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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Columns

Houston, we have a problem with sexual harassment


Women are often dismissed and not taken seriously in the workplace. This has led to situations in which their claims of sexual harassment are not taken seriously or even recorded. We see this happening in our very own city; Houston has had 54 cases of sexual harassment since 2012, and there is little to no information on any of them.

This situation is simply unacceptable. It is unacceptable the abuse occurred in the first place and even more so that nothing has been done. Houstonian women, victims of sexual harassment, merit the acknowledgement our city has failed to give them. It is imperative to begin the fight against female oppression locally, for a strong city supporting these victims is the only way we can combat it nationally.  

We find ourselves in the midst of a social and political revolution in which women are speaking out about sexual abuse in the workplace on a wider platform of social media. The me too. movement, founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke, trended worldwide as a hashtag late 2017, spreading a wave of social awareness on sexual harassment. It took over 10 years for the movement to trend, to gain momentum, indicating the low place women hold on society’s list of priorities. This 10-year gap exposed our tendency to brush off women as well as the harsh yet unsurprising reality that women most often endure sexual and vocal oppression out of fear. 

Fear stems from the realization that if women speak out against men harassing them, their claims will be dismissed. Such is also the case in Houston, where multiple reported cases of sexual harassment lack specifics and remain unsettled.

In his report, Mario Diaz said the greatest number of sexual harassment cases in Houston were in the Public Works and Engineering department, but apart from numbering the cases and where they occurred, these city records lack particulars about what actually happened. They also fail to provide information on how the cases were handled or if they were even settled.

When interviewed by Channel 2, Mayor Turner seemed unaware of the existence of these cases, let alone their cost. The mayor’s negligence could explain why these cases have gone ignored for so long. If the leader of our city does not place importance on these cases, the city’s legal department cannot be expected to. The women who reported these cases were two-fold victims: to the men who took advantage of them and the system that failed to support them.

Even as we become more outspoken, more socially aware and critical of sexual harassment, women continue to be dismissed and therefore silenced.

A lawsuit was filed in February against the Houston Texans. The claim was against the former director of football operations, Jason Lowrey, by a woman named Kristen Grimes. Grimes accused him and the team of allowing an “Alpha-Male environment, where continuous improprieties toward female employees were not punished.” Grimes quit her job and sought therapy to cope with exposure to such hostility.

It has now been three months since the claim was filed, and although the case is still ongoing, one can easily predict what will occur. As the Houston Texans, an alpha-male environment encouraged by an alpha-male lobbying society, holds tremendous prestige and money, it will most likely walk out of the situation with minor repercussions. Grimes’ case, as usually done with victims of sexual harassment, will be forgotten.

It should come as no surprise Houston has had so many cases of sexual assault where nothing has been done. It has become customary, almost systematic, to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace as mere accusations by hysterical women.

Tony Robbins, who recently apologized for his comments at an event last month where he said “what you’re seeing is people making themselves significant by making somebody else wrong,” embodies the view of #MeToo critics. Robbins implied these women play victims and blame others to make themselves feel significant. The portrayal of women as exaggerating, hysterical, attention-seeking victims is quite ubiquitous.

Their claims are dismissed because sexual harassment in the workplace is such a common and normalized experience that reporting it is what feels out of the norm.

The government of Houston must be held accountable for this ridiculous misconduct. The lack of publicly acknowledged follow up on these cases is alarming and calls into question those in authority within the agencies. The lack of information publicly available for these cases is evidence of Houston’s guilt in perpetuating this rape culture and hostile mentality.

Houston, we have a major problem, and it’s with sexual harassment.

Opinion columnist Paulina Ezquerra is a philosophy major and can be reached [email protected]


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