahany’s study are discouraging.

He sees better results when there are multiple victims willing to support each other like we’re seeing with alleged victims of Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein.

“When people band together and realize they’re not alone, it’s a lot more likely they’ll be able to get justice.”

“Once one or two people say me too or it happened to me it makes other people a little bit more bold. And they’ll say well it happened to me, I was just too embarrassed to say it until XYZ.”

And sometimes an abuser or even a company will settle with a victim, giving them money for what happened to them.

When that happens the victim is often no longer allowed to speak about the harassment. Some are arguing that doesn’t help the problem.

Copyright 2017 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Multimedia Journalist

Recommended for you