The #MeToo movement is often associated with the stories of a few select celebrity figures, whose experiences with sexual harassment tend to receive widespread media attention. On Tuesday evening, however, a panel of six set out to broaden the definition of sexual harassment and shed light on the disparate experiences of people with different backgrounds and identities.
The panel, titled “Sexual Harassment Law in the Age of Trump and #Metoo,” took place at the Yale Law School and brought together academics, social workers and students in an effort to explore the complexities of sexual harassment and its depiction in popular culture. The event was co-sponsored by the Yale Law School, Engender, Yale Law Women, Latinx Law Students Association, First Generation Professionals, American Constitution Society and Yale Law Democrats.
The panelists — two Law School professors, Vicki Schultz and Tanya Hernández; Rachel Tuchman LAW ’17, a law clerk at Kaplan & Company LLP; Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Cari Simon, an attorney at the Fierberg National Law Group; and Anna McNeil ’20 — each spoke about the issue of sexual harassment through a unique lens for approximately 15 minutes, addressing an audience of about 70 people.
“Nothing good has ever been achieved in the legal system without an army of activists to demand it,” said Schultz, who opened the panel.
During her speech, Schultz discussed a theory of sexual harassment that centered on the dual dangers of segregated spaces and unchecked authority. Schultz emphasized the danger of segregating spaces based on race or gender and stressed that spaces that are both segregated and lack an institutional framework to hold authority figures accountable exacerbate underlying power dynamics and create environments conducive to sexual harassment.
For her part, Hernández focused on the racial disparities in both the depiction and women’s lived experiences of sexual harassment. She explained that reports of sexual harassment in the workplace by women of color are disproportionately high in number, relative to the percentage of the workforce they make up, saying that women of color often experience significantly more severe forms of harassment.
“Sexual harassment is not colorblind,” Hernández said. “It is very racially informed. And you would never know that from the depiction and the story-telling that the media chooses to focus on.”
Drawing on her experience in the field of law, Tuchman focused on the role of litigators and, particularly, institutions such as the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in combating sexual harassment in the workplace. She spoke about the importance of establishing funds to provide incentives for attorneys to take on cases brought by people who might not have the resources that legal action often demands.
During his speech, Minter emphasized the vulnerability of members of the LGBT community, who experience high levels of sexual harassment and are disproportionately targeted as perpetrators of sexual violence because of cultural stereotypes and discrimination. He highlighted the challenges of reporting violence against members of the LGBT community, as well as popularly held stereotypes about what a typical victim of sexual harassment might look like.
“I really do think this is such an exciting time,” Minter said, as he concluded his speech. “We are finally starting to see a lot more creative, intersectional, empirically grounded approaches to a lot of these problems.”
Simon, the attorney at The Fierberg National Law Group, discussed the issue of sexual harassment on college campuses and in schools, as well as the importance of legal tools such as Title IX. While she applauded the protections offered by Title IX, she emphasized that such provisions represent the bare minimum of what a school should do for its students. She also explained the different approaches that the Obama and Trump administrations have taken to enforcing Title IX, saying in particular that the Trump administration has sought to detract from its legislative force.
McNeil, a sophomore at Yale College, concluded the panel with a discussion of the role of Engender — a student group that advocates for equity and inclusion in Yale’s social spaces with a particular focus on gender integration. McNeil tied together points raised by previous speakers to advocate for the importance of desegregating Yale fraternities, which is currently Engender’s main mission, and criticized the University for failing to take sufficient action to address the unhealthy sexual climate that prevails in Greek life at the Yale.
“There’s more nuance to this issue than people realize and it’s far more pervasive than we think,” McNeil told the News. “It’s really an issue of power discrepancies, not of sexual desire.”
Tracey Benedict, an attendee at the event, said that the most important takeaways for her were the central role that segregated spaces play in perpetuating power imbalances and the importance of focusing on desegregation to solve this complex problem.
And Cerilenne Menendez Mendoza SOM ’19, another attendee, said the talk shed light on how sexual harassment is far more prevalent than one might think. She added that while there is strength in numbers when it comes to addressing sexual harassment, it is “disheartening” that achieving change requires a large number of victims.
Sophie Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, April 12: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Rachel Tuchman LAW ’17 is a law clerk at Kaplan & Company LLC. The law firm, in fact, is called Kaplan & Company LLP.