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Legislation

Sexual Harassment: A Cuomo Debriefing

“Just 25 years ago, sexual harassment was considered a radical-fringe by-product of feminist theory. Today it’s embedded in multiple Supreme Court decisions, thousands of corporate policies and a host of lower-court cases that have spread like kudzu across the legal landscape.” (Waxman, 2018) 

We often talk about what defines sexual harassment, but rarely do we have such a public case to demonstrate the concept. Here is a walk through what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks with Andrew Cuomo:

 

Hostile Work Environment

The inappropriate conversations and grooming behavior create a hostile work environment. The unwelcome and non-consensual touching also created a hostile work environment (see Al Jazeera, 2021). Imagine a powerful political figure sexualizing you, making inappropriate comments to you, even touching you sexually, then asking you to complete professional tasks. No one should ever have to work in that environment; most people cannot. The hostile work environment becomes especially harmful because a person of power uses that power to abuse others in the workplace.

The New York Office of the Attorney General’s report into Cuomo’s sexual harassment contained three main findings: 

  1. “Direct contact with an intimate body part constitutes one of the most severe forms of sexual harassment” (p. 147). Cuomo directly touched women inappropriately, including women who worked for the state and some who did not.
  2. The Governor used inappropriate sexual language with numerous women. “The law is clear that these types of sexually suggestive comments—if made as a ‘joke’ or otherwise—particularly when part of a pattern of comments and conduct, as it was with the Governor, constitute unlawful sexual harassment” (p. 147).
  3. The Governor’s less overt language and so-called “traditional” behavior was also offensive and created a hostile work environment. 

“[E]ven the Governor’s less overtly sexual comments that were nonetheless gender-based, also created a hostile work environment. Although the Governor (and certain of his senior staff) sought to downplay what the evidence has revealed as frequent gender-based comments and conduct by the Governor as simply ‘old fashioned’ or ‘cultural,’ neither explains nor justifies his behavior, nor makes it non-harassing. For example, referring to female staff as ‘honey,’ ‘sweetheart,’ and ‘darling,’ kissing staff members on the forehead and some of the senior staff on the lips, holding them tightly around the waist for pictures and other occasions, allowing senior staff members to sit on his lap at official functions, and lying down with his head on the lap of staff members who are women we find, based on our interviews with numerous Executive Chamber employees, did in fact create a hostile work environment for many staff who were women. As a matter of law, claiming that the gender-based behavior is simply a function of being oldfashioned or culturally more affectionate is not a defense to sexual harassment.” (p. 148)

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo, however, is a whole different ball game (pun intended). Most of us are more familiar with the political quid pro quo engaged in by the former president, i.e. withholding military aid for a political favor (see Torres, 2021). Sexual harassment quid pro quo, or something for something, involves a person in power (a manager, supervisor, or other authority in the workplace) offering to give an employee something, such as a raise or promotion, in exchange for some sort of sexual favor. Cuomo, as of this publication date, has not been accused of quid pro quo related to sexual harassment. 

 

Compliance ≠ Consent

One of the biggest lessons to learn from the Cuomo story is that compliance is never consent. Women who worked below him endured his inappropriate comments and touching, which is not the same as consenting. Consent is a positive affirmation that the behavior is welcomed. In Illinois, we require affirmative consent for sexual activity.

 

Not a Generational Difference

Cuomo both minimized and distanced himself from the wrongdoing (see Leopold, 2021). He described that there was a “generational difference” and that “the rules have changed” (Wagner et al, 2021). Inappropriately touching women and using sexualized language in the workplace have never been good behavior. Women complied over the years to keep their jobs. Women are speaking up more now and more people are listening to them. No one changed the rules; no one ever told Cuomo’s generation they could grab women in the workplace. 

Sexual harassment may have been considered a fringe area of feminist theory 25 years ago, but only because patriarchy was the norm. Cuomo chose to live in his patriarchal world of sexual harassment, but that was a choice. No one changed the rules on him. He just realized that he hasn’t been listening.

Retaliation

Cuomo reportedly attempted to retaliate when women came forward about the sexual harassment (see James, 2021). Retaliation is illegal. Anyone facing workplace sexual harassment has the right to report the misconduct without retaliation. 

Reporting

Both creating a hostile work environment and quid pro quo are illegal. You are protected by state and federal laws. 


