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Why it's good that sexual harassment complaints have increased

It's been less than two years since the #MeToo movement began -- spurred largely by the allegations that became public (and ultimately took down) Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein. The reverberations have been felt not just throughout the entertainment industry, but in workplaces of all kinds throughout the country.

A key measurement of these changes is the rise in the number of sexual harassment complaints. Last year, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rose almost 14% over the previous year -- to over 7,600. More complaints are also being made to industry groups and individual employers.

Another potential reason for the increase in reporting is that harassers are easier to catch thanks to technological advancements. Many leave a data trail of voicemail messages, texts (along with explicit photos) and emails. Actions are easier to capture via cellphone video. All of this makes it easier for victims to be believed.

Many companies, including Google, have changed their policies to make it easier for victims to take legal action rather than sign away their rights to go public if they want to obtain a settlement in arbitration. This can help bring harassers out into the open.

An attorney with the EEOC is happy that many complaints are being handled without getting to the federal agency. She says, "If those employees are stepping forward because they're hopeful that they can trust their employers will address the problem, that's a good sign." There's an increasing emphasis on training human resources professionals in how to handle sexual harassment claims.

However, the EEOC's acting chairwoman says that only a small percentage (15% to 20%) of victims report their sexual harassment. Many are afraid of the risk to their job and even their career if they report the harassment.

If you've been the victim of sexual harassment and you're concerned about what will happen to you if you report it or if you've reported it and suffered retaliation, it may be wise to consult with an attorney. They can help you protect your rights and seek the justice you deserve.

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