'Times Up' for sexual assault in the workplace

The last few months of 2017 were plagued with accusations of sexual assault against powerful men in entertainment - Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and, most recently, James Franco, just to name a few. To kick off the new year, women in Hollywood decided to take a stand with their new initiative, Time’s Up.

On Jan. 1, a letter signed by over 300 leading women in entertainment was released in the New York Times. It quickly garnered attention on social media, as well as at the Golden Globes when actors wore all-black as a means of protest; the movement comes in response to what has been dubbed the “Weinstein Effect” and #MeToo trend.

Unfortunately, encountering some form of sexual assault at work is not uncommon, as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) reported that surveys show at least 25 percent of all women have experienced it; furthermore, varying surveys indicate anywhere from 70 percent to almost 90 percent of victims don’t even file reports.

There are a number of reasons why women don’t come forward about instances of sexual assault: fear of retaliation, belief that nothing will be done about it, not wanting to be the one blamed for the assault - the list could go on. It doesn’t help that all too often, judges rule leniently in these cases.

Take the highly-publicized Brock Turner case from 2016 - despite sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, he was sentenced to just six months in county jail (not even prison!) when the maximum sentence was 10 years. He ended up only serving three of those months due to good behavior, according to CBS.

Some women may fear that their assailant will be charged just as lightly. This is why one woman comes forward to accuse someone, then suddenly it becomes three women, then seven women, the cycle just continuing - it takes knowing someone else experiencing it to know that it’s OK to talk about it.

We’ve seen what it means to be accused of sexual assault or harassment as a male in entertainment: crucifixion. Chances are that their career is ruined to some capacity - enter Matt Lauer being fired from NBC upon just one complaint being received -, even if they have yet to face legal repercussions. But what happens for the “common man?”

Company outlines regarding sexual harassment seem to be very general. In looking at Old Navy/Gap’s code of business conduct, they simply state to report the concern to a manager or their hotline and that “every complaint will be fairly, promptly and thoroughly investigated” with proper action taking place if need be (i.e., firing). This tends to be the case with many common workplaces for high schoolers, as employers have the discretion to assign punishment as they see fit. However, if an employer fails to prevent sexual harassment, however, they can be subject to punishment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

At the end of the day, it’s imperative that an end is put to sexual harassment and assault both in Hollywood and everyday life. If you or someone you know is experiencing these problems, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or reach out to someone you know and trust.

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