This is one of the most common sexual crimes that are committed in society today. It can basically be defined as coercion of a sexual manner. Sexual harassment can also be understood to be unsolicited and inappropriate promises for favors and rewards in exchange of sex (Cox, Demmitt 2013). The need to do away with sexual harassments is a need that over the years has been given a lot of importance. This is because of the emotional effect that this type of harassment has on the victims. It is demeaning and insulting to the person of the victims and can at times lead to sexual assault or even rape thus the need to eradicate it. This paper discusses sexual harassments and the laws that have been put in place to deal with it.
As has been discussed above, there are different kinds of sexual harassment. It can be as simple as a suggestion to something more aggravated like sexual bullying. Sexual harassment is more prevalent in some places other than others. Among the places where there are high cases of sexual harassment is the work place. This normally occurs in the form of an employer harassing the employees, or a senior staff harassing his or her juniors. Sexual harassment in places of work takes the form of coercion, inappropriate comments, and the promise of favors and special treatment if these sexual favors are given. There are cases in which the employees being harassed have been threatened with being fired if they do not agree to the requests of their seniors. This makes the employee depressed and intimidated at work. It also makes them afraid not only reducing their productivity but also their self-esteem.
Sexual harassment can also occur in school and even at home. In this case the victim is normally a helpless student or child. The child may find himself or herself in a tricky situation in this case. Students or even the teachers themselves can carry out sexual harassment in schools. At home, it may be by relatives, family friends, or even strangers who take advantage of the innocence and the helplessness of the child. Such forms of sexual harassments are not easy to notice thus, they may go on for a long time. This ultimately has very negative effects on the victims.
In relation to the types of sexual harassments, they can be divided into about 5. The first and most common type of harassment is quid pro quo. This is a term that can be loosely translated to mean give me this and I will give you that. This is a type of sexual harassment occurring mostly at the work place and in schools. At the work place, it will probably be the seniors promising job offers or deals to the juniors or their colleagues in vulnerable situations at work. At school it can occurs for example when a professor promises a student good grades in exchange for sexual favors. Whether or not the victims succumb to this type of harassment is not important, the state of the law is that this type of harassment is not legal.
Another form of sexual harassment that is common is sexual orientation and gender based harassment. These two kinds of harassments do not necessarily include the asking for sexual favors. It involves name-calling and making inappropriate comments simply because one is of a gender that is seen to be weaker or because one is of a different sexual orientation. The law on discrimination based on sexual orientation has not fully developed to ensure protection of the victims. In fact, there is no federal law that protects those who have a different sexual orientation from being harassed. There are a few laws though differing a little from one state to the other that tend to protect such people.
The laws dealing with sexual harassment in the country are varied. This history of these laws can be traced back to 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed. In Title VII of the Act there were semblances of laws that seemed to protect citizen from sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The title banned discrimination based on race, color, religion and sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that it is unlawful “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (Robinson 2012)
Title VII, just like a majority of laws on sexual harassments in the U.S, was mainly targeting sexual discrimination mostly at the work place. It is therefore true to say that since such kinds of harassment are more prevalent the government tries harder to prevent them than it does the other forms of sexual harassment. This should not be taken to mean however that there cannot be sexual harassment outside the places of work. Title VII took quite some time to fully come into play. When it finally did however, people became more aware of their rights and were more willing to come out and fight against any form of sexual harassment or discrimination. From the year 1971, people actually started going to court to sue against sexual harassment. Some of the cases that were taken to court include the case of Barnes v Train (Johnson 2005). These cases were important in laying precedence to deciding similar cases in the future. They also encouraged people who had been victims of this vice but who were not bold enough talk, to come out and seek redress for the distress that they had gone though.
