Rape is considered to be one of the most heinous crimes against an individual. Under US laws, the only crime with a higher minimum sentence rate than rape is murder. Rape has the potential to ruin a victim’s life forever in a multitude of physical and psychological ways. Around the world, women are disproportionately affected by this crime, as the ratio of female to male victims is at 1 to 4 in the US alone.
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A good portion of acts of violence against women happens in the workplace. Due to the inequality of representation of women in certain professions and their subservient position when compared to male colleagues, female employees are especially vulnerable to inappropriate advances. Many cases of rape and molestation at the workplace remain unreported, as women do not wish to compromise their jobs or be judged by the rest of society for “provoking” the rapist in question. However, this situation is slowly changing.
The furor caused by the “MeToo” movement in October 2017 challenged the silent status quo regarding rape victims and spilled out the number of suffering silenced victims into full view. Ever since, large industries in the US and abroad started to undergo changes, redefining the boundaries of approach, conduct, and consent for their employees, and providing new venues for the victims of workplace rape. This paper will investigate the influence of the MeToo movement on workplace rape laws and corporate regulations in Russia and the US.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very bizarre issue in terms of people’s opinions and attitudes towards it. 80% of American workers believe that harassment, rape, and abuse in the workplace is a serious issue plaguing society. At the same time, 90% believe that such issues do not occur in their own office. This position indicates a key issue that leads to the majority of misdemeanors, such as inappropriate commentary, gestures, hints, and uncomfortable situations. The majority of respondents (males, predominantly) do not recognize certain actions as sexual harassment, seeing them as the norm. On the women’s side of the issues, it is a different story. 59% of women report having encountered sexual harassment at the workplace at least once, and half of the time it was initiated by their direct superior.
Sexual assault and rape in the workplace have different statistics. Due to the presence of many different people in the workplace, it usually takes a form of quid pro quo, which means sexual favors in return for promotions and other kinds of rewards. In many cases, women are coerced into such a “relationship” under the threat of losing their jobs and livelihood. Although 98% of companies in the US have a code against sexual harassment, not every place has a dedicated anonymous hotline against more serious workplace crimes. As a result, only 8% of sexual assaults and demeanors at the workplace are reported.
In Russia, statistics are harder to come by due to the direct involvement of the government in the independent data-collection process. The number of companies actively engaging in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is even lower, standing at 39%, and the number of hotlines is even lower. The reason for such behavior is associated with a discredited social policy of writing reports on fellow citizens (the practice was called “donos”) in order to unjustly accuse them of disloyalty and receive a reward for “vigilance.” As a result, Russian corporate cultures do not appreciate the practice of whistleblowing, viewing the victim with a greater degree of suspicion.
In order to talk about sexual harassment and the workplace, certain definitions must be decided upon. There is a difference between regular harassment, sexual harassment, and workplace rape. Regular harassment is described as actions or verbal communications that create a hostile workspace and interfere with the individual’s capability to work. Sexual harassment is defined as uninvited and unwelcome sexual advances made by a person in authority towards a subordinate. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact that does not involve explicit consent from the assaulted party. Lastly, rape is a situation when a person forces or coerces another into sexual intercourse through force, the threat of violence, blackmail, deception, or intoxication.
Conflicts Between Definitions
The way society understands sexual crimes and misdemeanors is very different from that of a legal perspective. The majority of bystanders imagine workplace rape and sexual misconduct to be implicitly forceful. The typical picture of the act is a woman being forced into a broom closet. However, as it is possible to see, there are numerous definitions of different kinds of crime. Some of them, like harassment and sexual harassment, are considered to be misdemeanors, whereas rape and sexual assault are considered felonies. The popular perception of the act seems to warp the legal meaning of these definitions as well, as for a long while the definition of rape and sexual assault included both force and non-consent. In addition, many states had wording that involved only male penile organs, which made molestation, groping, acquaintance rape, and female-perpetrated rape harder to prosecute.
How Does Workplace Sexual Violence Occur?
Sexual violence in the workplace is primarily directed towards women, contributing to the 1 in 4 statistics on rape and sexual molestation. It occurs for a multitude of reasons outside of the malicious intent of the attackers. Historically, women were always an underprivileged social group when compared to men. Until the second half of the 20th century, many women were barred from high education and many professions that involved power and control, such as being CEOs, managers, and decision-makers. Although in the US there are no legal barriers for women to enter specific male-dominated areas, it is not the same for the rest of the world. For example, Russia has a list of 456 jobs that prevent women from applying to these positions. The majority of these jobs revolve around handling dangerous materials and operating in hazardous environments, such as mining, coal industry, metal production, the creation of poisonous chemicals, etcetera. The point is that in many areas, female employees are vastly outnumbered by men being in charge.
