Standing up to harassment, scarlett letter be damned

A funny thing happens when a woman utters the words “sexual harassment.” It’s as if she’s suddenly donned a scarlet letter, which brands her as a troublemaker, complainer and, worst of all for corporate America, not a team player.


When I wrestled with taking my complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – forgive me for vagueness on that front; details will come later, although not necessarily in a blog form (It would be foolish of me to publish details that would help my employer’s sexual harassment attorney hurt me) – I was met with staunch, blue-collar, gotta-protect-your-career-and-livelihood-(is a $28,000 income really a livelihood these days?) wisdom from loved ones: Don’t do it.


But I did do it. I had no choice, I felt. To give in to the harassment – it appeared intended to silence me as a journalist, humiliate me as a human being, punish me as a woman and strike fear of sexual assault in my heart – would be unthinkable to me ethically and professionally. To give in would be a betrayal to myself as a woman and a journalist. Fighting back, career consequences be damned, was – and continues to be – my only option.


As far as career suicide goes, which my father cautioned me would be a result of my stance, I felt and feel that I not only can’t work with colleagues who engage in such vile behavior, but I most definitely don’t want to work in an environment in which my employer allows it. (That, by the way, is not a statement about my current employment status or desire. I have not quit, and I refuse to quit, my job.)


All of that leaves me with one choice as a journalist: dig in, document, fight back, provide resources for others who have been hurt in similar ways, shine the light and tell the painful truth: Some 83,000 people filed employment discrimination charges with the EEOC in 2007. That figure doesn’t include complaints filed with state commissions, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. And it leaves out another painful truth: More employees ducked filing charges out of their own career suicide fears, figuring that to endure harassment or to move on in silence were better options.


I didn’t want this fight. It was thrust upon me. I didn’t want the depression. Didn’t want the anxiety. Didn’t want the stress. Didn’t want the fear. Didn’t want the sexual harassment and didn’t want the cyberstalking. And I don’t want it for any other woman, or any other person, who finds herself or himself the object of base, sexual, racial, religious, ethnic background or any other where-we-live characteristic. That, in a nutshell, is why I’ve taken this route, scarlet letter and all.


Garbage stinks more when it’s closed up and hidden away. I’m opening the lid. Stand up, ladies and gentlemen. It’s your right to work in a harassment-free environment. And if you’re worried about employment retaliation, know that it’s illegal – both to retaliate against an employee who complains and to refuse to hire an applicant based on her or his harassment complaint, which the EEOC dubs a “protected activity.” It’s not about being a corporate drone, who fears the loss of a paycheck and career advancement opportunity for speaking up. It’s about standing up for your rights and refusing to accept less-than-humane treatment while earning a living in this corporate-America work zone.


Meanwhile, here are a couple of videos that deal with sexual harassment:






A YouTube video diary about a woman’s experience with sexual harassment




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