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The Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in U.S. Workplaces

Despite advancements in workplace environments for employees, sexual harassment remains a major problem affecting one out of every four women in the U.S., according to recent testimony by Fatima Goss Graves, the Vice President for Education and Employment for the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

As Graves spoke before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the topic of preventing and addressing workplace sexual harassment, she noted women are commonly victims of sexual harassment, particularly those in some of the lowest paying fields as well as those in high-wage but predominantly male dominated fields. According to Graves, women make up as much as two-thirds of the 20 million-person workforce in low paying jobs and almost half of those women are of color. Many women, according to her testimony, are unlikely to report sexual harassment due to fear of retaliation, such as further harassment, loss of employment, of risk of physical safety.

A Serious Problem: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Graves noted that women comprise nearly half of the entire U.S. workforce. As many as 41 percent are the primary jobholders in homes with minor children. In 2013, the total number of harassment charges filed with the EEOC, in addition to state and local employment agencies, was more than 30,000. Of this total, more than 10,000 were sexual harassment charges and women brought in 82 percent of these charges. Research shows, however, that when surveyed 70 percent of women who have been victims of sexual harassment admit to never reporting the incident.

Beyond suffering in silence, women on both ends of the economic scale are experiencing sexual harassment. The least paid workers – such as those in the hospitality, retail and agriculture industries – have reported weekly sexual harassment and often described the harassment as “part of the culture”. Likewise, women in high-paid and nontraditional positions suffer high rates of sexual harassment as well. Specifically, women who work in the construction industry, emergency response positions, and law enforcement jobs experience harassment at an alarming rate – as much as 82 percent.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects individuals from, among other things, sex discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment can come in a variety of forms, and may include: unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, as well as other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature when the act (1) ties into the individual’s employment status – whether explicitly or implicitly, (2) unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work performance or (3) creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile or offensive.

Title VII also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an individual for opposing unlawful employment practices, such as sexual harassment, filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC, or even participating in any way with an investigation, proceeding or litigation under this law.

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