If you or someone you know has a question about sexual harassment, please contact your local women’s center, rape crisis center, or sexual abuse center. If you live in Lake County or Northern Cook County in Illinois, feel free to contact ZCenter with any questions about your rights or reporting. We also offer a Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, now required for all state employers to offer. Contact us for any questions about scheduling or pricing.

Most of all, take care of yourself and your coworkers. We all deserve a safe and non-hostile work environment.

 


Written by Kristin D. Jones, PhD, EdM, Outreach Supervisor. 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

Al Jazeera Staff. (2021). Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal: What we know. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/9/andrew-cuomo-sexual-harassment-scandal-what-we-know-so-far

James, Leticia. (2021). Report of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. State of New York Office of the Attorney General. https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/2021.08.03_nyag_-_investigative_report.pdf

Leopold, L. (2021). New York Gov. Cuomo is the textbook example of how not to apologize. Theconversation.com https://theconversation.com/new-york-gov-cuomo-is-the-textbook-example-of-how-not-to-apologize-156474

Torres, N. (2021). Timeline of President Trump’s Quid Pro Quo. Congresswoman Norma Torres. https://torres.house.gov/timeline-president-trump-s-quid-pro-quo

Wagner, M., M. Mahtani, M. Macaya, M. Hayes, & V. Rocha. (2021). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Resigns. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/andrew-cuomo-investigation-08-10-21/index.html

Waxman, O.B. (2018). The Surprising Consequences of the Supreme Court Cases That Changed Sexual Harassment Law 20 Years Ago. Time.com. https://time.com/5319966/sexual-harassment-scotus-anniversary/

 

Security in the LGBTQIA Community

Security is a term that evokes a sense of safety, more specifically in your home and the community surrounding you. As an individual, in a large complex world, wanting and needing this security is essential to survive. But how about if it is difficult to obtain? It may be hard to envision a form of freedom from danger if security threats to adolescents are presented by the government and local community. On the other hand, we do know that the feeling of safety is a crucial aspect in a child’s emotional and social development. The more abundant the safety feeling is, the easier it is for them to be able to explore and experience the world around them. It creates a safe space for one to learn and grasp what is encompassing them in the world.

 

Bill HB1570

On April 6, the citizens of the United States were informed of the first bill to outlaw gender- affirming treatment to minors in Arkansas. The Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act limits youth in receiving gender-changing services as it prohibits insurance from covering hospital bills, prevents medical professionals from seeing transitioning youth, and puts a restriction on all medications and surgeries until the age of 18. Any physician providing health services to a transitioning minor is seen as breaking the law and will face legal consequences in the state of Arkansas. Priya Krishnakumar, while presenting information from the Human Rights Campaign, states that approximately 33 states in America have introduced more than 117 bills to hinder transgender rights (Krishnakumar, 2021). We see spiraling restrictions on individual rights, which can become messy and a concern for the transgender community as well as their mental health. 

 

 

Looking into the future instead of the present

What does this mean for transgender Americans? The new legislation signifies a reverse effect as we lose the decades of fighting for equality with the new statutes devised. A majority of the legislation bills will unfortunately affect the transgender youth in America. The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020 confirms the concerns of high risk of suicide and ideation. “Nearly 15% of LGBTQ respondents attempted suicide in the past twelve months, including more than 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth” (The Trevor Project, 2021). With the alarming statistics present, this brings us back to the original question. What does that mean for transgender youth? As we are presented with the numbers, we as a society need to take a step back and ponder the concerns that may arise for the trans youth community. 

Society might be at a questionable standstill, debating on whether we will be helping these children or harming their development. As a community, let’s pay special attention to our blossoming children by reaffirming their thoughts, feelings, and autonomy. Let’s share a moment of togetherness to show collective understanding and support for our youth at this confusing time. By doing so, we are choosing as one to put the child’s needs and emotions on the front line rather than the rules and bills. The transgender youth in Arkansas are already facing concerning outcries; transgender youth feel depressed and demoralized that society does not allow them to be their true self.  As Nelson Mandela articulates, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear” (World Vision International, 2016). Similarly, we owe it to the youth to be emotionally available by hearing their concerns and protests. Join us as we come together as allies, support our youth, and build a safer world for them.

 


Written by Adella Moss, Intern, Northern Illinois University

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

 

References:

Cole, D. (2021, April 6). Arkansas becomes first state to outlaw gender-affirming treatment for trans youth. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/06/politics/arkansas-transgender-health-care-veto-override/index.html.

