December 1996 Home   Newsletters

January 1997

February 1997

President's Message (Astrid Monson)
League Testifies on Proposed Tax Changes (Astrid Monson)
December General Membership Planning Meeting (Jean Aoki & Astrid Monson)
Member Alert
This Land Was Your Land (Donella Meadows)
In Memoriam
Sexual Harassment (Ina Percival)
Vote Count (Arlene Ellis)
Domestic Violence and Welfare (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Planning & Zoning Committee Needs More Members (Astrid Monson)
Membership
Orientation Meeting (Grace Furukawa)

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that typically involves female victims and male perpetrators, undermining professional relationships and victims' roles as students, workers or colleagues.

It is the most widespread of all forms of sexual victimization and typically occurs at work and in school environments. It's victims experience a greatly reduced quality of life, with a devasting affect on physical and emotional health.

Like other abusive behavior, sexual harassment can also take an enormous economic toll in lost productivity, legal fees, and medical and mental health services. When this abuse occurs in city, country or state agencies, Hawai'i taxpayers foot the bill.

Because sexual harassment is inappropriate and illegal, any employer can be held legally responsible for its impact in the work place. Unfortunately, an increasing number of female workers and students report incidents of sexual harassment in our communities.

Yet, many employers, both public and private, do not have consistent and appropriate policies relating the prevention or reporting of sexual harassment, or they lack an effective and judicious means of implementing policies that do exist.

In addition, embarking on a legal remedy creates a cost, drawn out process for all parties involved that often places victims in an even more precarious situations, both emotionally and economically.

Like many areas of abusive behavior, available data is incomplete because collecting it has not been a policy priority here in Hawai'i. We know from national studies that up to 75% of students report experiencing sexual harassment at school and 33 % of them do not want to continue to attend school for this reason.

At least 42% of women and 14% of men in the federal workplace reported experiencing some form of actionable sexual harassment over a two year period. Women are nine times more likely than men to quit a job and three times more likely to lose a job due to sexual harassment.

Here in Hawai'i, 35% of males responding to a survey at the University of Hawai'i admitted to committing acts which are legally classified as sexual assault. Specifically related to sexual harassment, another survey found that 95% of female and 87% of male students at UHM believe sexual intimidation is a serious social problem.

In addition, at least 18% of workers in Hawai'i have reported experiencing or observing sexual harassment within the last three years. And students in primary, secondary and higher education classrooms experience sexual harassment at rates similar to their counterparts across the country.

The prevention of sexual harassment is part of a continuum for the prevention of all forms of violence against women, including partner abuse and sexual assault, because a social context that ignores or supports sexual harassment is conducive to a variety of other abusive behaviors.

Currently in Hawai'i, no single state agency exists to coordinate, conduct or monitor the development of consistent and effective sexual harassment policies and procedures in state agencies. Nor is the a coordinated, committed effort to conduct appropriate and thorough training or directors and other management personnel in the federal and state statues and policy guidelines that address the scope of sexual harassment issues in the work place.

This situation can make the State of Hawai'i highly vulnerable to extremely expensive legal fees, costs in lost worker productivity, and medical and mental health service.

In examining these issues, the Hawai'i Women's Coalition has begun advocating a prevention approach that incorporates education, training, and enforcement. It is hoped that such an approach will increase the reporting rate of sexual harassment incidents, reduce their occurrence over time, increase worker productivity, result in more hospitable work places, and reduce the long term financial burdens that could face our publicly funded institutions.

Ina Percival

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