In 1979, a feminist, Catherine MacKinnon, took the fight against discrimination a notch higher and in so doing paved way for the introduction of the laws against sexual discrimination. She wrote a novel, Sexual Harassment of Working Women. It is in her book that the term sexual harassment is birthed because until then, it was seen as a term connected to the feminist movement. The book argued that working class women were subject to sexual hostility but could hardly do anything about it because it was their paycheck and as such, their means of livelihood that was in line. The book however tends to insinuate that it is only the female workers that go through sexual discrimination and not male workers. In a society where females were seen to be subordinate and lesser beings to the male, her view is totally understandable.
A year after the launch and publishing of her book, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took it upon themselves to clearly define and set up rules that discourage sexual harassment. Up to date, this commission is primarily tasked with preventing and dealing with issues of sexual harassment in the work place. The principles of the EEOC describe sexual harassment as prejudiced and thereby intolerable no matter the form in which it is perpetrated (U.S Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity). It is also in the same year that federal court began taking a keen interest in matters of quid pro quo sexual harassments and terming it as sexual harassment and not sexual discrimination as it was known previously.
There was a revision of the Civil Rights Act in 1991 (Capozzi 2006). This was geared specifically towards ensuring that there was more protection against discrimination. In the same year, there was an introduction of punitive damages for women who successfully proved sexual discrimination. A ruling by Justice Scalia in 1997 opened the eyes of many in matters concerning sexual discrimination of people of the same gender. In this case the Judge was talking about men discriminating or sexually harassing other men. He termed this as illegal discrimination, vaguely bringing in the issue of equality.
The employers therefore deal with sexual harassments in the work place. This is never really a good position because a person may find himself or herself in a situation where the employer is the one harassing him or her. Situations may also arise where the person harassing the employee is a friend to the employer and as such, it would be hard for the victim to take up the issues with his or her boss. In such cases, justice is thoroughly undermined.
Generally when there are accusations of sexual harassment or if any department in an organization believes that someone is being subjected to sexual harassment, the department should ensure first that there is thorough and immediate investigation of the matter. These investigations should be done as first a possible and if found to be well founded, they should be dealt with accordingly and immediately so that such behavior is done away with. Whether or not the victim wants to file a complaint against the assailant is not a matter to be taken into consideration when starting investigations by the department.
The duty of investigating and dealing with matters of sexual harassment when they arise is left in the hands of the Office of Civil Rights. This office has the duty to ensure that the investigations are started and concluded within the least time possible. It also ensures that these investigations are done impartially and that those who perpetrate this vice are brought to book. Employees who also witness behavior that may qualify as sexual harassment are required by the law to report such behavior to the Office of Civil Rights. Failure to report such behavior makes the person liable to punishment by law. The Office of Civil Registry is allowed to subject the perpetrators of sexual harassment to punishment, discipline and any other fate that they will deem necessary depending on the circumstance of the case. Simple admonishment, whether verbal or written, does not qualify as discipline in the case of sexual harassment.
The employees also have a duty under the EEOC. The first action that an employee is expected to take when he or she feels that a person is targeting them for sexual harassment is to notify the person in writing that such behavior is inappropriate. An oral notification is also acceptable to warn the person that the victim does not welcome such behaviour. The notification or warning requires the victim to tell the person to stop such behaviour. If for some reason the employee cannot communicate with the perpetrator of the acts or if the perpetrator refuses to stop his or her sexual advances towards the employee, the employee should report the case to the department officials responsible for handling such cases. This should be done as soon as possible.
What happens, however, when the employee cum victim does everything in his or her power to stop the harassing but the perpetrator simply does not stop or maybe the departments he or she forwards the case to does nothing to help the person? A victim of sexual harassment always has the alternative of taking the matter before a court of law. This is however an undesirable step because it brings with it many expenses that most employees would rather not incur. A court battle may be long and unnecessary and may go both ways especially if the defendant is influential. This is because they always have the choice of hiding all evidence and getting the best lawyers. If the results of the court case do not favor the victim, the perpetrator could also decide to sue the victim for slander. This puts the victim at a greater disadvantage. Because of this, a majority of victims who have tried to seek help but have failed find themselves in a dilemma. Most of them decide to live normal lives forgetting the ordeals. This should never be allowed to occur. Every person who commits this act should be punished accordingly as this is the only way of preventing a multiplicity of such acts. In the prevention of such inappropriate behaviour, employees are expected to behave professionally and to take measure to prevent the occurrence of this vice.
