Sexual harassment at work: Trump’s banter sends a dangerous message
Over the past few weeks, we have heard about many sexist remarks from Republican presidential hopeful and self-proclaimed champion for women (yes, really), Donald Trump.
There are too many to quote here, but it looks like we may have reached peak Trump with the revelation he boasted about subjecting women to crude sexual advances by “grabbing them by the pussy”. Trump later dismissed concerns that what he described was actually sexual assault, saying the 2005 conversation which was recorded while filming a television episode, was merely “locker room banter”.
Apart from being sexist and outright offensive, Trump’s weak excuse about “locker room banter” has one damning effect. His dismissal rationalises and downplays the seriousness of his conduct which not only constituted sexual assault and harassment but also breached somebody’s fundamental human rights and dignity. By labelling his remarks as mere “banter”, Trump is telling us that sexual assault and harassment is a joke and should be tolerated. It’s exactly this kind of message that discourages victims from speaking out.
All too often I find myself meeting clients who have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. These clients are mainly women and the conduct they describe to me differs. In some instances, the harassment involves lewd remarks. In other instances, the harassment involves heinous, unwelcome sexual advances.
What these clients have in common, however, is a deep reluctance to formally complain about the sexual harassment they suffered. Some fear the repercussions that may flow from making a complaint to their job security or career progression in the future. Others fear their employer will ignore the conduct or characterise it as nothing more than a joke.
Under the Commonwealth’s Sex Discrimination Act 1984, sexual harassment at work is unlawful. But despite this legal protection, the fear felt by women in reporting sexual harassment remains.In its most recent national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, the Australian Human Rights Commission found that only one in five respondents who were sexually harassed made a formal report or complaint.
Why is this fear so enduring? No doubt it’s largely due to the presence of workplace cultures and attitudes that trivialise sexual harassment, and undermine those victims who dare to complain. And there can be no doubt that such sexist workplace cultures and attitudes are fed by the likes of Donald Trump’s casual and constant objectification of women and his claims it’s all braggadocio and backslaps.
Trump has even gone as far as to suggest sexual harassment is the responsibility of the victim to resolve. During an interview with USA Today, when asked a hypothetical question about his daughter experiencing sexual harassment at work, Trump responded, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” Again, the damaging message from the so-called champion for women is clear: don’t complain about sexual harassment, just move on.
In fact, telling victims to tolerate sexual harassment, keep their mouths shut and find another job is no solution at all – neither for the victim or society. The occurrence of sexual harassment in our workplaces will never be addressed and prevented if the nature and extent of the problem is unknown, and that will remain the case unless women are supported and encouraged to report incidents of sexual harassment.
Employers must be clear and genuine in the message they send women, and that message must be that not only is sexual harassment not tolerated at their workplace, but it will be the perpetrators not the victims who will suffer the consequences of their actions. That women will be listened to when they do speak out. That their voices will be heard over any so-called locker room banter.