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Cain controversy demonstrates sexual harassment problem

Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011 01:11

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is not the only one having to answer to sexual harassment claims. According to a study from the American Association of University Women, nearly half of secondary school students have experienced sexual harassment, defined as "unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically."

Despite significant gains in knowledge concerning sexual harassment, both in schools and in the workplace, sexual harassment is still an issue.

Twenty years ago, Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas, who she worked for when he was a Supreme Court nominee. At this time, there was no name for sexual harassment, let alone a definition. The very fact we can now call harassment by name, define it and study it, is a testament to how far feminists have come and how important the issue really is.

While Hill did not fair well personally with the courts, many other victims have come forward, laws have been changed and training programs have been started to combat the issue.

Cain has come under fire for sexual harassment claims filed against him in the '90s. Two separate instances, allegedly involving Cain making sexual innuendos to two women on the National Restaurant Association staff where he previously worked, resulted in paid separation packages for both women.

Cain maintains he merely made a comment on one woman's height. The other incident in question involves an interaction between the second woman and Cain while traveling. The media attention given to sexual harassment is a reminder that the problem is still a present and common challenge in the workplace.

Though bullying has been the thing to study in students over the past few years, sexual harassment remains pervasive in schools as well, with 56 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys being harassed, according to the American Association of University Women.

Sexual harassment online is also prevalent. Thirty percent of students have reported online harassment, such as spreading sexual rumors, revealing personal information and receiving unwanted jokes or advances, according to the Times. Some harassment is severe enough to prevent students from wanting to attend school.

Schools need to carefully monitor students, employees and teachers to be sure they are in accordance with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools. Parents can open dialogue and monitor online activity to help prevent students from engaging in or becoming victims of sexual harassment.

Supervisors and employees need to host workshops to prevent sexual harassment and crack down on offenses. A little goes a long way to making the workplace and schools comfortable and safe environments for everyone.

Jessica Schoenfeld is a sophomore majoring in women's and gender studies and sociology.

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