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This is the first draft of my research paper on how sexual harassment is perceived and how certain varying perceptions affect victims of sexual harassment. Finding digital sources was quite easy relative to searching for printed sources as there was much more relevant and current information I was able to find online rather than on a bookshelf. I hope the question I attempted to answer and the topic was not too broad or narrow and the conclusions drawn from my research were adequate for a first draft of this paper. My biggest goals for this paper is to write enough to be able to reach the minimum page limit without being redundant and write a satisfying conclusion.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, sexual harassment is becoming an issue that is garnering attention in workplaces and educational institutions alike. However, there are varying perceptions as to what legitimately constitutes as sexual harassment and how such differing viewpoints affect victims of sexual harassment in unique ways. While there is still a lack of a single definition of sexual harassment because of various judicial, occupational, and even cultural perceptions on what constitutes as sexual harassment, a commonly accepted definition of sexual harassment describes it as "unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior in a work or educational setting affecting both physical and psychological well-being of a person" (Mamaru 29). But this definition does cause some victims of sexual harassment to be dismissed because their experiences may not have been as physically or psychologically traumatizing and therefore such cases do not truly constitute as sexual harassment. Because of a lack of a singular and clear definition due to a number of various perceptions, the experiences of sexual harassment victims are often invalidated, unheard, or dismissed by even the victims themselves.
First of all, there is a lack of a clear, consistent, and meaningful definition of sexual harassment in court rulings that allows a victim to voice her concerns when faced with harassment in an occupational or educational institution. In What's a Reasonable Woman To Do? The Judicial Rhetoric of Sexual Harassment written by Professor Frances J. Ranney of Wayne State University, she examines two concepts unique to hostile environment claims in sexual harassment law, the "reasonable woman" standard of review, and the legal category of "welcome harassment." Within this text I could not find a consistent statement of what sexual harassment was at all, but rather the outcome of the case was determined by facts unique to the sexual harassment case. While this may sound reasonable, it is apparent that the courts ruled unfavorably against the victim because of an unclear and all too narrow definition of sexual harassment. In one such case of "welcome harassment" was in 1994, Carr v. Allison Gas Turbine Division where the claim of sexual harassment at the trial court level was lost by Mary Carr, who was the first and only female tinsmith at her place of work who eventually resigned after five years in the tin shop. She had claimed that she was frequently referred to her coworkers by "obscene epithets ∴ displayed sexually oriented signs and posters throughout the work area and sabotaged her equipment, and one exposed himself to her on two occasions" (Ranney 2).
Despite this, Carr's complaints were ignored by her supervisors and her claim at the trial court level was lost because it was believed that Carr had "invited" such behavior by her work record, use of vulgar language and participation in some of the sexual jokes in the workplace (Ranney 2). Because of the existence of this "welcome harassment" concept, it is seen that it is because of Carr's own conduct that constituted sexual harassment and therefore the trial court concluded that such behavior towards the tinsmith "was not unwelcome" (Ranney 2). Another example of a case being dismissed due to the idea of "welcome harassment" is Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson in 1986 in which Mechelle Vinson, a teller at Meritor who was lured by Sidney Taylor who was Vinson's immediate supervisor for the next four years. Vinson testified that Taylor "was at first a fatherly figure but that he eventually asked her to dinner, where he suggested that they go to a motel in order to have sex" (Renney 15). Vinson said she consented out of fear of losing her job and continued to have sex with him "over the course of two years and said that on several occasions he forcibly raped her" (Renney 15). Morever, "Vinson was promoted several times during the years she worked at Meritor, but was fired in 1978 after a series of disputes with Taylor" (Renney 15). The district trial court found that the sexual relationship between Vinson and Taylor was "voluntary" and that the bank had no responsibility for Taylor's behavior since it did not know about it and it is also held that "she had not suffered any economic harm" (Renney 15). However, while the appeals court remanded the case saying the district court had mistakenly treated the case as a "quid pro quo" complain rather than a hostile environment complaint and an employer is responsible for the behavior of its supervisory personnel whether it knows about it or not, "The Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Vinson's participation in the sexual relationship was voluntary" (Renney 16). In addition, The Supreme Court also agreed with the appeals court that "economic damage is not required for a hostile environment complaint" (Renney 16). In both of these cases, the victims of sexual harassment were dismissed because it was believed that their experiences with sexual harassment was not really harassment as their conduct meant their harassment was actually welcomed.
When the assertion that economic damage is not required for a hostile environment complaint to take place, it may follow that this would help with the narrow legal perception of sexual harassment. However, in 1998 the dismissal of the sexual harassment case of Paula Corbin Jones against President Bill Clinton by Judge Susan Webber Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is shown to be inconsistent with the view held by the appeals court in reference to the 1986 Vinson case. As written in Sexual Harassment: Issues and Answers by Doctor Linda LeMoncheck and philosopher James P. Sterba, Judge Susan Webber Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed the sexual harassment case of Paula Corbin Jones against President Clinton on the somewhat controversial grounds that even if Clinton (as Governor of Arkansas) had done all Jones claimed he had done (e.g., summoned her from her convention post to his hotel suite; dropped his pants in front of Jones; asked her to "kiss it"; touched her thigh and tried to kiss her on the neck; and, despite apparently accepting her "no" for an answer, partially and momentarily tried to block her exit for enough time to tell her that he knew her boss and that it would be best if the incident were kept between the two of them), Clinton would not have sexually harassed Jones because she could not demonstrate any tangible job detriment or adverse employment action for her refusal to submit to Clinton's alleged advances (Sterba 231).
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