Workplace sexual harassment reports down despite uptick in media

sexual harrasment

While there have been a slew of recent workplace sexual harassment reports against big company executives at Amazon, Uber, and most recently, the co-founder of The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein, the number of reported workplace claims has actually decreased over the years.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 6,758 sexual harassment claims were filed in 2016, which is down from the 7,944 cases that were reported in 2010.

However, overall sex-based harassment charges are increasing, the EEOC reports. In 2016, there were 12,860 cases reported, which is a slight uptick from 2010 at 12,695 cases.

The reason says the CEO of American Association of University Women (AAUW), Kimberly Churches, is that many workers are still afraid to come forward.

“It’s difficult to judge as to sheer volume of sexual harassment cases as so many are afraid of retribution and don’t report the harassment they face in the workplace – so many fear losing their paycheck or career opportunities if they speak up,” Churches told FOX Business.

Christine Nazer, a spokesperson for EEOC, told FOX Business, while the drop is “not really significant,” it is important to remember that these numbers are only a snapshot of what is happening and certainly not “a full picture.”

“First, though we don’t know for sure, we feel confident that this may just be the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents of sexual harassment go unreported. It can be a difficult decision as to whether to come forward and file a charge with EEOC. Many people fear the stigma that may come with complaining, loss of their job or promotion potential, and some may even feel threatened physically or emotionally if they did so. Thus, these numbers should not be relied upon to give a realistic picture of sexual harassment in our country,” Nazer said.

“Sexual harassment can occur in any workplace setting – from agricultural fields, factory floors to so-called ‘white collar’ jobs. It is pervasive, regardless of the level of the employee. The sex of the victim can be male or female; accordingly, the harassment can involve same-sex individuals.”

Yet, despite the decline in reported cases, there have been many high-profile claims in recent years.

In June, Uber fired about 20 employees, including some senior executives, after an investigation into more than 200 sexual harassment and other workplace-misconduct claims. Forty additional employees were reportedly reprimanded or referred to counseling and/or training. The reports forced the company to set up a hotline for employees and former employees to file new complaints.

In 2016, a jury awarded almost $8 million to a former Houston-based Chipotle Mexican Grill employee, who said she was sexually assaulted and sexually harassed and that at least one other manager knew about it. It was one of the largest lawsuit awards of its kind.

In 2014, JPMorgan Chase paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit that charged the financial giant with maintaining a sexually hostile work environment toward its female mortgage bankers assigned to its Polaris Park facility, located outside Columbus, Ohio. According to the lawsuit, the situation consisted of sexually charged behavior and comments from the supervisory staff and participating mortgage bankers, which resulted in a sexist and uncivil atmosphere.

“I don’t personally know a woman who hasn’t faced sexual harassment at some stage of her career,” Churches said. But she added that change is happening and companies are finally taking more action to prevent sexual harassment in their work environments.

“We’re seeing for-profit and nonprofit organizations ensuring unconscious or implicit bias training is taking place more regularly in their companies to help counter the leadership gap and lack of opportunities for women and minorities, which includes education and policies on sexual harassment.”

AAUW recommends that all employees should read their employer’s handbook and policies as it relates to sexual harassment and if you’ve been victimized, you should first speak to close family, friends to build resources around you and make sure to document everything.