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Workplace Sexual Harassment and #YesAllWomen

In direct response to the Isla Vista shootings, where a disgruntled man killed six people and wounded 13 others before turning the gun on himself, a powerful Twitter movement was born.

In the weeks leading up to his rampage, the shooter posted a series of angry and misogynistic YouTube videos as well as a 137 page manifesto blaming the “cruelness of women” for leading to his “day of retribution”.

The content of his rants inspired Twitter users to tweet the hashtag #YesAllWomen in which individuals shared their grievances and experiences with harassment, fear, and even violence. The hashtag was intended to counter the “not all men” defense sometimes used to deflect feminist arguments.

Within four days, #YesAllWomen reached 1.2 million tweets. It became a grassroots social media campaign that raised awareness of the sexual harassment and abuse that women experience in their lifetime. Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Awareness is critical when talking about the subject of workplace sexual harassment and the EEOC laws that prohibit it. In a 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, 13% of respondents reported having been sexually harassed by a boss or another superior and 19% by a co-worker other than a boss or superior. Of those who said they’d experienced sexual harassment, a disturbing 70% said they never reported it.

The low incidence of reporting is one of the main obstacles to understanding the true prevalence of sexual harassment. The #YesAllWomen movement gives a voice to those who have been harassed and perhaps afraid to report it due to (1) the belief no one will do anything about the problem, (2) belief that they will be blamed or even (3) fear of hurting the harasser.

While its extent may not be quantifiable in terms of numbers, it is clear that sexual harassment is a widespread and continuing problem in workplaces and in educational institutions.  It transcends occupational and professional categories, age groups, educational backgrounds, racial and ethnic groups, and income levels and affects everyone. That is what #YesAllWomen serves to underscore. And by bringing the issue of harassment into the forefront of social media and public discussion, it is likely to increase the pressure to change the standards of accepted workplace behavior.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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