This creates a misbalance of power, as for many individuals their job is crucial for sustaining oneself, feeding a family, and achieving a sense of self-worth. At the same time, all of this often lies within the power of a superior officer, who can use it as leverage to extract sexual favors from women. These types of crimes are difficult to prove because of the lack of evidence and perpetual fear that exposure would shame the person in question and leave them out of a job. The majority of workplace harassment, thus, remains undetected and unreported to law enforcement agencies.
Due to the underrepresentation of women, it also becomes impossible to advance to a higher position without the “patronage” of a male superior, which often involves unwanted sexual attention, explicit sexual favors, workplace harassment, and even rape. According to Larsen et al., the majority of sexual harassment cases occur in the industries where men disproportionately outnumber women, such as the construction industry, engineering, STEM professions, and the military. Without a sense of supportive community, women become more susceptible to unwanted advancements and often fall victim to perverse stereotypes.
In many cases, sexual misdemeanors are being advanced by the fact that male superiors and colleagues cannot draw the difference between what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Quinn states that the majority of men do not see off-hand sexual compliments, “girl-watching,” cat-calling, and other unrequired forms of sexual attention as threatening or demeaning, whereas such actions clearly contribute to the creation of a hostile workplace environment.
To summarize, workplace sexual violence is directly related to the lack of clear and unambiguous terms, the overwhelming position of men in power, the lack of feminine supporting structure, and the concept of toxic masculinity and objectification of women. Together, these factors create an aura of “appropriateness” of sexual advances towards women, which often escalate into assaults and rapes. Being at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, women often keep quiet about the events in order to keep their jobs. These symptoms are similar across all countries, including Russia and the USA. The only differences lie in the representation, as certain industries and organizations in Russia (such as the high education sphere and the government) have more female parity when compared to the US.
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The #MeToo Movement and its Impact on the Workplace
The #MeToo movement started as a viral internet flash mob in October 2017, as an effort to expose the perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual assault while making the voices of victims be heard by the general public. The hashtag was used to highlight all sorts of sexual misbehavior, but the primary effort was pointed towards workplace violence. The popularity of the movement increased dramatically following the accusations towards famous celebrities and Hollywood stars and producers, such as Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Jon Heely, David Copperfield, Morgan Freeman, and many others.
The movement managed to unearth numerous violations not only in the movie industry but also in the US government, the scientific community, sports, business, and media. In Russia, the significance and outcomes of the #MeToo movement were less significant due to the innate conservatism of its society, underdevelopment of the local feminism movement, and government restrictions. Nevertheless, the scandals that followed forced several famous Russian media figures to respond to their actions, a few of them being Deputy Leonid Slutsky and Ivan Kolpakov, the head editor of the Meduza platform.
Since the start of the #MeToo movement, the number of reported incidents of harassment at the workplace increased considerably, to the point where companies were forced to include specific rulings on professional conduct for their agents and employees, prohibiting them from providing unwanted commentary about appearance, administering hugs, or doing other activities that make other employees feel uncomfortable.
Effect of #MeToo Movement on Workplace Sexual Harassment Legislation
The great amount of publicity and public support for the victims of workplace sexual harassment prompted important shifts in American legislation. The first act to affect the status of victims, as well as the procedural code for handling misdemeanors in the government, was the Me Too Act of 2017, which was proposed in January 2018 as an amendment to the existing Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The new proposed amendment significantly simplifies and standardizes the passing of any complaints regarding inappropriate sexual behavior as well as forcing senators and other government officials to settle disputes using their own money rather than taxpayer dollars.
Other proposed resolutions for potential acts and legislation include the availability to file complaints about coworkers and corporate superiors without retribution, the processing of all untested rape kits, and the introduction of sexual education classes in schools to teach children to report predatory behavior immediately. Other suggested measures involve the inclusion of panic buttons on all female employees and the abolition of non-disclosure agreements as measures to keep female victims silent. Large companies, such as Google, BBC, Microsoft, and others have already implemented these measures in their corporate code of conduct in order to reduce sexual harassment and a misdemeanor in the workplace.
