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Why is sexual harassment still tolerated?

If you believe stricter regulations have made workplace harassment a thing of the past, think again. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) resolved 92,641 charges in 2015, and 29.5 percent of those were sexual in nature.

In fact, with the evolution of social media outlets and workplace email, perpetrators have extended their reach, with a whole new set of tools available for harassing victims. Further EEOC research reveals that as much as 23 percent of all harassment is perpetrated online, making sexual harassment in the workplace a unique and costly problem.

Protecting Their Own

We've seen it portrayed in the movies: neighborhood residents all keep their heads down and their mouths shut, for fear of the backlash of "ratting out" the bad guys. It's a code that has been engrained in their heads. And, as long as the perpetrators continue to get away with it, nothing will ever change. The same scenario often occurs in our workplaces.

Just ask Arlancia Williams, a 15-year Washington Metro employee who was sexually harassed by her supervisor. Upon taking her story to a high-level Metro manager, she was demoted, with the explanation of: "Since you can't work under the stress from being harassed, maybe this isn't the job for you."

According to the Washington Post, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel went so far as to say, "One person's harassment is another person's flirting," further demonstrating much of society's stance on the subject.

Working Together To Find A Solution

Williams went on to win her lawsuit and has returned to her Metro position, where her story has sparked major changes. A zero tolerance policy was initiated and a transparent complaint process was designed, through which supervisors respond swiftly to all employee grievances.

While it is critical that victims feel safe when filing a complaint, every organization should have a prevention strategy in place to truly make headway in eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers should furnish a written set of policies that address the specifics, including appropriate use of email and social media.

Additionally, it must be made unequivocally clear that harassment will not be tolerated and that employees are encouraged to raise concerns, without fear of backlash.

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, seek the advice of a skilled employment law attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

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