Same Song, Different Tune

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I’ve been struggling with a tough situation for a long time without any idea how to address it. Many months ago, at the beginning of the fall semester, my roommate got what seemed to be a terrific job offer downtown. She’d worked very hard on the application, and when she landed the interview, she prepared for at least a week before it happened.

We were both elated when she got the official offer letter. Unfortunately, it was only a few weeks into her stint that her mood changed. She stopped discussing work and then became increasingly withdrawn. Her dad even pulled me aside discreetly during a short weekend visit and asked if I’d noticed anything suspicious. I didn’t have much to tell him, because she hadn’t even told me much.

Last night, I decided to change that, and I confronted her directly. She immediately tried to brush me off but eventually revealed that her direct superior at work makes unwelcome advances on her. She’s politely evaded him for the time being, but I told her that wasn’t enough. Shouldn’t she be submitting a formal complaint? How can I persuade her to do that?

You’ve already helped her take the first necessary step by compelling her openly acknowledge the problem. Nobody else might have known about her plight until yesterday when you confronted her about it. Believe it or not, a surprising fraction of women don’t ever report sexual harassment. Researchers suspect a wide variety of motivating factors from the fear of legal and career repercussions to the feelings of humiliation and public shame. That’s why it’s critical that victims not feel isolated and alone.

Experts at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concluded in a comprehensive 2016 report that “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” Those estimates combined with underreporting means that there could be victims everywhere, and we might never know it. Fortunately for your roommate, she now has a concerned and compassionate advocate to rely on. While further action is definitely warranted, you should be cautious about where you plan to intervene.

Consider some of these useful tips that describe the realistic opportunities and limitations of helping a friend in need. If you haven’t done so already, another sound strategy is exploring possibly suggesting that your roommate join a support group. Never underestimate the catharsis possible through sharing experiences with those trying to reconcile the same thing. It’s likely that she’ll need time to process her own turmoil, but that shouldn’t stop justice from being served.

This is where the situation becomes much more complicated. For centuries, women have struggled to resist their male oppressors and hold them accountable for their misdeeds. It’s thrilling to see that the age of reckoning might at very well be at hand with the global proliferation of the #MeToo movement. Formal justice here in America can only be exercised after a formal complaint is levied.

In other words, your roommate will need a qualified sexual harassment lawyer. Anticipate having to document the transgressions in painstaking detail, which could be very stressful for her. The timing is very sensitive because of that. Another major decision is when to disclose what you know with her family members. They definitely deserve to know. More importantly, however, is the fact that they’re the ones sufficiently motivated and equipped to hire a seasoned lawyer.

“To the victims…I see you. I believe you…and I’m listening.” – Viola Davis

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