More reports have surfaced over the past week involving allegations of sexual harassment and assault by high-profile American men. From Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore to comedian Louis C.K., these revelations have rocked the country’s political landscape, the entertainment industry, and NPR.
Many of these accusations date back decades, but they’re coming out now. Joanna Grossman, the Endowed Chair in Women and the Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says that doesn’t necessarily signal a new cultural shift.
“We’re definitely having a cultural moment,” she says. “I think whether it’s a cultural shift is something only time will tell. We’re seeing obviously this surge of complaints and this willingness for people to come forward because they feel a certain comfort with all the allegations coming forward, but whether that will translate into a real change in the way we do business dealing with harassment, I think it’s hard to say yet.”
Grossman says that a collective rage is fueling the social media campaigns and the willingness of women to come forward.
“I think just sort of the lid has come off and you’re seeing the results of many, many decades of mistreatment,” she says.
Grossman says she’s not surprised by the forceful push against women who are making accusations.
“People generally who complain don’t have a good experience,” she says. “They are ostracized by coworkers, they’re disliked by management, they’re retaliated against, and they are called liars. Many people who complain about harassment end up, in the end, worse off than if they hadn’t complained, even when what they’re complaining about was illegal or actionable and something we hope they would complain about.”
The movement to hold harassers accountable may be gaining momentum, but there are some massive roadblocks standing in the way of change.
“Employers and Hollywood and statehouses and all the institutions of our society have been incredibly complicit in allowing this kind of harassment to occur over decades and involving dozens, sometimes hundreds of women,” she says.
So will the current wave of women coming forward be enough to change workplaces?
“I would hope that this would have some impact in fueling those kinds of changes, but I’m not entirely confident that that’s what will happen,” she says.
Written by Jen Rice.