Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace: a Case Study in Victim Shaming

By Meghan Schweizer

In 2017, the #Metoo movement gained momentum, bringing new focus on workplace sexual harassment, even though protections were already in place in the fifty states . Why do more than half of victims of sexual harassment never report or file a complaint? Is it fear of retaliation? Shame? Or does the victim often encounter victim-blaming attitudes when they do report it?

#MeToo Rally, Baltimore, MD January 20, 2018

Let us be clear…There is no room for sexual misconduct in the workplace or educational institute. Unfortunately, it continues to be a problem. Committed without consent, the act may come in the form of force, intimidation, coercion, or manipulation, often between individuals with different levels of authority.  The perpetrator may retaliate or victim shame. While men experience sexual harassment, many of the victims are women. In 2020, more than 6,500 sexual harassment claims were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) . This federal agency, established via the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, administers and enforces, civil right laws against workplace discrimination .

Attitude and empathy rank as top reasons sexual harassment does not get reported. As reviewed in the case study, Why Women Are Blamed for Being Sexually Harassed: The Effects of Empathy for Female Victims and Male Perpetrators, researchers focused on men’s lesser empathy towards female victims . Two studies were performed among university students. The first surveyed students who received the perspective of the male’s perpetrator’s harassment of a female student. Results found men blamed the woman and had greater empathy for the male. The second study the students were given either the male or female’s perspective. Regardless of gender, those who took the male perspective had lesser empathy for the female. In conclusion, the case demonstrated the belief, women sexually harassed are in part blamed due to their provocative behavior towards men. This further aligned with no matter what the outcome, women victims gained nothing by reporting or not reporting the harassing behavior. Theory and research suggested negative attitude towards disadvantaged or stigmatized groups and a failure to consider the perspective of the victim.

“The belief, women who are sexually harassed are in part blamed due to their provocative behavior towards men.”

What happens when people of power, in the media, abuse their power and commit sexual harassment? This couldn’t happen, as the Society of Professional Journalists believe in a conduct code, one that treats sources, subjects, colleagues, and member of the public as human beings deserving respect...or could it?  Journalist and former co-host of the Today Show not only found himself at the center of attention for sexual harassment accusations in 2017, but after an investigation determined credibility of the claims, Matt Lauer, the perpetrator, responded via a 1,300-word open letter sent to Variety magazine. He rebutted the accusation as “categorically false, ignoring the facts, and defies common sense.”  Lauer claimed this was all part of an effort to sell books, describing his sexual relationship as “consensual,” not aggressive and “she certainly did not cry.”  He further shamed his victims, by indicating the “women did not share the responsibility and shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations”. News flash Matt Lauer…Public shaming is a form of punishment or abuse and regarded as unacceptable behavior.

The perpetrator further shamed, by indicating “women did not share the responsibility and shielded themselves from blame behind false allegations.

Instead of showing empathy, NBC News executives communicated the Matt Lauer incidents were never formally reported to their human resources department nor to executives. Investigators found “Lauer ‘frequently engaged in sexual banter or joking in open working environments” . Investigators believed Lauer’s behavior created a hostile environment where employees impacted may have not felt comfortable to report it. Implying there may be victims yet to come forward, Ronan Farrow, the Pulitzer Prize winner, contradicted NBC’s stance, indicating a team of investigators spent several years fact-checking and following the paper trail with documents. He further clarified that over a 7-year period, NBC had multiple secret settlements and nondisclosures with women victims at NBC, including Lauer.  Lauer was later terminated

Matt Lauer, former co-host of the Today Show

NBC had multiple secret settlements and nondisclosures with women victims at NBC, including Lauer.

What is being done to prevent and protect victims?  States are looking to prevent workplace sexual harassment beyond the federal regulations in place. While fifty states prohibit sexual discrimination, only eight states go beyond these practices, requiring employees to attend sexual harassment training.  The National Conference of State Legislatures reported a decline in reported sexual harassment claims, unable to confirm if related to the onset of the global pandemic (people no longer in the workforce or working remote). This reviewer agrees additional legislature is required as well as campaigns to change the stigmatisms

Loopholes still exist!  Legislation work must be done on the use or abuse of non-disclosure agreements. NBC News is not alone regarding media companies opting to pay settlements to avoid the aftermath of scandals.  Twenty-First Century Fox paid $50 million in settlements in their fiscal 2017 year. This settlement included one of the network’s biggest stars, Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News.  Additional business contributors were suspended, such as Charles Payne and Eric Bolling, leaving as they settled multiple allegations of sexual harassment

Protocols, training, and laws should be standardized across all fifty states to prevent discrimination and harassment and protect all victims.

The multi-national technology company, Google, recently paid a $310 million settlement. Their parent company, Alphabet, agreed as part of its settlement to make more than eighty updates or changes to its policies and procedures around sexual misconduct and harassment. Google took a different approach to re-gain the trust of its employees. Its CEO emailed all employees encouraging them to read the settlement highlights. This reviewer believes organizations should take heed to Google’s approach and provide a corporate stance, not to make excuses, but acknowledge there is a problem, and not allow it to continue.

Without consent,