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Stamp Out Sexual Harassment!


Thanks to the recent widely publicized reports of alleged sexual harassment by some highly prominent men, the serious problem of sexual harassment on the job has drawn lots of attention from unions and other advocates of working women. And for good reason.

 

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated that nearly two-thirds of Americans now consider sexual harassment a problem. The poll also showed that about one-fourth of the country's working women report having been sexually harassed on the job.

 

The increasing concern about harassment may very well explain the withdrawal of Republican Herman Cain from the presidential race amid allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances while heading the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

 

Cain, of course, denied the accusations. But the Post says that by a ratio of more than two to one, women who said they had been harassed at work had unfavorable views of Cain. By an even larger margin of nearly three to one, they said they were apt to believe Cain's accusers.

 

Quite apart from the question of Cain's guilt or innocence, 25 percent of the men polled said they worried that they might be unfairly accused of sexual harassment.

 

The Post reported that about 10 percent of the men said "they may at one time done something, even inadvertently, that a colleague may have considered an unwanted sexual advance." But the percentage of men saying that is lower than it was in the past. Undoubtedly that percentage will rise, in part because of the heightened concern prompted by the charges against Cain and other prominent men.

 

Previously, the level of concern was even lower. A 1994 ABC News poll, for instance, showed that 32 percent of working women said they had been sexually harassed on the job. Reports of harassment have deceased steadily since then, with fewer women younger than 50 currently claiming to have been victims.

 

Overall, about one in six Americans now say they've been sexually harassed at work. That includes 24 percent of women workers, 9 percent of men.  The 1994 survey showed that nearly one-third of women 18 to 49 said they had been sexually harassed, as compared with today's lower figure of one-fourth of such women.

 

The percentage of workers who've reported to their employer that they've been harassed has meanwhile increased, although not nearly enough. Despite the generally heightened concern about harassment, about half of those charging harassment at work told pollsters they never reported it.

 

About one-third said they didn't think it serious enough to report, and about one-fifth were worried about the possible consequences – or thought it wouldn't do any good to report harassment.

 

Major steps have been taken to combat discrimination against workers because of their race, gender, age or other factors. Now it's time to pay increased attention to combating sexual harassment, still one of the most serious forms of workplace discrimination.

 

Dick Meister is a San Francisco columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com. 

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