There’s good news and bad news for working women. On the one hand, sexual harassment complaints are generally on the decline. On the other hand, African-American women are increasingly likely to be victims.
A new study that looked at data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1997 to 2016 indicates that gains made by women in the workplace in regard to sexual harassment are very uneven, with black women continuing to suffer a disproportionate share of the offenses.
There are also strong indicators that higher unemployment rates seem to embolden the perpetrators of sexual harassment to act. A high unemployment rate in one month often seems to lead to more harassment claims the following month.
An alternate interpretation might be that men tend to harass women more when the men feel that their economic stability is threatened. They may be particularly inclined to lash out at a woman who is seen as an intruder in their field. That is often how black women are made to feel when they start making inroads in a profession.
There’s also the possibility that women of color as seen as easier targets for sexual harassment — while white women are perceived as more likely to take their case to human resources, the EEOC or an attorney. Black women, in particular, are perceived as holding less power in the workplace than others.
Ultimately, this may simply mean that the gains regarding sexual harassment are illusory. As one researcher stated, “It seems as though men have gotten more careful about who they’re harassing, and have been targeting women of color.”
Sexual harassment in the workplace won’t stop until the price tag is too high for companies and harassers to pay. If you’re being victimized, find out about your legal options.