The Hidden Victim of Sexual Harassment: Women’s Careers

November 30, 2017, 9:16 PM UTC

Yet another industry titan tumbled from his perch on Wednesday as NBC announced the firing of star Today Show host Matt Lauer for alleged “inappropriate sexual behavior.” As the day wore on, specific allegations against Lauer emerged, including an accusation of sexual assault and reports that he exposed himself to a female colleague.

Lauer hasn’t commented on specific allegations but has issued an apology, stating that while the accounts include some untruths and mischaracterizations, “there is enough truth in these stories” that he feels “embarrassed and ashamed.”

Also on Wednesday, Minnesota Public Radio announced its firing of former “Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor. NPR reported on Tuesday that its chief news editor, David Sweeney, had left the organization after at least three female journalists accused him of sexual harassment. On Thursday, music producer Russell Simmons said he was stepping down from his companies—including record label Def Jam Records and clothing brands Phat Farm and Tantris—after being accused of sexual assault by screenwriter Jenny Lumet. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Gloucester Stage has cut ties with Israel Horovitz after learning of sexual misconduct allegations against the celebrated playwright.

And that’s just this week.

(Keillor, for his part, characterized the incident in question as an accident for which he apologized. NPR’s story on Sweeney‘s departure says he couldn’t be reached for comment. Simmons says his encounter with Lumet was consensual, but apologized for being “thoughtless and insensitive” in some of his relationships. Horovitz says he has a “different memory of some of these events” at issue, but expressed regret for making women feel “compromised.”)

The public reckoning following the bombshell sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in early October has prompted the ouster of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, comedy, hospitality, and media; with headlines about their firings splashed across the globe. But buried in the cringe-worthy tales of unwanted tongue kissing, awkward come-ons, and untied bathrobes is the fact that the abuse has disrupted the careers of the men’s alleged victims, too. Unlike the accused, most of these women didn’t lose their jobs involuntarily. Rather, after experiencing the alleged harassment or assault, they quit their jobs, leave their chosen industry altogether, or come away from the encounter with their ambition crushed.

Read More: With Matt Lauer Out, Megyn Kelly Is Now the Highest-Paid NBC News Anchor

In the Lauer case, for instance, the woman accusing him of sexual assault told The New York Times that she didn’t report the alleged incident to NBC when it happened in 2001 because she believed she should’ve done more to stop him.

“She left the network about a year later,” the Times reports.

Hers is not the only exit to occur after alleged workplace abuse:

  • Alleged sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein prompted his one-time Miramax assistant Zelda Perkins to resign. “From my very first time left alone with Harvey, I had to deal with him being present either in his underpants or totally naked,” Perkins told The New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow. Perkins’ own assistant, also an alleged victim of the film producer, left alongside her.
  • Abby Schachner told The New York Times that comedian Louis C.K. masturbated while they spoke on the phone in 2003. She’d called him to invite him to one of her shows. She accepted the apology C.K. offered six years later, but says the episode left her deeply dispirited and was one factor that discouraged her from pursuing comedy.
  • In testimony before a House Administration Committee hearing earlier this month, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) recalled how a member of Congress exposed himself to a young female aide who’d been asked to drop off materials at his home. “She left,” Comstock said of the woman, “and then she quit her job.”
  • One woman who accused NPR news chief Michael Oreskes of sexual misconduct during his time as New York Times Washington bureau chief told The Washington Post, “The worst part of my whole encounter with Oreskes wasn’t the weird offers of room service lunch or the tongue kiss but the fact that he utterly destroyed my ambition,”
  • Reah Bravo, one of Charlie Rose’s alleged victims, says she found another job—albeit a higher paying one—to escape Rose’s unwanted advances. “I was leaving because I was getting away,” she told The Washington Post.
  • A third alleged Rose victim, Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, told the Post her experience with Rose—including him repeatedly walking in front of her naked at one of his homes—prompted her to leave the news industry. “Everything I experienced with journalism there made me not want to stay,” she said.
  • In that same vein, Laura McGann, who wrote about New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush’s “history of bad judgment around young women journalists” for Vox, said her own encounter with Thrush—she says he grabbed her thigh and kissed her without consent; he says it was consensual—led her to reconsider her choice of profession. “I started to think maybe I shouldn’t be in journalism if I couldn’t hang in a tough newsroom.”
  • Several victims of playwright Israel Horovitz say his alleged sexual misconduct prompted them to take time off from theatre, move into more commercial work, or leave the stage altogether. “I heard a word used recently about people like this,” one woman, Elizabeth Dann, told The New York Times, “they’re dream crushers.”

There’s a direct line to be drawn between alleged workplace sexual harassment and women quitting or questioning their jobs—and it goes beyond these recent anecdotes.

A study published in May by researchers at the Oklahoma State University, University of Minnesota, and University of Maine found that women who were sexually harassed were 6.5 times more likely to change jobs than those who were not harassed.

Read More: Here’s Why Matt Lauer Was Fired So Quickly

The researchers defined sexual harassment in seven different ways: unwanted touching; offensive jokes, remarks, or gossip directed at the study subject; offensive jokes, remarks, or gossip about others; direct questioning about a subject’s private life; staring or invasion of a subject’s personal space; staring or leering at a subject in a way that made her uncomfortable; and pictures, posters or other materials that the subject found offensive.

The study’s co-authors found that of women who experienced unwanted touching or four or more of the other harassing behaviors, 80% started a new primary job in the subsequent two years, compared to 54% of women who did not experience such abuse.

What’s more, the study found that women who experienced unwanted touching or multiple harassing behaviors reported “significantly greater financial stress” in the subsequent two years, establishing a “clear temporal order between sexual harassment, job change, and financial stress.” Sexual harassment’s financial impact “is comparable to experiencing other negative life events—serious injury or illness, incarceration, assault—suggesting that sexual harassment may have analogous scarring effects,” the study says.

The longitudinal study, which analyzed employed women who were potential harassment targets in 2003, also included an interview component, and co-author Heather McLaughlin, an assistant sociology professor at OSU, told Fortune that conversations with the study’s female subjects revealed how women’s career decisions in the wake of harassment can leave them at a financial disadvantage.

Some of the victims—seeking a field not dominated by men—changed industries and, as a result, ended up with lower paying, service-oriented jobs. One study participant named Angela, for instance, worked at a car dealership. After being berated by five male colleagues, she took a pay cut to work as a teacher’s assistant, earning $8 per hour.

Others cut their hours, went part-time, or changed shifts to avoid their abuser or reduce time spent in what they saw as hostile environments. One woman named Pam initially worked at a bank. After several promotions, she earned about $9 an hour as a full-time accountant. After being sexually harassed at work, she took a part-time job at a bakery that paid $6.50 an hour while as she reduced her hours at the bank.

The study highlights how unwanted, unwelcomed sexual harassment can disrupt the career path of its innocent victims and potentially leave them worse-off financially. It also underscores the desperate measures that victims are forced to take to escape toxic workplaces. Said one study subject: “I quit, and I didn’t have a job. That’s it. I’m outta here. I’ll eat rice and live in the dark if I have to. ”

“Employer-led efforts to improve organizational culture, which extends beyond sexual harassment, would likely help retain these employees and reduce turnover costs.” the study says.

At the same time, its findings shed fresh light on the recent, high-profile ousters of alleged harassers. Their firings capture the spotlight, but the kind of behavior they’re accused of has career costs that reach far beyond vacant office suites and empty anchor chairs.

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