It’s suddenly been five years since The New York Times broke a story about producer Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual harassment and assault.

The story broke only a few weeks after my dad died, and it opened the #MeToo floodgates; women all over the internet shared their experiences with sexual harassment. (My Uncle Dan always said he thought Matt Lauer was creepy and, it turns out, he was right!) Left and right, famous and powerful men were outed as abusers and harassers. My mom and I, still in our fog of grief, read each news story in disbelief, wondering if somehow Dad had somehow been the last good man left alive and his death had revealed the existence of a boundless hell. (Of course we know that’s not true. There are lots of good men out there. But we were grief-stricken and, in my case, usually pretty drunk.)

As a culture, I think we’ve learned a few things from the #MeToo movement. Most people would agree that sexual harassment is a real problem, and that it shouldn’t happen. But we have done a bad job of learning the pattern that harassers take. Most perpetrators don’t go from zero to rape with no warning.

In a former workplace, I had a customer who started frequently calling and asking me and a coworker out on dates, saying he needed a woman, and flirting quite heavily with us. He was an old guy; I didn’t have anything to physically fear from him in the event he tried to jump me in the parking lot or something. And I don’t think he was an evil man. But his actions created a hostile work environment for us, to the point where I was genuinely scared to answer the phone. We asked our manager if she would call him and explain that his actions were making us uncomfortable and that he should treat us professionally. She refused. Because he didn’t use any vulgar language or threaten us, she said, his conduct didn’t warrant any action being taken. I left that office, in part because of the man but also because of the lack of support from management.

Some people reading this might ask: “Why didn’t you tell him to stop?”

Because I was an employee and he was a customer. The customer is always right, don’t you know? What if I had told him to stop flirting with me and he complained to management? I could have lost my job. After all, he “hadn’t done anything.”


If the harassment is coming from a coworker who does not have power over you in the workplace, you might have more of a leg to stand on, but, again, if “he hasn’t really done anything,” all you do is get a reputation for being a complaining troublemaker.

I had a friend who had a coworker who started following her around, writing her love notes and generally making her uncomfortable in the workplace. She reported him to HR and then walked off the job. The next day, eight other women reached out to her to say that he had done the same things to them. Eight. That’s not one blundering but well-meaning guy making an innocent mistake. That’s a pattern of persistently breaking boundaries and then moving on to the next target, and the next. (And the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.)

Some harassers stay at the low-level boundary-pushing level, because, technically, making someone nervous and uncomfortable isn’t illegal. Others, however, escalate. Most guys who make crude jokes won’t escalate into Matt Lauer territory. But taking the crude jokers seriously can help stop the harassment from crossing into the territory of assault.

Harassment – especially, but not exclusively, sexual harassment – is all about crossing boundaries. A person has to cross a lot of boundaries to reach Harvey Weinstein levels.

I think the reason sexual harassment continues to persist across all workplaces, at all levels, despite all the mandatory anti-sexual-harassment PowerPoints, is because employers do not intervene in the low-level boundary-pushing.

You won’t stop sexual harassment in the workplace by showing everyone a video from the ’90s that explains that showing a colleague porn in the office is illegal. Everyone knows that’s wrong. You stop sexual harassment by taking the concerns of women (and, yes, sometimes men) seriously the first time you hear about them. Of course, taking women seriously is a problem our culture has struggled with for thousands of years. But we have to start somewhere, right?

Currently, employers have no incentive to act until something has happened that cannot be ignored – if a victim has ugly emails as proof, if a crime was caught on a security camera. Or until they get sued, and then it’s “we had no idea” and “it will never happen again.” They did, and it will. Nobody takes it seriously until it’s too late.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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