Sexual violence against women in the workplace has a long and disturbing history according to researcher Louis F Fitzgerald.  He notes the following:

"Sexual Harassment has been a fixture of the workplace since women first began to work outside the home.  Although true epidemiological studies do not exist, large scale surveys of working women suggest that approximately 1 of every 2 women will be harassed at some point during their academic or working lives.  The data indicate that harassment is degrading, frightening, and sometimes physically violent; frequently extends over a considerable period of time; and can result in profound job-related psychological and health related consequences."

Fitzgerald quotes Mackinnon who wrote:

"The unnamed should not be taken for the nonexistent. (Mackinnon, 1979, p. 28)."

To support his claims Fitzgerald provides information that sexual harassment predates the Industrial Revolution.  He found that the sexual harassment of women as well as their resistance is well documented.  For instance, in 1734, a group of domestic servants banded together to publish a notice in the New York Weekly Journal to protest their position:

"We think it reasonable we should not be beaten by our Mistresses Husband[s]."  They further wrote, "they being too strong and perhaps may do tender women mischief"  (cited in Foner, 1947,, p. 6)."

Fitzgerald also wrote of Elizabeth Hasanovich, a factory worker who was so terrified of her boss after he attempted to rape her she never returned to collect her pay, although it left her destitute, and of Rosa Cohen, a 12 year old immigrant who went to work in a garment factory where she learned her first English sentence, "Please keep your hands off " – from an older worker who protected herself with her needle from the boss who tried to assault her (Bularzik, 1978).

"Such stories as these are the earliest published accounts of what has recently been recognized as a social problem of enormous proportions.  Originally thought of as limited to situations in which women are threatened with losing their jobs to extort sexual cooperation.

Sexual harassment has become increasingly understood as any deliberate or repeated sexual behavior that is unwelcome to its recipient as well as other sex-related behaviors that are hostile offensive, or degrading, theoretically illegal since the passage of the Civil right Act of 964, a legal definition of Sexual harassment did not exist until 1980 when the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its now well-known guidelines outlining two broad classes of prohibited behavior…

…more next week.

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