What Does Sexual Harassment Cost Women In The Workplace? These Senators Want Answers.

“This problem is severe, and it is time for our leaders to stand up and address this issue head-on.”

Not only is the #MeToo movement a social issue and one of public health, it's also an economic and financial issue. And nearly two dozen Democratic senators want to know just how much sexual harassment affects the economy of the United States and the personal finances of the women who report it.

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In a letter signed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and co-signed by such senators as Elizabeth Warren, Kamala D. Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders — which was then provided to BuzzFeed News — the legislators asked the Labor Department to analyze the "prevalence and cost of sexual harassment." The senators penned the letter after reading a BuzzFeed News article summarizing government data on 20 years of sexual harassment charges, a spokesperson for Gillibrand told the site. They want the proposed analysis to examine the economic impact of sexual harassment on the labor force and on those who report harassment.

In a study titled "The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women" — published in 2017 in the journal Gender & Society — researchers reported that women who experience sexual harassment also experience more financial stress and are 6.5 times more likely to switch jobs. In the study, such women said they lost money when they quit their jobs, reduced their hours, or found themselves unable to advance in their careers amid toxic work environments and/or sexual harassment.

"Even for those women for whom you don't see a huge impact immediately, those tiny numbers can add up over time," study co-author Amy Blackman said. "Especially for people in their twenties in a period when people are expected to move up in their careers."

Responding to statistics like these, Gillibrand and her colleagues in the Senate want a quantification of the economic effects of sexual harassment problem. "A vast majority of the American public agrees that this problem is severe, and it is time for our leaders to stand up and address this issue head-on," they wrote in the letter. "However, there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request that your agencies work to collect this data."

The senators pointed out how the problem affects employees across a broad spectrum of industries, from minimum wage earners to white-collar workers. They cited an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistic that anywhere from 25 to 85 percent of women report sexual harassment in the workplace. They explained these women often suffer negative psychological, physical, and economic consequences. And they noted that while some of these women feel obligated to continue working in toxic and harmful workplaces, others quit at great cost to themselves and to their employers.

"Right now, we do not know how many gifted workers and innovators were unable to contribute to our country because they were forced to choose between working in a harassment-free workplace and their career," the senators wrote in the conclusion to their letter. "We hope that you will seriously address this enormous threat to our nation's workers by collecting data on the prevalence and cost of sexual harassment that can better inform policy and procedures to address these problems."

Cover photo via REUTERS/Larry Downing.

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