Sexual harassment, defined: Local communities share their policies

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Charlie Rose, Senator Al Franken, and now Matt Lauer. Every news cycle seems to bring new sexual harassment allegations to light. From Congress to Hollywood, it seems like cases of sexual harassment are becoming more widespread.

Sexual harassment isn’t new — it’s been going on for a long time. But the public’s reaction to the problem has changed.

“Sexual assault, basically, has legal consequences and sexual harassment is kind of looked at as a culture that has been accepted,” said Dawn Powell, with the Compass Rape Crisis Center in Youngstown.

That’s changing, though. The #MeToo social media movement allowed women to share their experiences of sexual abuse.

Many said sexual harassment can turn into sexual assault.

“Very quickly, it can and what has happened is because the #MeToo movement includes sexual assault and sexual harassment, it’s actually drawing more attention for sexual harassment, as you hear in the news today,” Powell said.

Most employers have strict guidelines in place to deal with allegations of sexual harassment.

Mahoning County’s Board of Commissioners submitted to WYTV its policy on sexual harassment. The board defines sexual harassment, in part, as:

4a. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

b. Submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;

c. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or

d. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Harassment on the basis of an employee’s membership in any protected classification [race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability, physical or mental disability, genetic information, or military status] is unlawful, will not be tolerated, and must be reported.”

Examples of sexual harassment, as listed in Mahoning County’s policy, are:

  • Repeated unwelcome or offensive sexual flirtations, advances, or propositions
  • Verbal abuse of a sexual nature
  • Graphic or degrading verbal comments about an individual or his/her appearance
  • The display or distribution of sexually aggressive objects or pictures
  • Unwelcome or offensive verbal or written communication of sexually suggestive material, including “jokes”
  • Any unwelcome or offensive physical contact

Read Mahoning County’s complete harassment/discrimination policy

In the City of Niles, council set the rules by law. The city has clear definitions of what actions can be considered sexual harassment.

“Offensive sexual flirtation, advances, in a repetitive nature, repeated verbal abuse and stuff of that nature,” said Niles Service Director Ed Stredney.

As service director, Stredney oversees employees throughout the city and while office protocol may have been different in the past, he said that attitude has changed.

“You should know you’re going to be able to go to work in a safe environment. That should not be a thought process in what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Like many employers, Niles has rules and regulations that prevent retaliation against victims who report harassment.

Stredney added that each sexual harassment claim is dealt with individually — there’s no “one size fits all” response.

Allegations that turn out to be true can lead to several forms of punishment. The harassing worker could be fired, even if it’s a first offense, depending on the degree of violation.

Next week, there’s a workshop at the Davis YMCA in Boardman. Local victims of sexual harassment are invited to gather together in the hope they will find healing in sharing their experiences.

“It’s empowerment through empathy. The opportunity to have…men and women who have had the same experience to come together and work toward figuring things out for themselves,” Powell said.

Those meetings will take place at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday, December 4.