LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Weinstein revelations have once again shone a light on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly — but rampant sexual harassment in the workplace is hardly confined to the glamorous world of show business.
From the cleaning industry to the corporate world, a common thread is bosses or colleagues who abuse positions of authority to coerce their victims, often safe in the knowledge their behavior can remain hidden.
Show business is particularly vulnerable because of its highly competitive nature and a traditional reliance on personal relations and networking, says Ann Fromholz, a lawyer who specializes in harassment.
“The standards for entry and promotion aren’t strictly on merit, it can be your looks, it may be who you know,” she says, adding: “People who are already in the industry often put up with behavior they hate because, at least until now, it was the price of admission.”
The Harvey Weinstein scandal illustrates the problem at its most extreme: the disgraced Hollywood producer stands accused by around 40 actresses of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault to rape.
But Fromholz says she has encountered “horror stories” from janitors, farm laborers and restaurant workers too — sectors that in the US are heavily-filled by undocumented workers who fear not only losing their jobs but being deported.
“There is sort of a black humor joke among the employment lawyers, we say that workplaces with beds are really a terrible idea, so that’s talking about hotels and hospitals at the very least,” she adds.
Other typical scenarios revolve around powerful men whose misconduct can go unchecked: high-flying lawyers; Silicon Valley investors who can make or break a business; or celebrated TV personalities like Bill O’Reilly, whose long reign at Fox News was recently brought to a close by an avalanche of harassment claims.
A survey of 2,200 women carried out in 2015 by Cosmopolitan magazine found that one in every three had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, including unwanted physical or verbal advances and demands for sexual favors.