The issue of sexual harassment has felt especially prominent following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. But will it actually change anything?
The repercussions are already being felt: On Tuesday, Amazon studio head Roy Price resigned after being accused of sexual harassment last week.
From recalling horrifying instances on Facebook to sharing a simple #MeToo on Twitter, women everywhere have banded together to call for an end to sexual misconduct.
How will the movement change the workforce for women? And what can women do to stop the harassment? Here’s what you need to know.
Does more women speaking out help?
It’s possible the Weinstein controversy could improve matters for women if more continue to come forward, says New Jersey based attorney Nancy Erika Smith, who successfully represented former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her recent sexual harassment suit against the company.
“If more and more women feel empowered to speak out, companies may decide that this kind of fallout [from sexual harassment] finally won’t be worth it,” she tells PEOPLE. “They can bring in HR procedures and people who are really trying to protect women not just protect the company.”
High-powered women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred agrees. The celebrated lawyer is representing some of the women who have made claims against Weinstein.
“For a long time predators have underestimated victims and underestimated women, and I think they are now going to reassess,” Allred says. “That fear that has kept women down and victims silent may not be able to be used as a weapon anymore to safeguard the predators so that they can continue to prey on victims.”
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Will companies have to change their policies?
California based criminal and civil defense lawyer David Diamond thinks the movement will lead to “a lot more detail oriented and objective investigations” into sexual misconduct allegations.
A major recent problem, says Diamond, is formerly-powerful men being given “golden parachutes” — meaning millions of dollars to walk away. The attorney believes change will only come if companies do the exact opposite.
“Corporate entities need to have clauses in all employment contracts that if you are found to have committed sexual harassment, you are terminated,” he says. “It has to be black and white, there can be no more grey areas. It needs to be clear that if you commit sexual harassment that you will be terminated without a golden parachute; you leave with nothing. Taking a hardline approach like that is the only way to stop it.”
Will it influence legislature?
Will the scandal also also have an effect in criminal and civil court? That’s very likely, says Los Angeles criminal justice attorney Alaleh Kamran, who tells PEOPLE the public outcry could impact legislature.
“I think what we’re going to end up seeing is statutes are going to be enacted in the more progressive states that are going to allow lawsuits to go forward past what we have now as statutes of limitations,” Kamran says. “I think jurors are going to be more lenient in granting bigger awards and in granting more punitive awards.”
What should women know before coming forward?
The main obstacle in the way of positive change is that women still feel reluctant to file complaints in fear of retaliation from their companies, says Smith. The attorney’s solution to the issue: Companies must hire independent investigators in charge of these claims to make sure women aren’t put at a disadvantage.
Most importantly, any woman coming forward with a sexual harassment claim needs to know her rights before doing so by going to a lawyer and finding out what the laws are in each state, Smith says. A lawyer can help determine how the type of harassment might be viewed in the state and find out what the statute of limitations is for each infraction. They can also protect victims and gather evidence, depending on what the law allows.
“There are ways you can protect yourself,” adds Smith. “In some states, you can tape record what’s happening in your work place, but in other states you’re not allowed to. We don’t have unified laws. I would encourage women to know their rights before they approach anybody in the company.”
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Are we already starting to see the repercussions?
The most direct consequence seems to be former Amazon studio head Roy Price stepping down after being accused of sexual harassment last week. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Isa Hackett, daughter of author Philip K. Dick and executive producer of Amazon series Man in the High Castle, accused Price of propositioning her at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015.
Hackett said she was “inspired” to go public with the incident following the “braver” women who came forward with accusations against Weinstein. Price quickly went on a leave of absence after the report came out and later resigned from his post, all while the Weinstein scandal continued.
- With reporting by Mike Miller