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Sexual Harassment

Within the last few months of 2017, the media exploded with new stories about Hollywood actresses speaking out about their experiences with sexual harassment in the film industry. Their actions have inspired women worldwide to shed light on a problem that has been kept in the dark for far too long. But what exactly is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment comes in many different shapes and forms, ranging from unwelcome sexual advances or asking for sexual favors to making offensive comments about women in general. Laws enforced by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission makes any form of sexual harassment unlawful; however, it is very easy for people to confuse sexual harassment in the workplace with simple teasing since the law does not prohibit isolated events or off-hand comments. Harassment becomes illegal when these events become so frequent and severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an employee’s demotion or loss of a job.

The harasser can be anyone in the workplace, man or woman. A recent story about sexual harassment that hits close to home, captures the story of former segment producer of The Bachelorette, Becky Steenhoek, who grew up here in Pella, Iowa. Upon taking the job for ABC’s reality show, Steenhoek was well aware there would be no way to avoid talking about sex as contestants often spend nights together in elegant hotel rooms called “Fantasy Suites.” What Steenhoek did not realize was that she would also be exposed to sexual questions as a crew member. In her complaint against Warner Bros., the producer of the show, Steenhoek stated her fellow producers were frequently asking her sexually graphic, personal questions. When she reported the uncomfortable questions and conversations to her supervisor, Steenhoek was fired. Steenhoek alleges her harassment was frequent enough for action to be taken, and it created a very unhealthy work environment.  Not long after her dismissal, she filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. in October 2017. Currently, her case is pending before the California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, and set for a case management conference on April 2, 2018. Unfortunately, waiting for justice or never receiving it is a frequent outcome for many victims of sexual harassment.

Fed up with keeping silent and waiting for justice, a small collection of women decided to ignite the flame of sexual harassment that would set the media on fire. This movement initially started in 2006 when activist Tarana Burke created the #MeToo movement to encourage solidarity between women, especially when it comes to sexual harassment. The social cause went viral when actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag in order to support Rose McGowan’s allegations of harassment against well-renowned film producer, Harvey Weinstein. Since then, thousands of women have taken the courage to voice their stories to spread awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. They have been dubbed the “Silence Breakers” who received Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award. As a result, the cries for justice are being heard as more and more cases of harassment are being brought to light.

For more information about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, please visit metoomvmt.org.

About Elizabeth Van Weelden