Local News

Triangle accuser, advocate: More support needed for those who report sexual harassment

Posted December 6, 2017 5:32 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 11:15 a.m. EDT

— Sexual harassment in the workplace has been an issue for many years and is still a taboo topic.

The recent Hollywood allegations are just a microcosm of what experts say happens every day – unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching and lewd comments by coworkers or bosses.

One local woman said she experienced years of sexual harassment while working in the restaurant business.

"I’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace, multiple times," Jackie Wade said. "It's not a surprise for me. Most women that I know would say that they have been."

She believes – based on her decades in the food industry – that female restaurant employees are especially vulnerable.

Wade says she's seen harassment come from customers.

"It’s almost common, and you just deal with it. And it just kind of comes with the job," she said.

But Wade said her worst encounter came from a former boss, who she accuses of making obscene gestures and sexual comments about her looks.

"He made me feel less of a person," she said. "Whether it was my age that he harped on, or whether he picked up a zucchini or a pepper and would place it to his crotch and make jokes ... It was all just a sickening situation."

WRAL News caught up with Wade's former boss. He admits to making several mean comments, but denies ever sexually harassing her.

A 2011 review of data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published by MSNBC showed women who work in the restaurant industry were responsible for 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment claims.

Wade said she hesitated to make any formal complaint because she wasn't certain what actions qualified as sexual harassment.

One local expert says Wade's misunderstanding is common.

Naomi Randolph, executive director Women AdvaNCe, a nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices of women, said that, while the #MeToo movement has propelled a conversation, it will take more than a hashtag to change what she describes as a culture of sexual harassment.

"We allow the inappropriate comments or the touch at the coffee bar or any of those things. Words that are offensive and suggestive can indicate sexual harassment," she said.

"The support systems, the safety net is not always strongly in place around this particular issue. Yes, I can report it to HR. But after that, where is my emotional support?"

Women AdvaNCe is one of dozens of North Carolina groups offering resources for victims. By creating more programs, it is Randolph's hope that fewer men and women are left feeling forced to accept sexual harassment in the workplace.

Triangle resources for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace

Women AdvaNCe

Compass Center

North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws on sexual harassment