In an interview published Monday, USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers asked Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump: How would you feel if your daughter faced sexual harassment at work?
“I would like to think she would find another career or find another company,” Trump replied.
The question came after Trump had publicly defended former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, who lost his job last month after more than two-dozen women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances or seedy comments. Trump told reporters he felt “very badly” about Ailes and goaded rumors that he might hire Ailes for his campaign.
Victim advocates quickly blasted Trump’s response, asserting many workers lack the financial resources to quit if they encounter threatening behavior in the office — and why should they have to upend their lives because of someone else’s illegal actions, anyway? Why shouldn’t the company punish the harasser?
Eric Trump backed his father Tuesday on the Charlie Rose show, insisting strong women are immune to such treatment: "I think what he’s saying is Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman. She wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected to it.”
Bridgette Stumpf, co-executive director at the Network for Victim Recovery of DC, said both Trumps’ comments send a troubling message to Americans.
“Saying that ultimately a woman's presence or personality can impact whether or not they are harassed is akin to saying it is a woman's fault for being sexually assaulted based on what she wore or drank,” she said. “And instead of placing blame on the person responsible for the wrongful behavior, he wants to say that women can just leave the workplace”
Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for program at the National Women’s Law Center, said it’s not a worker’s responsibility to fend off predatory colleagues. Under the law, employers can face penalties for failing to stamp out harassment. Inaction on such matters isn't just a legal threat, though. Not taking complaints seriously could create a hostile work environment, which drains both productivity and talent.
“What we know is employees experience harassment in all sorts of jobs, at all levels,” Goss said. “It’s not about people being strong or weak.”
The problem remains widespread in the United States. One in three women say they’ve encountered sexual harassment at work, according to a 2015 Cosmopolitan survey. A 2009 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found 41 percent of women in the United States have reported workplace harassment over their lifetime, while 32 percent of men said the same.
The American Association of University Women defines workplace sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” While such behavior can make an employee feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the office, filing a complaint can seem even scarier, Goss said.
“Most workplace harassment goes unrecorded,” she said. “People deeply fear retaliation. They believe nothing good will happen if they do report it. That there will be inaction and potentially blame and certainly potential repercussions.”
Powers, the columnist who published Trump's comments in USA Today, said she has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
"I’ve been harassed or on the receiving end of sexist and inappropriate behavior almost every place I’ve ever worked," Powers wrote. "That includes on Democratic campaigns and as political appointee in the Clinton administration. It didn’t matter that in the latter case, I wore boxy Ann Taylor suits, sported no makeup and wore my hair pulled back in an unflattering ponytail. It turns out women’s attire doesn’t cause (or prevent) inappropriate behavior."
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