Scroll through your phone, go through the check-out line, turn on a screen and you are likely to see something related to #MeToo. You’d think corporate America and government would get the message, but two recent local examples would argue against that.
At the International House of Pancakes locations in Glen Carbon and Alton, 16 employees were just awarded $975,000 because the sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting the harassment got so bad.
“They would follow us into the walk-in (cooler) when we went in there to get some produce to stock and they would pin us against the wall and touch us,” said one waitress, who was a single mom and needed the job. “It was really scary.”
Parents of teen workers complained. A manager encouraged workers to allow the groping so the kitchen staff would work better for them. One server was fired after complaining to the corporate office, and her manager demoted for refusing to create records making it look like the server was fired for attendance problems.
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Part of the settlement is IHOP’s agreement that the two restaurants would create harsher policies to deal with sexual harassment and create a complaint procedure. The amazing part is that in 2018, those policies and procedures were not already in place.
The second example involves a Belleville Police officer being investigated after a woman said he tried to force her to perform a sex act. The officer is on paid administrative leave and Illinois State Police are investigating.
If the allegations are proven, it wouldn’t be the first time someone with a gun and badge crossed that line and took advantage of their authority or the threat of force. Belleville has procedures in place and insurance to cover itself, but this would be a good time for city leaders to examine the department’s culture and training to ensure no one is sending the wrong message.
Earlier this year a survey by Stop Street Harassment found four of every five women and two of five men had been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. While most of the harassment was verbal, half of the women said they were groped and more than one-quarter were sexually assaulted.
Two of every five women reported being harassed in the workplace.
So back to the training and reporting, whether it be conducted by private or public employers.
Sexual harassment training is important, but it doesn’t necessarily fix things. Experts say it too often sets up scenarios with “victims” and “abusers,” but those most likely to equate their sexuality with power are also most likely to think the labels don’t apply to them. Plus, the most effective programs take four hours and are conducted by direct supervisors, not some scold from HR.
What is too often missing from the solution is the innocent bystander, the person who sees sexual harassment and does nothing. If you see harassment at work, you can interrupt the situation or offer support to the harassed person.
You can also create a civil atmosphere at work. Sometimes the little pieces of disrespect create a place where big disrespects are possible.
Above all, you can see sexual harassment as a problem. Four of five women. Two of five men.