Comparative Analysis of Legislative Efforts in USA and Russia
The comparison of the legislative efforts in the USA and Russia represent two sides of the same argument. On the one hand, anonymous and unwarranted rape accusations that bear no repercussions on the individual who made them may increase the number of false accusations against the opposing party. Although the charges may be lifted later due to fake charges or a lack of evidence, a person’s career may be ruined. Several cases across the US demonstrate just that, the most infamous ones being the Duke Lacrosse players’ case and the Virginia University case. The ability for anonymous reporting of sexual assault cases is already implemented in campuses across the US and Canada. The lack of mechanisms of control over the process makes the system become abused against the accused, who is effectively rendered guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the general public.
The recent handling of workplace sexual harassment cases in Russia shows the weaknesses of its existing legal statutes in regard to sexual violence. The term “sexual harassment” is unknown to their legal structure. There are no concrete guidelines to handle cases of inappropriate languages, unwanted advances, groping, and so forth. The closest term Russian law has “coercion into sex,” which addresses the issues of women being forced, threatened, or blackmailed into providing sexual favors, but does not address harassment and creating a hostile environment. Because of the lack of legal definitions, the local courts take a very official stance towards all accusations of sexual harassment, often denying cases that cannot present hard evidence, such as witnesses, videotapes, and biological signs of molestation.
However, when comparing the two systems, it is possible to see that providing the victims of sexual harassment with an overabundance of tools to report the incidents is much better than under-providing such. According to FBI research, only 2%-10% of all cases of rape accusations prove to be unsubstantiated by evidence. The percentage of false accusations is, thus, very low in comparison to the number of actual harassment charges that took place. Therefore, encouraging more victims of harassment to come out is a better choice than ignoring their pleas. At the same time, the issue of false accusations must not be neglected. There is a potential for abuse of law when one side is not held accountable while the other is treated as guilty before proven innocent.
Potential Legislative Efforts in Russia and the US Regarding Workplace Rape and Harassment
Russia needs an explosion of the same volume as the #MeToo movement in the US in order to cardinally re-evaluate its existing policies and help protect women in the workplace. Some of the potential ways to do so include providing official definitions for workplace harassment and sexual harassment in order to enable reporting and persecution of such behaviors by corporate and legal authorities. In terms of women’s rights and civil rights in general Russia is 20 years behind the US, if not more, which must be accounted for when introducing new laws and regulations. A patriarchal society, Russia may view some of the proposed solutions as “feminist propaganda.” Nevertheless, improving the legal status of women in the workplace in the country would be a massive step forward.
In regards to legislative efforts in the US, the issues of proof, consent, and appropriate behavior must be addressed. First, it must be determined if any advances in sexual nature should be constituted as a misdemeanor. It would help draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior for both men and women, enabling the moderation of behavior within the confines of certain rules. In regards to treating victims and potential perpetrators, the law enforcement agencies and corporations are to be obligated to adopt a policy of providing compassion and establishing facts. This means that although any victim is to be offered help and psychological consultation, the accused is not to be treated as a guilty party until the truth of the matter is established.
Sexual harassment of women in the workplace has always been a serious issue. The majority of women are sexually abused in the workplace, where they are surrounded by men while being unable to rely on supportive surroundings and the rule of law to protect themselves. As a result, many find themselves in a vulnerable position that begets exploitation by predatory men. The lack of legislative constructs to address the issue in both America and Russia shows that society is either unaware or unwilling to address the issue. #MeToo movement gave the much-needed incentive for social and legislative action by exposing hundreds of cases of workplace rape and molestation at the hands of famous politicians, actors, musicians, sportsmen, and others. Although the road ahead is difficult, the changes in women’s lives can be felt already.
In Russia, the situation is complicated by the prejudices and stereotypes the country inherited from the Soviet era. Nevertheless, the #MeToo movement also contributed to scandals and arrests of several important media predators, meaning that there is a potential for future feminist activities and the persuasion of the public opinion that violation of women in the workplace is a serious problem that has been overlooked for far too long.
The Me Too Act of 2017 and the major changes to the corporate policy in companies like Google are the first steps towards regulating relationships between men and women in the workplace. It is very important to set up clear and understandable rules for both sides while providing the victims of violence and misconduct an outlet for presenting their cases and getting justice. Fostering the culture of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment, however, must also be tempered by the presumption of innocence in order to unite the society in the pursuit of justice rather than polarize individuals into opposite camps.
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