Who are the Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Workplace sexual harassment is surrounded by a lot of social stigmas and misconceptions. One of the most harmful for victims is the notion that only prototypical women can become victims. In reality, anyone can become a victim of sexual harassment at work – including nonprototypical people such as men, masculine-presenting women, women of color and transgender individuals. Learning who the victims of workplace sexual harassment actually are can help you spread awareness the right way.

Criticisms of the #MeToo Movement

In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral after a social media post by Alyssa Milano that shared her sexual assault story involving Harvey Weinstein. Although the movement was founded by Tarana Burke in 2006, it did not gain international recognition until Milano’s post, after which it became a social medial phenomenon. Millions of women across the globe shared their #MeToo stories to spread awareness of sexual abuse and harassment.

While the #MeToo movement sparked important conversations about sexual harassment and sexual assault, many were quick to criticize it for furthering the perception that women who are prototypical are the most likely to be sexually harassed. A prototypical woman is someone who fits within social norms – for example, a pretty, thin woman who is feminine-presenting. This stigma leads to the neglect of nonprototypical women and others in perceptions of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.

Prototypical Women and Social Perceptions

A #MeToo-inspired study by the University of Washington explored social perceptions in connection to sexual harassment. The study tested 4,000 participants to find out who they believed was sexually harassed. The results of the study found that the participants generally perceived the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to be prototypical women. The association was so strong that the exact same headshot of a woman was viewed as more prototypical after participants were told she was sexually harassed.

The study shed light on a significant issue that stands in the way of sexual harassment laws and the protection of vulnerable workers: the perception that prototypical women are the only ones who get sexually harassed at work. This misconception can make workers who are not prototypical appear less credible when they come forward with allegations of sexual harassment. It can also make a harasser seem less guilty and deserving of criminal consequences. This hurts the victim’s chance of achieving justice and lowers the odds of marginalized workers speaking out.

Who is Actually Harassed

Understanding the idea of the prototypical woman is important to the way forward for protecting workers. It is necessary to look beyond social norms and what the prototypical woman looks like to protect all women in the workplace – especially since studies show that intersectional employees are the population most likely to be harassed at work.

Being intersectional means a worker is part of more than one protected class: race, sex, color, age, disability or religion. Black women, for example, are more likely to suffer sexual harassment than Black men or Caucasian women. This is because Black women are part of two protected classes: the female sex and a racial minority. Any worker who is marginalized in two or more respects is most at risk of workplace sexual harassment. This is the opposite of society’s perceptions regarding prototypical women.

Getting Legal Help for Workplace Harassment

If you are a survivor of sexual harassment in Los Angeles and are afraid to speak out for fear of not being believed or social perceptions, don’t hesitate to contact Mathew & George. Our sexual harassment law firm has the resources and experience you need to help with your lawsuit. We can protect your safety and rights as you find your voice in the civil justice system.

Find out how we can help you with a lawsuit today. Start your workplace sexual harassment case with a free consultation in LA.