Idaho is Noticing an Increase in Sexual Harassment Complaints
The Idaho Human Rights Commission recently announced it has noticed an increase in sexual harassment complaints following the onset of the #MeToo social media movement. Benjamin Earwicker, director of the commission, said the amount is higher now that it was in late 2017 with the commission indicating nearly a third of all 88 complaints regarding potential employee discrimination involve sexual harassment issues. Earwicker added that the increase in these types of complaints is unusual.
“I know we’ve been hearing more stories and allegations of sexual harassment of all types. I think the data show a significant increase in reported allegations of sexual harassment (between October and January) when compared with the three months before that,” Earwicker said.
The MeToo movement was originally started in 2006 to help give abuse survivors a voice and “find pathways to healing” according to its site. By way of initiating a hashtag, the movement began to increase in popularity last fall with men and women sharing personal stories of sexual harassment or assault via social media. #MeToo thrust a grassroots effort geared particularly toward women of color in low-income areas into the spotlight, now reaching millions globally.
“Our goal is to reframe and expand the global conversation around sexual violence to speak to the needs of a broader spectrum of survivors. Young people, queer, trans, and disabled folks, Black women and girls, and all communities of color. We want perpetrators to be held accountable and we want strategies implemented to sustain long-term, systemic change,” the website states.
Sexual harassment and assault allegations are filed as Title VII complaints, which is a federal law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. It’s the only federal law a state must enforce related to sexual harassment. The commission is also in charge of handling complaints under federal law referred to them by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and providing information on how organizations can prevent the creation of hostile work environments. Idaho currently has ten full-time employees tasked with investigating potential discriminatory cases involving employment, housing, education and public accommodations.
The commission only analyzed this fiscal year’s complaints regarding sexual harassment allegations when it reported an uptick. The numbers do not include how many of the complaints have been dismissed or resolved. “The situation is analogous to how we treat suicide and mental health,” said Lourdes Matsumoto, a Boise-based attorney. “There’s definitely a crisis out there. These are very personal and very emotional issues, and an increase in resources is absolutely going to be paramount in the future.”
Matsumoto added a noticeable upswing in sexual harassment allegations is encouraging because it demonstrates more awareness and attention on creating a safe place of employment for everyone in the workforce. “This needs to get more scrutiny. Even if the investigations show that the allegations don’t rise to the level, it’s still a good opportunity to revisit how the workplace can be safer and making a note on how to handle situations differently,” she said.