The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, defines workplace sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Other examples of sexual harassment as defined by The Equal Rights Advocates, a women’s law center in the US, include: inappropriate comments, blocking someone’s movement, making fun of gender or sexual orientation, explicit jokes about sex, sharing messages of a sexual nature, and inappropriate touching of any body part.
A study by the EEOC showed that up to 85% of women in the United States have experienced sexual harassment at work. Despite its prevalence, only 25% of workplace harassment incidents are reported. As of now, the law does not prohibit what is considered simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious; harassment is only illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Our current justice system fails to recognize the impact small comments and touches can have on a women’s mental and physical health.
Fortunately, progress is being made. The #MeToo movement, support from organizations such as Times Up, the Equal Rights Advocates, and Lean In, plus activism by artists, business leaders, and attorneys, are creating real legislative change. But we’re not done fighting yet, together we must push to make work a safe and equal space for women.