Editorial: Sexual harassment demands response

As 2017 nears its final midnight, consider how much has changed over 12 months about the way we regard and treat one another.

In the fall of 2016, Donald Trump was accused of inappropriately touching several women. He was even caught on tape boasting about such acts in a vulgar manner. In response ... we elected him president.

Twelve months later, the national zeitgeist is dominated by the downfall of powerful American men in the public eye in the wake of a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations.

The declaration that enough was enough was, perhaps appropriately, shorthanded into a hash tag and five characters. #MeToo.

There need to be a lot more words, fueling many more conversations.

Sexual harassment isn’t limited to circles of extreme power in shadows of Hollywood and Wall Street. Workplaces are everywhere, from street corners to restaurants to schools. So is harassment.

The next step in this reckoning is to strive to make long-overdue adjustments in all workplaces. Apparently, we’ re not even close to getting there.

This is not about making corrections to a culture; it’s about creating one that never truly existed.

Gail Weinstein, president of the board for The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, which serves several towns in Fairfield County, recently shared discouraging statistics. Only 20 percent of women who claim sexual harassment in the workplace ever reported them to human resources or supervisors.

Even worse, 80 percent of them said coming forward did not change anything.

Statistics concerning rape have always been somewhat vexing for police departments. There’s no disputing the cold, hard truths about a rise in a community’s homicide rates. But an increase in reported cases of sexual assaults may mean more victims feel emboldened to come forward.

Weinstein’s team says they are seeing walk-ins at such an unprecedented pace in recent weeks that they hired two full-time educators.

The center, and others like it, play offense as well as defense, operating an anonymous hotline and providing community outreach.

The center’s outreach coordinator, Jessica Feighan, tapped onto the pulse of the matter when she pointed out that despite recent progress, “it’s also kind of a sad time when you realize the severity of the issues.”

Their work has always faced obstacles. It required a state law to get all schools to participate in the conversation. A true cultural awaking requires a desire to change, and we aren’t there yet.

That change will happen when decisions are made by all employers to lead the charge about behavior that will not be tolerated in the workplace. They don’t have to wait for the next Harvey Weinstein, or for someone in their employ to act inappropriately. They just need to define boundaries.

It’s also a matter of personal conscience. This is the season of resolutions. Let’s all treat one another with more dignity. When it comes to sexual harassment, we are still too many hours from midnight.