Power in the Workplace: A look at sexual harrassment issues

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Every time you turn the television on or open social media, it seems another survivor off sexual harassment is coming forward with his or her story.

Sexual harassment is nothing new, but what is new is the heightened national conversation on the topic, which is making an impact across the country, including in eastern North Carolina.

Sexual harassment is defined as harassment in a workplace or other professional or social situation involving unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal and physical conduct.

Officials in the East said it usually starts off as little side comments that grow to be humiliating and degraded.

Those same officials sat down with 9 On Your Side to discuss the local impact the national conversation is making.

“When the nation looks at any crime, it allows for individuals and local communities to look at it and give it the attention it deserves,” said Tracy Kennedy, a victim advocate for the Real Crisis Center in Greenville. .

She said reports of sexual harassment are rising in the East.

“Harassment is something that has grown as far as people understanding now that sexual harassment is not right, and they have the right to say something and do something about it,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said one thing that remains the same in her 26 years of experience is the role that power plays in sexual harassment.

“We are talking about supervisors making people feel uncomfortable, making people feel embarrassed by who they are,” Kennedy said.

Greenville psychotherapist Dr. Leon Johnson said perpetrators use that power to suppress victims.

“People are afraid, because for one, that they know it’s their employment or their job,” Johnson said. “They feel they need to protect their reputation, um they have to protect their name.”

Johnson said despite victims not wanting to speak up, the national conversation on the issue is giving people the confidence to share now more than ever before.

“People are calling the office and asking for someone that specializes and able to counsel in PTSD and sexual counseling,” Johnson said. “I notice there has been an uptick in that. There is no specific age range, right up in to their 50s and 60s. People are talking about this now, sometimes for the first time. It lets you know that others have gone through this experience, and that if they can come out, you can too.”

Along with more people coming forward with their stories, there is an increase in businesses in the East implementing sexual harassment training.

“It is great seeing organizations taking the lead and going forward in establishing policies and training on those policies,” said Sgt. John Guard with the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

Guard said training and communication is important.

“We have turnover, which is another reason why sexual harassment training is every year because staff does turnover,” said Guard. “Staff retires. People transfer. You have to provide this training, and it has got to be ongoing.”

Guard said it is necessary for organizations to have ways people can report misconduct and to take their claims seriously.

“The employer has a significant amount of leverage when it comes to increasing one’s safety or accountability,” Guard said.

Outside of the organization, Guard said there are law enforcement victim advocates who can help victims obtain funding and from the state to assist with their victimization.

Guard also said there is legal witness assistance within the District Attorney’s Office that helps keep crime victims up-to-date on the criminal process.

There are also Real Crisis victim advocates like Kennedy who provide crisis intervention.

“Our number-one goal is to make sure that their voice is heard, to ask the questions they have to get clear, concise and honest answers, and that they have a voice in the crime that was committed against them,” Kennedy said.

Some in the East reached out to 9 On Your Side with their stories, but feared retaliation by sharing them publicly.

If you know someone who wishes to find an outlet to share your story, email Courtney at callen@wnct.com

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