Jenco, M. (2019). Studies: Suicide attempts high among transgender teens, increasing among black teens. The Official NewMagazine of the American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aappublications.org/news/aapnewsmag/2019/10/14/suicide101419.full.pdf.

Krishnakumar, P. (2021, April 15). This record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation would affect minors the most. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/15/politics/anti-transgender-legislation-2021/index.html.

Paley, A. (2020). The Trevor Project National Survey 2020. The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Suicide-Mental-Health.

Paley, A. (2021). The Trevor Project National Survey. The Trevor Project – Saving Young LGBTQ Lives. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/.

World Vision International. (2016). Partnership Key to Ending Violence Against Children. https://www.wvi.org/development/blogpost/partnership-key-ending-violence-against-children

 

Legislation and Sexual Assault

Legislation can be a heavy topic and one that is often difficult to understand. If we take a look into the etymology of the word, we can get a better idea of what the purpose of legislation really is. One of the original meanings of the word law comes from Old Norse and means “things layed out or fixed.” With this meaning, we see that one of the purposes of legislation is to provide guidelines or rules, ones that are fixed and layed out for us to better understand and refer to when needed. In the U.S., we have the power to take part in determining those guidelines and rules through our representatives and senators. We can encourage them to make the changes that are most important to us. To start off Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we take a look at three examples of proposed legislation that will protect and expand the basic rights of sexual assault survivors.  We also explore ways that you can take action and make sure these rights are put into practice.

Upcoming bills and their importance 

HB 3265: This bill would guarantee confidentiality to any survivor seeking services at a rape crisis center. This confidentiality would be guaranteed, regardless of whether the center provides only sexual assault services or also provides services like domestic violence as well.

This bill may seem like legislators are splitting hairs; however, in 2020, a defendant argued that a survivor was not protected by confidentiality because the center where she received services provided both sexual assault and domestic violence services. He argued that the definition of a rape crisis center states that its “sole purpose is to provide sexual assault services” and because the center where the survivor sought services also provided domestic violence services, she did not qualify for confidentiality. Survivors should always feel comfortable and safe seeking services for their healing and be guaranteed confidentiality, regardless of the scope of services that an organization offers. 

HB 63: This bill proposes that the Department of Public Health develop specialized clinics throughout the state to provide affordable healthcare services to women. Some of these services would include annual examinations, postnatal care, and services for STIs. 

We know that many survivors of sexual assault are women. It is crucial and a basic human right  for them not only to be able to have services available, but services that are also affordable. The impact of sexual assault goes beyond a single act of violence; it lasts a lifetime. Because of this, there is a need for health services throughout the entire life of the survivor. 

HB 1736: The Reach Act is a current bill that would enhance education prevention programs throughout Illinois. You might be familiar with Erin’s Law, a law that Illinois passed in 2011. This law mandates that students from preschool through high school receive relevant curricula that would help with the prevention of sexual abuse.

The passing of Erin’s Law has been an incredible start to prioritizing this type of education for students. However, The Reach Act expands on Erin’s Law, improving the AIDS training section of School Code, adding more inclusion of diverse gender identities, and prohibiting the use of gender stereotypes, just to name some of the amendments. 

 

Looking for ways to take action?

As advocates, we always support survivors as best we can; but without creating change in our laws and policies, we cannot give them the justice that they truly need. We know that it takes time for change to happen and that results do not often come quickly. This is why it is important that more people join the fight for survivors’ rights. The more people that support these bills, the more representation there will be, and the sooner we will see the results that bring even more hope for survivors.

If you are interested in contacting your local senators or representatives to support any of the new legislation listed above, please use this link to find your local representative, their contact information and district, and the state district map. 

ICASA (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault) works tirelessly to ensure bills are written, to advocate that laws are passed to support survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and to remove barriers to services. The ICASA website provides a comprehensive resource of these laws that protect and support survivors. An example of some of these laws are: 

  • Crime Victims’ Rights 
  • Statute of Limitations 
  • SASETA (Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act) rights involving emergency medical care and treatment at no cost
  • Civil No Contact Orders 
  • Crime Victim Compensation Program

ICASA’s website, found here, will also provide the most updated legislative initiatives each year so you can participate locally with your representatives on behalf of survivors. 

Join us all month as we participate in Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) with weekly blog posts, daily posts on our social media, and two new podcast episodes. We can end sexual violence. You can help us.


Written by Wendy Ivy, Associate Executive Director, and Evelyn Bello, Advocacy Services Coordinator

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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