Sexual harassment has been a significant issue in 2016, touching areas from the presidential campaign to high-profile lawsuits against media moguls. And while the events of this past year are no doubt part of a trend that has gone on for decades, despite vigorous battles by courageous victims and their attorneys, their occurrence at the forefront of news coverage in 2016 and the general public discussion may help victims and those wishing to stop the behavior better understand what sexual harassment is and how to stop it.

“Locker Room Talk” or Sexual Harassment?

In a now infamous moment, a 2005 Access Hollywood tape revealed presidential candidate Donald Trump talking openly and candidly about kissing women without their permission and touching their genitals, with the explanation, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” While his confidante on the tape laughed and went along with the proclamations in 2005, the response 11 years later has been much different. At a debate two days later, moderator Anderson Cooper confronted the candidate, asking if he understood that the actions he described constituted “sexual assault.” Transcending political views and party affiliation, many in the country have expressed outrage over what Mr. Trump and others have tried to dismiss as so-called harmless “locker room talk.” Unwanted sexual advances such as those described in the Access Hollywood video may certainly form the basis of a successful sexual harassment suit. Yet such talk alone (absent any physical touching) can also be the foundation for a sexual harassment claim if such talk is “unwelcome” by anyone present to hear it, not simply unwelcome by the person to whom the words are intended.

Too Often Victims Do Not Come Forward Out of Fear of Public Shaming

Following the release of the tape, a number of women have come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment involving Mr. Trump. The timing and nature of these accusations has understandably caused some to question why the women did not come forward with their stories earlier, and left open the argument that the stories must have been fabricated. Given the scrutiny that women who report sexual harassment face, however, it is no surprise that many choose to not share their stories and only later do so when other reports of similar behavior surface. It should go without saying that major politicians from both the Republican and Democratic party have faced allegations of sexual harassment over the decades (including former President Bill Clinton who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for nearly $1 million), and many of the women have faced intense pushback for being politically motivated and as a result have been ridiculed in the press for telling their stories. We can only hope that this blame-the-victim mentality ends from partisans on both sides of the political spectrum going forward.

What many still may not realize, however, is that a significant number of sexual harassment claims are resolved without ever filing a public lawsuit. Several dozen claims may privately and confidentially settle for every one that is made public. So fear of public shaming need not be the concern that too many victims unfortunately believe that it is.

Encouraging Victims of Sexual Harassment to Come Forward

In another high-profile news story of 2016, former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes resigned from his position after several women, including on-air host Gretchen Carlson, accused him of sexual harassment. According to various allegations, Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances towards employees of the company and had made inappropriate sexual comments regarding employees. Carlson received a $20 million settlement in her sexual harassment lawsuit, and Fox reportedly offered settlements to two other women who brought cases. There could be several others. Sometimes it only takes one person to oppose the harassment to give others courage to oppose it too, including those who have tolerated the harassment only because they were afraid of losing their jobs.

Speak With Trusted Attorneys Regarding Sexual Harassment

No matter your politics or ideological persuasion, you should never have to endure sexual harassment or feel disempowered to report it when it occurs. California law protects the workplace from sexual harassment. The attorneys at Sessions & Kimball are some of Orange County’s best sexual harassment lawyers. Not only have they recovered millions for sexual harassment clients, but they have helped these men and women put distressing events behind them and secure a sense of justice. Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.