Sexual Harassment; How Has It Changed Within Generations?

Angela Cene

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is physical and verbal advances that are unwanted. Being touched in an uncomfortable manner or hearing inappropriate comments towards you through words, texts, or emails. Many do not know the full definition of sexual harassment, it is important to know the correct definition of sexual harassment therefore you understand if you experienced it yourself or are doing it to others. Women from all races, ages, and cultures have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime yet, many women who experience sexual harassment reach out for help and don’t get it. In fact, a majority of sexual harassment claims have never reached court, ultimately never receiving the justice that they deserve. There has been progress made for women, but it is not enough & we all must keep fighting.  Throughout history, the justice system has failed women; What has changed, and what continues to stay the same? 

1964: Congress Passes The Civil Rights Act: This was a turning point in American history. It ended segregation and discrimination of gender, race, and religion. This was huge for women- the Civil Rights Act gave women more rights and freedom. Women were able to fight against workplace discrimination and gain more control over their lives since they did not have much, to begin with.

1980: Equal Employment & Opportunity Commission Legally Make Sexual Harassment a Form of Discrimination: During this time sex discrimination had only been illegal in the United States since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Although the law was passed, sexual harassment cases had not been brought into the supreme court until the 1970s and did not consider sexual harassment as an issue until the 1980s. Since sexual harassment was not considered an issue for generations it was for women hard to understand or grasp the idea that they were sexually harassed. This would lead to victims blaming themselves or ignoring the issue totally.

1993: Violence Against Women Act bill was passed: When the VAWA bill was passed, law enforcement treated gender violence as a crime and not a “private family issue.” VAWA also strengthened the protections for the victims of sexual violence and their families. This made women a bit more protected and heard by others, knowing that there were other women experiencing the same situations and that it was taken more seriously.

2000: National Sexual Violence Resource center was first established: Still here today, the center was made in order to prevent sexual violence and respond to the victims who needed help. Women had a place to reach out to about their sexual harassment therefore they would get help and be more vocal. This was important for women to be able to express their trauma and experiences.

2015: The U.S Transgender Survey: This survey shows 47% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted. In the LGBTQ+ community those of color; American Indian (65%), Multiracial (59%), Middle Eastern (58%), and Black (53%). This survey included that 48% of Bisexual women were first raped from ages 11 to 17. The LGBTQ+ community already lives with the fear of something happening to them because of their sexuality, now being sexually harassed because of their sexuality increases the fear in their everyday lives.

2017: The #MeToo movement went viral on social media: Women from all over the world shared their sexual harassment experiences so that other women did not feel alone to speak up. Women had to build their own community to support each other because America still did not serve women full justice. An online survey called “Stop Street Harassment” proved that 81% of women had experienced sexual harassment up until that time. In addition, it had been shown in a poll that ages 14-17 had the highest percentage of when they first started sexual harassment compared to other ages.

2020: Data from ONS released: It showed that 750,000 adults from ages 16-74 were victims of sexual harassment and assault in March 2020. Out of those adults, 618,000 were female, which is four times the number of male victims. In another survey, 22.9% of women compared to 4.4% of men reported to have been sexually assaulted since the age of 16. Sexual violence has an impact on victim’s and survivor’s mental health. Being sexually harassed is scary for victims and affects how they see people and the world. It is hard for victims to create friendships and relationships with trust. Victims continue their lives with the fear of a situation occurring again especially if their abuser never gets punished for it, they feel like the system is against them and there is no hope. The majority of them do not go to the police because of fear that they will be victim-blamed or not receiving the justice they deserve.

2021: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women: Information released at the start of March 2021 that 97% of women ages 18 to 24 are victims of sexual harassment. This study has been all over social media after the death of Sarah Everard. Sarah was arrested on March 9th and on March 10th the remains of her body were found in a bag. This made women share their stories using the #97Percent. When sharing their stories women did not realize they were part of that 97% until they heard the experiences of others. It shows that many women are taught to ignore or forget what happened to them which makes them think they are not victims of sexual harassment.

What’s Next?
There has been a lot of progress and work done towards women and their rights, but there is still so much work needed to be done. Though progress seems to have been made, sexual harassment is still a glaring reality for 97% of women. From being catcalled or followed while walking home to being touched or looked at inappropriately while you’re trying to work creates a constant fear. The fact that there are huge numbers of cases of sexual assault and little to no justice women are afraid to speak up and go get help because those who have spoken up have never gotten what is needed. No young girl should be taught at an early age how to protect herself from predators and no woman should have to clench her keys thinking she might need to use them for self-defense. In order for change to occur, we must talk about it! As shown in this timeline there are laws created in order to protect women, but they are not being enforced correctly, compared to how often women are experiencing sexual harassment this should be taken more seriously.