After nearly two months of controversy, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (D) will finally vacate his office today. Last week, news broke that the stubborn mayor — who refused to resign even after more than a dozen women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment — was at last agreeing to step down. His resignation goes into effect at 5 pm PST.
The news of Filner’s sexual misconduct first broke in early July, and the list of women coming forward with similar allegations has continued to grow ever since. The calls for his resignation intensified, but the mayor was fiercely resistant. Even after city officials finally negotiated an agreement with him on August 22, he asked for one more week in office. ABC 10 reports that it is not clear “how he has been spending his time” during this final week.
Filner’s departure is welcome news for the city of San Diego, and particularly the nearly 20 women who were victimized by him. But the mayor ultimately speaks to a much deeper issue at play that isn’t easily remedied with politicians’ reluctant resignations. The harassment and abuse of women, particularly at the hands of those who occupy positions of power, is pervasive. Here are just a few reminders about why Filner is simply the tip of the iceberg:
One in four women reports experiencing some type of harassment in the workplace. When sexual harassment allegations involve public figures like Filner, they’re more likely to make headlines. But for many women across the country, this type of abuse has become commonplace. One in four women has been sexually harassed at work — and, unsurprisingly, they’re the ones who are most likely to think the country needs to figure out how to deal with this issue. 64 percent of the general public says that sexual harassment is a big problem in the U.S., but that jumps to 88 percent among the women who have actually been forced to experience it.
One in five women has been sexually harassed specifically by a boss. It’s typical for sexual misconduct in the workplace to exploit power dynamics. One in five women say they’ve been harassed by a superior, which can obviously create a situation that directly impacts the security of their jobs.
70 percent of the people who experience harassment don’t report it. It’s perhaps no wonder that the vast majority of victims of sexual harassment don’t feel comfortable reporting the misconduct. Employees worry about retaliation against them, assume no one will believe them, or feel ashamed it happened in the first place. Even when victims of harassment do report the incident, there’s no guarantee that it will be resolved with the appropriate punishments — many workplaces drag their feet, just like Filner did.
The Supreme Court recently made it even more difficult to stand up against sexual harassment and abuse. In June, two decisions handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court made it significantly harder for workers to report sexual abuse against them. In the first, a narrow definition of the word “supervisor” may make it harder for workers to report harassment that stems from coworkers who oversee their work but aren’t technically considered to be their supervisors. In the second, employers were given more leeway to retaliate against workers to come forward with allegations of discrimination.
Women are often told it’s their own fault for tempting men in the workplace. A victim-blaming rape culture perpetuates the notion that women’s bodies are for men’s taking. If a woman experiences harassment in the workplace, that type of attitude typically assumes that she must have done something to incite it. This is even written into some companies’ sexual harassment prevention programs. A widely-used employee training manual includes tips for how women can prevent men from coming onto them, ultimately blaming them for the inappropriate advances that their coworkers may make.
It’s not just the workplace — women are harassed when they step out onto the streets, too. The same rape culture that empowers people to objectify women in the workplace also means that women are frequently objectified simply for walking in public. A joint study conducted by Hollaback! and Cornell University found that 96 percent of people either know someone who’s experienced street harassment or have experienced it themselves. Often, though, this type of harassment is simply seen as the status quo — just five percent of the people who witness or experience street harassment end up reporting it to the authorities.