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Report Explores the Long-Term Toll of Sexual Harassment

Research Shows That Women’s Health, Job Security, and Earnings Are Impacted

A new research report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) finds that workplace sexual harassment can take a toll on women’s physical and mental health, limit their job choices, reduce prospects for career development, and even force them out of the workforce. These negative effects compound over time, reducing women’s lifetime earnings and contributing to both the gender and retirement wage gaps, the report concludes.

Entitled “Limiting Our Livelihoods: The Cumulative Impact of Sexual Harassment on Women’s Careers,” the report is based on an AAUW analysis of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, a review of academic studies on sexual harassment and an exclusive nationwide AAUW survey.

Download the full report and the report summary.

AAUW conducted a new survey of 311 individuals, which found 38% of those who were sexually harassed said the experience contributed to their decision to leave a job early, and 27% said it disrupted their career advancement.

“Women tell us they’ve left jobs, changed their career paths, and suffered both physically and mentally as a result of being harassed in the workplace. And fear of retaliation for reporting is unfortunately too often based in reality,” says Kim Churches, CEO of AAUW. “It’s time to change workplace climates and cultures so sexual harassment is not tolerated.”

The AAUW report documents how women of all ages experience workplace sexual harassment. Of claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1995–2016, 4.1% are by 16- to 19-year-olds, 9.6% are by 20- to 24-year-olds, 36.3% are by 25- to 25-year-olds, 30.1% are by 35- to 44-year-olds, 16% are by 45- to 54-year-olds, 3.4% are by 55- to 64-year-olds, and 0.5% are by those 65 and older.

Limited Access to Justice
The report also details the limits of legal remedies for dealing for workplace sexual harassment, which can discourage people from reporting issues. Barriers to justice include the following:

• Narrow standards about the kinds of employers covered by existing laws. For example, employers with fewer than 15 employees are exempt.

• The exclusion from coverage of various categories of workers, including contractors and unpaid interns.

• A limited time frame for bringing charges.

• Onerous standards of proof: Courts have narrowly interpreted the definition of sexual harassment so many egregious complaints have not met the required standard.

• Reduced liability: The Supreme Court has narrowed the circumstances in which employers and coworkers can be liable for harassment.

• Nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration that can prevent employees from speaking out and/or pursuing legal remedies.

AAUW calls on lawmakers and employers to create a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated. Some of the recommendations in the report include the following:

• Employers should outline a comprehensive harassment policy, create a complaint procedure that offers a range of reporting methods, provide employee and manager training, and regularly conduct anonymous workplace surveys.

• Congress must pass the BE HEARD Act (including the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act), the EMPOWER Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Fair Pay Act.

• State policymakers must pass bills to stop workplace harassment and close the gender pay gap.

“Sexual harassment perpetuates economic inequality. It’s an inherent factor in the pay gap and in the scarcity of women in leadership roles. But it’s an uncomfortable issue to confront so it’s often pushed under the rug, and the limits on the legal and other remedies compound the problem. We need to change the laws and workplace cultures so we can stop sexual harassment and its impact in limiting women’s livelihoods,” Churches says.

Additional information about AAUW’s research on the gender pay gap is available at www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap. More on AAUW’s advocacy work at the federal, state, and local level can be found at www.aauw.org/fairpay.

Source: The American Association of University Women