With the recent surge of sexual harassment disclosures and the outpouring of solidarity in the #metoo campaign, it has become undeniably clear that sexism is alive and well in our modern age. In one respect, recent months have been extremely illuminating, but in another respect, the reports of sexual assault and harassment have only confirmed something many of us already know, but rarely talk about: harassment is a daily occurrence, especially for women.
Oppression Against Women
Though men may be subject to these same caprices of power, it is women who take the brunt of the attack. According to some, nearly a quarter of all female-identifying employees experience some form of harassment in the workplace – some sources even suggest that a third of all women are subject to this cruelty. Whatever the exact number, it’s safe to say that too many women must face this unnecessary hardship. And because of a fear of being fired, shamed or worse, many women opt out of reporting the harassment, choosing instead to bear the burden alone.
Sadly, the court-system in the US is not well equipped for the actuality of disclosures, which tend to come long after the incident. According to an attorney who spoke with the Huffington Post, the statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit is between six and 10 months, depending on the jurisdiction. That means women have six to 10 months to report the harassment. Failing that, the courts won’t recognize the claims.
This is rather upsetting for the countless women who, for the reasons mentioned, feel too unsafe to come forward. After all, reporting the incident and filing a lawsuit can sometimes result in retraumatization. Thus, it might seem like less of a burden to avoid it altogether.
To make matters worse, once the 10-month limit has passed, if you come forward with accusations of sexual harassment, your harasser can sue you for defamation or tortious interference – a technical term meaning interference with employment. To avoid this outcome, it’s advisable that you consult with a skilled employment attorney who understands the complexities of this type of case.
So what exactly should a person do if she wants to report harassment long after the event? By this point, one or both parties may be employed at different companies, and generally speaking, it’s impossible to obtain remuneration for damages after the 10-month limit (in federal cases, anyway). Even though you can’t receive just compensation for your injuries, you can still warn others of a potential harasser and thus prevent the perpetuation of harm at a different workplace. To do this properly, it’s important to collect any evidence you may have in relation to the incident(s). Gather any emails, recorded phone calls, images or anything of the sort that might help solidify your claims against this person. Without the proper evidence, you may have a hard time effectuating your claims, as the harassers’ employer may not be able to do anything without credible substantiation.
If you lack evidence, you can call the HR person at your former harasser’s current workplace and notify him or her of the previous incident. Once again, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney who can guide you through the dos and don’ts of reporting an incident after-the-fact.
Finally, if possible, it’s always better to have multiple people come forward, as it’s more difficult to counter claims coming from multiple parties. If you know other people who have been harassed by the same person, approach them and ask whether they’d feel comfortable reporting the behavior.
And if the employer fails to look into the matter – which is very likely – you can turn to the internet to spread the word. Sites like Glassdoor allow you to post reviews. This can be an effective way of communicating your concerns to other potential victims.
Seeking Help of All Kinds
Remember, sexual harassment refers to a whole set of behaviors that may or may not be physical. If a person has porn open on their computer, if they make inappropriate gestures or if they make comments about you and your body, sexual harassment may have occurred. Of course, reporting the incident is not necessarily the only course of action. As attorney Toni Jaramilla told the LA Times, “Sexual harassment really negatively impacts your psyche, your well-being, and so I think looking for some therapy or assistance in that regard is important.”
Since the statute of limitations varies between jurisdictions, it is advisable that you seek out legal advice as soon as possible. An attorney can fill you in on what you need to know to move forward with your claims.