It is no secret that our society exists under the sign of patriarchy which, one could argue, is codified under state and federal statutes. In theory, there are laws that protect sexual harassment victims, but in practice, these laws fail at every turn to actually offer this protection.
Furthermore, it has become clear, with the recent surge of disclosures, that many women wait years before they feel safe enough to tell their story. In many cases, women are understandably afraid of losing their jobs or experiencing some kind of backlash. We know now that women harmed by Harvey Weinstein were directly threatened, being told they would never work again unless they submitted to the producer’s will.
This egregious use of power isn’t limited to Hollywood. On the contrary, it exists in the everyday trenches of the average office space, where women can experience paralyzing fear that dissuades them from filing complaints. Why do so many women suffer, when there are laws that purportedly aim to protect victims of assault?
The law, it turns out, puts a time limit on sexual harassment claims. Victims have between six and 10 months to file a complaint – depending on the jurisdiction. Once that time-limit is exceeded, claims can no longer go forward. This limit fails to acknowledge the concrete reality of sexual harassment. Since, as has been noted, it takes time for people to come forward, wouldn’t it make sense to augment this narrow window of opportunity?
Moreover, even when women do summon the courage to submit a complaint, it is not uncommon for there to be severe consequences. Employers or harassers can sometimes go out of their way to seek retribution by making the victim’s life much harder. In some cases, employers might increase the workload or pursue more performance reviews. Thus, the harmed person, no longer able to take the torment, can be forced out of their job.
Failure of the Law
Thus, we return to the law. Aren’t there statutes meant to prevent such retribution? The short answer is yes. But when you look at the actual facts on the ground, it becomes clear that these laws are deeply insufficient. Looking at this informative article on FastCompany.com, one can find a disturbing disparity that illustrates the inadequacy of these statutes. Whereas only 1 percent of claims filed with the EEOC win in court, nearly 14 percent of cases are won by employers. The rest are settled before a court has the opportunity to weigh in.
The Failure of Training Programs
What of sexual harassment training programs? According to some, they’re as ineffective as they are ubiquitous. The EEOC itself admitted that the last three decades of sexual harassment training programs have utterly failed to produce results. According to NPR, this failure can be linked to several possible causes. For one, training is increasingly being relegated to online courses which, needless to say, don’t require real engagement with questions of harassment and assault. What’s more, higher-ups very often opt out of the training altogether. And if #metoo has taught us anything, it’s that higher-ups are anything but immune. In fact, the reverse is true. By setting themselves apart from the rest, executives augment their power and their ability to harass with impunity.
As Patricia Wise, an attorney, told NPR, “We have been checking the box for decades.” She continued, “I don’t think people have been very motivated.”
The Failure of the Tax Code
What’s worse, executives have been incentivized by the tax code, which offers deductions for settlements and expenses associated with sexual harassment claims. That rule will change once the new tax law kicks in. According to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, corporations will no longer be able to deduct “any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.” The provision aims to promote transparency, as the only way to cash in on deductions is to disclose the contents of the dispute. But we have to wonder if companies really want the deductions badly enough– so much so that they’d be willing to undermine the integrity of their enterprise.
The law also removes deductions for employees who file sexual harassment claims. This is no surprise, since as we’ve seen, the law tends to favor powerful executives over those victimized by workplace abusers. In the end, we have to wonder what system of laws would protect the ones harmed and not the ones inflicting harm.