If you asked people to name the types of workplaces where they would expect to find sexual harassment, not too many would list “coffee shop.” Most would probably list a factory or other blue-collar workplace. This week’s news reinforces that sexual harassment is in fact found in unexpected places.
This week, a former employee of a Brooklyn-area Starbucks filed suit in New York federal court against the company, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. According to the Complaint, on numerous occasions, male baristas pushed the plaintiff against a wall and rubbed against her buttocks. They also made jokes about the store’s basement being a “rape room.” When the plaintiff complained, she alleges, Starbucks fired her without explanation.
Also in the news this week is the arrest of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Krusinski for allegedly groping a women in a parking lot. Now on leave, Krusinski is head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. His arrest underscores the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military — which after all, is a workplace for our armed forces — that has become increasingly visible over the past few years. According to a Pentagon report, there were 3,374 reported instances of sexual harassment and assault in fiscal year 2012, a 6% increase from the previous year. Equally disturbing are the instances of unreported sexual harassment, which the Pentagon estimated to be upwards of 26,000 in 2012, a marked increase from the 19,000 estimated in 2011. It is not hard to understand why sexual harassment is a problem in military workplaces when an officer in charge of eradicating it may himself be guilty of outrageously inappropriate sexual behavior, and when so many instances are apparently going unreported.
There are at least two critical lessons to take from these news stories. First, sexual harassment can happen in any workplace — from a coffee shop to a military base. Second, harassment doesn’t go away by itself. Only when victims and witnesses come forward and report the inappropriate behavior is there any hope of it stopping. As we see with the Pentagon report, failing to report harassment creates a culture where it becomes tolerated. Failing to report harassment also encourages harassers to continue (or escalate) their behavior with current and future victims.
The effects of sexual harassment on victims can be devastating. Many times, the emotional and psychological effects are worse than the economic effects of resultant job loss. No matter where people work, the only way to stop sexual harassment is to report it.