Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Sexual harassment

223 Women Working in National Security Sign Open Letter on Sexual Harassment

“This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress.”

223 current and former female national security workers have signed an open letter saying that they “have survived sexual harassment and assault or know someone who has experienced it.” The list includes current and former diplomats, servicemembers, development workers, and civil servants, and calls for mandatory training and outside data collection on how often sexual harassment occurs, as well as stronger reporting. “This is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress. These abuses are born of imbalances of power and environments that permit such practices while silencing and shaming their survivors.”

Adapting the powerful social media derived “#metoo” hashtag as “#metoonatsec” the letter seeks to advance the exposure and prevention of sexual harassment even as stories proliferate through the media, striking a chord that resonates across all industries. Many of the women who signed the #metoonatsec letter told its authors (a former U.S. Ambassador and a former State Department official) that their attempts to report harassment through proper channels were unavailing, and left them feeling characterized as troublemakers. And most felt their complaints went unheard, and certainly not acted-upon.

While departments under the aegis of national security each have their own training schemes and sexual harassment reporting procedures, the women who signed the letter noted that these trainings and processes were “erratic” and “irregular.” The letter calls for improvements to current policies and reforms to bring meaningful and lasting change to the scourge of sexual harassment. While studies about the economic costs of sexual harassment are few, a recent survey indicated that the typical Fortune 500 copmany loses nearly $7 million a year due to staff churn and absenteeism as a direct result of sexual harassment. And that doesn’t even factor in further effects of that harassment that supress women’s opportunities and thwart their ability to contribute most effectively and powerfully to the overall success of their companies, as well as their overall underrepresentation across a wide range of industries.

A 2016 study revealed that 52% of women in the workplace report experiencing sexual harassment. The problem is not minor, and it is not isolated — it is a core violation of basic human rights, and it is present in every industry, at every level.