Sexual harassment in children
This kind of sexual harassment is normally harder to deal with. Children as young as five, maybe even younger are subjected to sexual harassments at home or in school. Since the victims of these attacks are children or teenagers, they may find it harder to come out and speak about it thus a number of these cases may go unresolved. Sexual harassment in children has detrimental effects on the child. Since it involves the use of force, and bullying the child grows up scared and with a low self-esteem. It is therefore important that these cases should be looked into and that the person behind such behaviour punished as well as having the child taken to a counselor.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act tackles sexual discrimination in education. This title provides that no one should be prevented from participating in or discriminated under any education program receiving federal finances. This ensures that everyone has equal chance despite his or her gender or sexual orientation. As such Title IX tries to eliminate gender based and sexual orientation based discrimination. There have been a number of cases that set precedence in the matter of sexual harassment in education. One such case includes Franklin v Gwinnett County Public Schools (Johnson 2005). Where the U.S Supreme decided it Court that citizen could get damages when their children are sexually harassed by teachers. Schools also were given the right to discipline students who use obscene language.
Punishment for sexual harassment
As is already established, sexual harassment is a vice that should not be allowed to go unpunished. There are different types of punishments that the law allows to be meted upon sexual harassment offenders. These may differ according to the degree of the harassment and the age of the person being harassed. In places of work, for example sexual harassment can be punished by termination. This is normally done to save the image of the organization or the company in that if a suit were to be brought to court against a person in a leadership position, the image of the organization would suffer. This type of punishment is normally given when the form of sexual harassment committed is serious.
When harassments occur within the premises of an organization, the organization can be held liable and as such can be asked to pay damages. This is a holding given by the EOCC. This mostly happens in sexual harassment cases that lead to the firing or the demotion of the victim. If the organization is aware of the harassment but takes no action to stop it, it can be held liable to compensate the victim in damages for the offense.
Where the sexual offence is carried out in school, the punishments depend mostly on the position of the offender in the school i.e. whether he or she is a student or a teacher. It also depends on the degree of the harassment. If the offender is a teacher, the most probable cause of action would be to fire him or her. If the offender is a student, they may face expulsion or suspension depending on the magnitude of the harassment.
An important fact to note is that sexual harassment is a criminal offence both under state laws and under the federal laws. Victims of sexual harassments can therefore press criminal charges against the offenders. In most states the sentence for sexual offences is determinate in others it is indeterminate but even then the minimum time that the offender can serve is set at two years and can go up to a maximum of seven years. This position is however not absolute it differs from state to state with some states having a less sever sentence and others a more sever one. The time served is determined by how serious the harassment was in that whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony.
What should be seriously taken into consideration is the fact that, sexual harassment is a traumatizing ordeal that no one should be subjected to. It doesn’t not only subject the victim to physical trauma due to the fear of what could be the result of the harassments but it also subjects him or her to emotional and mental trauma, one may ask oneself, are the laws on sexual harassment strict enough to serve their purpose? It is important that the laws on sexual harassment should be made more strict to deter would be offenders and to ensure that the perpetrators are thoroughly punished for their offence.
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Robinson, David. Some tips to prevent employment discrimination lawsuits : a faith-based legal guide for managers. Bloomington, IN : WestBow Press, 2012.
United States. Presidential Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. Report to the President. 5 vols. Washington: The Commission, 1990. Print.
Capozzi, Irene Y. The Civil Rights Act: Background, Statutes and Primer. New York: Novinka Books, 2006. Print.