Real Women on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

ABC News gathered 10 women from 10 different industries who opened up.

ByABC News
December 1, 2016, 8:28 AM

— -- Sexual harassment knows no occupational boundaries, and many women who experience sexual harassment never report it.

ABC News gathered 10 women from 10 different industries who opened up about being sexually harassed. To protect the women, only their first names were used.

When asked how many of the participants have been sexually harassed over the course of their career, all 10 women raised their hands.

"I worked in restaurants for 10 years, and every time I walked into the kitchen, someone would whistle," said Blayne, who's in hospitality services.

"This person used guilt-tripping to try to get me to do sexual activity as compensation," Samantha, in marketing, said of her experience.

A majority of the 10 women at the forum left their hands up when asked if they had experienced workplace sexual harassment more than twice, then more than three times and then more than four.

Amanda, who works in politics, admitted that in the past, she has considered wearing an engagement ring to "make it apparent" that she's not interested in sexual advances at her workplace.

"[I] am here to talk to you about work, not about a date, not about whatever else and I sometimes wonder as a young woman," she said. "Do you assume that I am out here looking for my life partner at my next 3 o’clock meeting? And would you feel differently if I had on a wedding band or an engagement ring? Would it allow you to shut that door and only look at me as a fellow professional?"

Only two women raised their hands when asked if they filed a complaint with human resources against their harasser.

"I think it always feels like an uncomfortable choice," said Amanda. "I have to really think about my values and what’s important to me and weigh them against my career."

"I often feel that in the grand scheme of things, I’m just not that important to the company," said Sore, who works in education. "I sort of silenced myself; in that moment, there’s an erasure of yourself."

Jenny Yang leads the federal commission tasked with investigating and litigating charges of workplace harassment. She said “gender-based putdowns” can also be a form of sexual harassment because it’s harassment based on gender.

"Sexual harassment is very much about power, but sexual harassment doesn’t always involve propositioning," Yang said. "It can involve demeaning comments -- crude language -- that makes women feel like they’re in a hostile work environment."

Many of the women at the forum said they've often heard that they're "too emotional" when it comes to being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.

"You’re being too emotional -- that’s the new word for sexism that men use and they put you down," said Lesley, who has a career in media. "But you say anything, you’re emotional because you’re a woman."

To stop men from behaving inappropriately, Lesley's opinion was, "it starts in the home."

"[A]nd it starts with the parents, and it starts with our discussion with our young men saying, 'This is not OK."

Yang said workplace supervisors and leadership must be required to hear the message loud and clear "that harassment is not tolerated."

And a message from the forum of women: That part of the solution may lie within us.

"I’m raising my voice because I want to be an agent of change," said Elizabeth, finance.

"To encourage other young women," -- Sore, education.

"That they too can take a stand," -- Njambi, retail.

"To break out of silence," -- Samantha, marketing.

"I am speaking out against sexual harassment because it exists," -- Judnick, journalism.

"Because it even exists," -- Sylvia, philanthropy.

"Because it exists, and it shouldn’t," -- Blayne, hospitality services.

Read the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's report on sexual harassment at