Women's groups find sexual harassment fairly widespread

Working women

December 23, 1991|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Although the allegations of Professor Anita Hill did not derail the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, they stripped bare the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

During the turbulent Senate hearings, sexual harassment was examined in great detail, but one aspect remains unclear: Just how widespread is it?

An analysis of national surveys on sexual harassment -- each conducted before the hearings -- shows that 42 to 60 percent of women questioned reported being harassed.

One of the first surveys was conducted in the 1970s by 9to5, an advocacy group for employed women, and part of the National Association of Working Women, based in Cleveland.

"It was a big problem even then," said Barbara Otto, spokeswoman for 9to5. "We don't have records of results, but the overpowering conclusion from it was that sexual harassment is rampant."

Two decades later, in 1990,Working Smart, a national business newsletter published in New York, asked readers what they wanted to read about.

"We were surprised that sexual harassment came out so high," said editor Charlene Canape. "We realized that there was more going on than we had thought."

As a result, Canape says, later that year Working Smart surveyed 750 female readers, mostly managers, and asked about harassment. "We found that more than 50 percent of the women, all professionals, had been sexually harassed at work," said Canape. "The harassment ranged from finding obscene photographs on their desks to unwanted touching by male co-workers."

Women Employed, a national membership organization of women at all levels of employment, estimates from analyzing studies of the subject that 45 percent of the nation's 58 million employed women experience sexual harassment at work over the lifetime of their careers.

"We've done no surveys as such, but one-third of the discrimination complaints we handle out of 1,200 annually are sexual harassment," said Nancy Kreiter, WE's research director.

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