Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What Eric and Donald Trump Get Wrong About Sexual Harassment

            The issue of workplace sexual harassment has made its way to the forefront of election issues with the slew of recent allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. In an interview with NBC, Trump gave his (predictably sexist) take: “some of the women that are complaining, I know how much [Ailes has] helped them…[N]ow, all of a sudden, they're saying all these horrible things about him.”
            What Trump fails to recognize is that victims of abuse are often forced to maintain good relationships with their abusers, especially when the abuser is in a position of power. The accusations of the alleged victims are not “sudden”; rather, most of them no longer work at Fox (with many arguing they were fired in retaliation for refusing further sexual advances). Because they no longer need to choose between career advancement and personal safety, they are better able to speak out about their experiences.
            Unfortunately, larger societal stigma still lingers. Public reactions to incidents of sexual harassment and assault are often mixed, with many people believing that the victim somehow is to blame. Harassers, on the other hand, usually walk away with little consequence and no incentive to change their behavior. This is epitomized in Eric Trump’s remarks on his father’s comment: “There is no question that obviously [sexual harassment] should be addressed, and it should be addressed strongly,” he said. Then he added that his sister, Ivanka, “is a strong, you know, powerful woman,” and “I don’t think she would allow herself to be subjected to [sexual harassment].” The corollary of Eric Trump’s statement is that it is the victim’s, not the harasser’s, responsibility to stop sexual harassment.
            Ivanka Trump, who responded to a question about her father’s comments on Tuesday by denouncing harassment of any kind as “inexcusable,” is no doubt a strong and powerful woman. Unfortunately, that does not make her impervious to inappropriate behavior. In her 2009 book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, she describes her “recurring nightmare[s]” after being cat-called by workers at her father’s construction sites. She faced a “no-win situation,” she wrote. “If I ignored the inappropriate remarks, I might come across as weak. If I responded too harshly, I’d be a tightly wound witch.”
Eric Trump’s logic (or lack thereof) was echoed by Donald Trump. He remarked that if Ivanka were sexually harassed in the workplace, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company.” In other words, a victim of harassment must sacrifice his or her career in order to find the workplace safety that is guaranteed by Title VII of the 1964 Equal Rights Act.
            Besides the fact that Trump Sr.’s plan further places a burden on victims, it is simply not an option for most women, especially those in low-wage jobs. In a study of 1,200 low-income workers in the Greater Boston area, 26 percent of women and 22 percent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment. Even this likely undercounts the number of incidents; 60 percent of workers who experienced harassment said they never reported it. However, many said that they chose to stay at their jobs and/or not report harassment for financial reasons.
            Trump’s approach to workplace harassment is predictably Trump-esque. Rather than having a comprehensive policy plan, he “says what he thinks” and then moves on without really addressing the issue at hand. It is precisely this lack of discussion that results in workplaces where harassment is the disappointing norm.

-- Sarah, MWPC Intern