Sexual harassment claims are up this year which is no surprise given the ever-growing #Me Too movement. Founded in 2006, the movement went viral in October 2017, following the sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Actress Alyssa Milano is credited with popularizing the hashtag #Me Too through her twitter post on October 15, 2017, encouraging victims of sexual harassment to tweet about their experiences to demonstrate the magnitude of sexual harassment. She tweeted:
Me too. Suggested by a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
She added: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within twenty-four hours, the hashtag had been retweeted over 500,000 times and used by more than 4.7 million Facebook users in 12 million posts.
And yes, Milano’s activism in the #Me Too movement is why she was a guest of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the sexual assault allegations by Christine Blasey Ford against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
So, here we are, one year later looking back at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s preliminary data for fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018). This decade, sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC had dropped steadily from year to year starting with a high of 7,944 in 2010 to a low of 6,696 in 2017. But in FY 2018, sexual harassment charges increased by 12% to 7,500. That’s the first time this decade that sexual harassment claims have risen. The number of sexual harassment lawsuits filed by the EEOC has also increased–by 50%, and overall the EEOC recovered nearly $70,000 for sexual harassment victims this year as compared to $47.5 million the year prior.
With the increased focus on sexual harassment claims by victims and the EEOC, it is more important than ever for employers to understand what constitutes sexual harassment, how to prevent it, and how to pick up the pieces when sexual harassment occurs.