In pursuit of progress: sexual assault and harassment awareness

Madison Prather, Staff Writer

Update: film producer Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual assault. Update: journalist Mark Halperin accused of sexual harassment. Update: film star Kevin Spacey accused. Update: politician Roy Moore accused. Update: senator John Conyers accused. Update: television journalist Matt Lauer. Update: singer-songwriter Melanie Martinez. Update. Update. Update.

As of December 6 of this year, there were over 3 million tweets about the #MeToo movement. One of these was by American actress, author, and activist Marlee Matlin: “#MeToo. I was 14, he was 36. I may be Deaf, but silence is the last thing you will ever hear from me.”

This flood of stories and accusations, primarily through Twitter and widely focused on by the media, is an interesting phenomenon. The reason for this large spotlight is likely due to many factors. Through this movement, everyday people can contribute to this national topic with personal experiences that are certainly heavy impacts on their lives. By reading stories, people can understand the lasting trauma. By retweeting stories, people can stand up for their peers.

In the midst of this debacle, Time magazine has chosen its Person of the Year to be “The Silence Breakers,” featuring six women, each victims of sexual harassment or assault. One of these women could not disclose her identity as she feared it would negatively impact her family, so only her arm is shown in the cover photo. This anonymous woman represents all those who are unable reveal their identities as victims. As the Time Person of the Year is one who has impacted the past year the most, whether for better or worse, this selection further points out the magnitude of this new social awareness.

With this massive wave of accusations and stories, we are now at a tipping point as a society and therefore need to have honest conversations to determine how we will alter our habits and policies to better align with our new awareness of this issue.

One of the current workplace policies in the midst of debate is whether men and women who are accused of sexual assault or harassment should be fired from their jobs.

If the accusation is of sexual assault, such as rape, then they should certainly be fired, as assault is a serious crime.

However, if the accusation is sexual harassment, such as lewd jokes or unwanted, inappropriate, repeated calls or texts, each individual situation would warrant a different response. For example, if this harassment was in the past and is no longer affecting one’s current job, and the employee is currently a valued member of the team, then firing might not be the most appropriate response. But, if this harassment is currently affecting coworkers and impeding workplace safety or productivity, then firing that employee may be more appropriate. Still, depending on the situation, perhaps denying a promotion or raise, and requiring counseling may be appropriate discipline. And, if the employee continues to be a problem, then firing could be the next step.

While many high school students are not yet in the workforce, we are the next wave of employees to join this developing culture of refusing to tolerate sexual harassment or assault. We cannot let this movement pass without positive, lasting change. We are moving in the right direction, but individual choices will determine the effects of this movement.