We are experiencing a watershed moment in relation to sexual harassment: boldface names fall daily, and women are speaking up as never before. This is one of those moments when norms change, presenting a tremendous opportunity. Proposals that seemed unrealistic last year could now be taken seriously in the political sphere.
In the Guardian last weekend, Sharon Block and I outlined an agenda for bringing sexual harassment to light sooner, punishing it appropriately, and above all, preventing it in the first place. In the interest of furthering the conversation, this post elaborates on those ideas, and also aggregates several noteworthy articles proposing thoughtful reforms.
by Celine McNicholas, Labor Counsel, Economic Policy Institute and Sharon Block, Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School
After the news that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and assaulting women in the movie industry for decades, millions of women shared their stories with the hashtag #metoo. The social media campaign shined a light on a fact that to many women: sexual harassment is a daily fact of life in the workplace. Many American corporations foster—or at least tolerate—widespread, egregious sexual harassment of their workers, even all these years after U.S. law first recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. As the Supreme Court considers the first case of its term, National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, we hope they have read the stories about Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and other men, as well as the millions of people who spoke up online.
This June marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Its principal provision reads as follows:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Educational institutions from primary schools to universities who receive federal funding are subject to the law. Title IX is best known for having transformed the arena of women’s sports. Title IX, however, has a much broader reach: it applies also to sexual violence and sexual harassment. One of the more controversial aspects of Title IX jurisprudence is that sexual harassment is not only defined by persistent behavior but may also be found in a single episode. This latter fact is the subject of numerous critiques. But what is sometimes missed in such criticism is the full nature of even a “single episode” of harassment, especially within educational institutions.