Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Sexual Harassment: A Legal Perspective for Public Administrators

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Sexual Harassment: A Legal Perspective for Public Administrators

Article excerpt

Estimating the Scope of Sexual Harassment

Surveys administered as early as 1979 indicated that numerous women in state employment were affected by sexual harassment, with as many as 59 percent of female employees in the state of Illinois reporting a direct experience with sexual harassment. In a random survey of female state employees in Florida, 46 percent claimed that they had received unwanted sexual attention from male co-workers in their present employment which caused them to feel threatened or humiliated.(1) In an examination of Alabama, Arizona, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, women experienced all forms of sexual harassment more than men. Of high-level female public administrators in these five states, six to sixteen percent experienced unwelcome sexual advances; eleven to 24 percent experienced requests for sexual favors; fourteen to 36 percent experienced offensive physical contact and 33 to 60 percent experienced some offensive verbal behavior.(2) One estimate held that as many as one-third of women in educational institutions had experienced some kind of harassment.(3)

In 1980 the U.S Merit Systems Protection Board found that four out of ten women in a 10,648 sample had been sexually harassed during the previous 24 months. When this study was updated in 1988, the numbers reflected an uncanny resemblance to those in 1980-42 percent of all women experience some form of unwanted sexual attention.(4)

In the private sector, the record is not much better. A 1988 survey of 160 human resources executives in the Fortune 500 companies revealed that almost all employers had at least one sexual harassment complaint in the twelve month period leading up to the survey. Representing some 3.3 million employees, 64 percent of the executives believed that the sexual harassment complaints were valid. Over 33 percent reported that their company was sued for sexual harassment during that year. A 1988 survey of 165 Long Island executives found that one in eight of their companies had been sued for sexual harassment within a year of the survey.(5) A more recent survey in 1991 taken by the American Management Association revealed that 52 percent of member companies reported one or more allegations of sexual harassment within the last five years.(6)

Polling taken during and after the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas indicated a heightened awareness of sexual harassment among the general public.(7) An October 10-11, 1991 Newsweek poll found that 21 percent of women claimed that they had been harassed at work and 42 percent knew a victim of sexual harassment at work. Thirteen percent of the women polled had filed or knew someone who had filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment.(8) Another poll conducted by the New York Times/CBS News on October 9, 1991, found that four out of ten women claimed they had been the object of unwanted sexual advances or remarks from male supervisors in the workplace. Five out of ten men stated that they had said or done something that could be interpreted as sexual harassment of a female colleague.(9) Survey after survey show that somewhere between forty and seventy percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.(10) As a consequence of consciousness raising, many women have begun to speak out about their experiences and discuss how they have responded to sexual harassment in the workplace.(11)

According to surveys, women report sexual harassment experiences disproportionately when compared to men.(12) Those most likely to be harassed typically occupy low power positions, have a lower socioeconomic status whether they are married or single, single or divorced and tend to be between ages 25 and 35.(13) Despite the high number of women who have reportedly experienced some form of sexual harassment, few complaints have typically been filed and some argue that the reason for this is the way definitions of harassment and dispute resolution mechanisms better fit male, rather than female, perspectives. …

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