Today’s New Yorker magazine story alleges that Hollywood film executive, Harvey Weinstein, used his position of power to sexually harass and rape multiple women. Famous actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Ashley Judd, all share a common story that goes something like this.
According to published facts, Weinstein would create an environment where he would end up alone with a young female. It’s reported that he would then make sexual advances, ask for a massage, or masturbate in front of the victim. Another common theme seemed to be that Weinstein would dangle, like a carrot, promises of movies and fame in exchange for sexual favors.
Unfortunately, the Weinstein story mirrors decades-old allegations of wrongful sexual conduct. From Bill Cosby to Donald Trump, the same questions come up over and over. Why don’t survivors come forward sooner? How can victims protect themselves from sexual harassment in the workplace?
As a trial lawyer and father of two young adults getting ready to enter the workforce, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you, four ways you can protect yourself from sexual harassment (unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching by co-workers, sexually hostile work environments) in the workplace.
I believe this is important because reports have shown that one in four women are sexually harassed on the job. Many victims of workplace sexual assault and harassment experience damaged careers, loss of income, depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, interference in their private lives, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in some cases, suicide (15 percent of 1,0000 females saying they have attempted suicide). Men are victims too. As an example, see this story about Terry Crews.
I practice in California, and under California FEHA law, there are two main categories of sexual harassment: (1) Quid pro quo harassment (you are offered benefits for sexual favors) and (2) Hostile work environment (sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment). State statutes create related civil and criminal consequences for perpetrators and employers that allow this wrongful conduct to take place.
Under Federal Title VII law, sexual harassment is prohibited in the workplace. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act governs most private and public employers, employment agencies, and labor unions and makes it illegal for an employer to allow a worker to be subjected to sexual harassment.
Many victims are unaware of the laws that exist to protect them. They don’t know what steps to take to preserve evidence and hold the wrongdoer accountable. As a trial lawyer and dad, here are my recommendations.
Steps You Can Take To Protect Yourself
Tip #1: In Cases of Physical Assault and Rape
If you are the victim of workplace sexual assault resulting in bodily harm or rape, immediately go to your nearest emergency room or police station and report the crime. Don’t wait until the next day. Bring all evidence with you (clothing, pictures, videos) and be diligent and persistent in reporting the crime.
Don’t let an indifferent investigating officer push you aside. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If this happens, ask for the officer or investigator’s superior. As soon as possible, go to your local District Attorney’s Office and insist that you meet with an Assistant District Attorney. Share the same information you shared with the police department. Ask that the two departments work together to right this wrong and help protect other victims.
After you do all of this, contact your local television stations and newspapers and share your story.
Note that I didn’t tell you to send the police and District Attorney’s Office a text, email, or complete a form on their website. For maximum impact, you need to physically appear, share the facts, and lodge a formal complaint.
In Non-Emergency Ongoing Sexual Harassment Workplace Cases
Tip #2: Document everything!
As soon as you start to feel that something wrong is happening, begin to get or make copies of all offensive text, emails, social media posts, letters, cards, photographs, videos or notes. Make copies of your personnel file and all performance evaluations and related documents.
Keep a detailed diary listing the date, time and description of all sexual harassment. Note how each instance has harmed your job, performance, health and personal life.
Keep all these items at home. Make backups and give copies to a trusted friend for safekeeping.
Tip #3: Use Technology
In cases similar to what is alleged to have happened involving Harvey Weinstein, if possible, use your smartphone to record, take pictures or videotape the harassment. If you’re in a work environment where your supervisor or boss is stepping into your space or office on a daily basis, purchase a GoPro camera and place it in your cubical or office to record the wrongful conduct. If possible, use a 360-degree camera to offer a better context as to what is happening in your work space.
To lay a proper foundation and authenticate your evidence in legal proceedings, it’s necessary that you keep detailed notes, away from the office, of all dates, times and instance descriptions. Again, it is a good idea to give a complete copy of this evidence to a trusted friend.
In addition to the story in the New Yorker magazine, a recording was released by police involved in a sting operation against Weinstein. A victim did exactly what I’m telling you to do, and the investigating police department had her wear a wire and record a conversation that took place the next day between the victim and Weinstein. I believe the New Yorker magazine article and audio tape (listen here) were instrumental in holding Weinstein accountable for these alleged acts. You can and should do the same thing.
Tip #4: Always Have a Wingman
Don’t put yourself in a one-on-on situation with the other person. Always travel in the company of one or more trusted friends. Never make an exception to this rule.
In a perfect world, you shouldn’t have to do this. But this isn’t a perfect world, and this is the best way to safely interact with people who you have concerns with.
The lawyer in me is telling you to do all you can to collect evidence and hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. The dad in me is telling you to have a zero tolerance for any inappropriate workplace sexual harassment and to put your safety first.
It’s always the right time to do the right thing. Please do not be afraid to stand tall and be vocal in holding wrongdoers responsible for their conduct.
As is reflected in this breaking story, Weinstein’s alleged conduct has been going on for decades, and there are many victims who were waiting for someone to lead the charge to justice. Be that person or be that supportive friend to a victim and help her or him do the right thing and hold sexual predators responsible for their illegal and criminal actions.
I know it’s not easy to do this. I know it’s complicated. I get that. But holding wrongdoers responsible for their illegal actions is always necessary. Hopefully, some of the tips I’ve shared will allow you to do just that.
Mitch Jackson is a 2009 Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year and a 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year (CLAY Award).
Related: My podcast interview with Sue Sheff, author of the new book “Shame Nation- The Global Epidemic of Online Hate”