On Friday January 12th, I wrote to Mayor Jenny A. Durkan thanking her for her leadership on sexual harassment issues and asking her to work with me to look at the impact of sexual harassment on our city and to work together to ensure that every person is free to live and work in Seattle free from the impacts of gender-based violence.
In my letter to Mayor Durkan I outlined four actions moving forward.
- Statute of Limitations on Reporting Sexual Harassment
Recently a constituent contacted my office because she had tried to file a sexual harassment claim with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) only to find out that the harassment she experienced happened before the 180-day statute of limitations outlined in the Seattle Municipal Code. It often takes time for people to come forward because of shame, fear of reprisals, denial, history of prior sexual violence, and lack of information about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to report it. As the chair of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee, I’ll be working with SOCR to examine how the current statute of limitations impacts people experiencing sexual harassment.
In addition, we know that people with experiences of sexual harassment are more likely to come forward when we clearly define the associated behavior. In working on legislation to address this issue it is also my hope to provide a clearer definition of sexual harassment than what is currently in the Seattle Municipal Code.
I’m consulting with the City Attorney’s Office and drafting legislation to address this issue. This also involves working with the SOCR and subject matter experts to explore best practices and to help develop a stronger statute and to avoid any unintended consequences when making these changes.
Though my focus is on civil complaints against sexual harassment because this is the area where the city government has jurisdiction, it’s important to recognize that the State Legislature has proposed House Bill 1155 that would eliminate the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes.
- Employee Climate Survey
It’s important that in doing this work, we get our own house in order. We live in a society with extremely high rates of gender-based violence. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports receiving 12,000 allegations of sex-based harassment each year. Eighty-three percent of the complainants come from female employees. As with other forms of gender-based violence we know that many people experiencing such harassment never tell anyone, as such the 12,000 allegations are likely a vast underreporting in comparison to the true impact this issue has on our communities.
In working to create a safe and welcoming climate for all employees I have asked Mayor Durkan to work with me to create an Employee Climate Survey. Many people who experience harassment know something is not right long before they have the words to describe their experiences or the tools to take action. According to the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, “The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action-either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint.”
We know that City employees want to come forward to tell their stories. Recently a group of City employees has formed called the Silence Breakers. See the coverage of their efforts here at Crosscut. It is my hope that by administering an employee climate survey we can learn more both about how City employees perceive their work cultures and their comfortability in reporting inappropriate or dangerous behavior.
- Human Resource Review and Division Director Survey
I have asked the Executive to complete a comprehensive review of each individual human resource division responsible for addressing sexual harassment related issues within each of the executive departments and to collaborate in designing a Human Resource Division Directors’ Survey. In making this request of the Executive I am also seeking the Legislative Department’s participation as well.
As we address this issue it’s important to ensure that the City of Seattle, and all its departments, model the practices we are working to create. In looking deeper into the issue of sexual harassment it is likely that new information will come forward. This is not a sign of failure. In a climate where gender-based violence is prevalent, where reporting statistics are so low and where we haven’t, as a city, taken a comprehensive look at our anti-harassment provisions in over 20 years, it’s likely that there are experiences we haven’t yet heard. This exploration is an opportunity for us to ensure that moving forward, we are all working together to create a climate where sexual harassment is not tolerated and that when employees do experience harassment it is dealt with in a respectful, appropriate, and efficient manner.
- Explore HR innovations in sexual harassment trainings
There was a time that people received short anti-harassment trainings that amounted to telling women to brush it off and telling men how to adjust their behavior to mitigate liability; that is if they received any training at all. According to the EEOC, traditional sexual harassment trainings have a limited efficacy because they are too focused on avoiding liability, rather than addressing the root of the problem.
There have been important innovations in anti-harassment trainings. Bystander training is one of the innovations. The hallmarks of bystander training include:
- Raising awareness of helping behaviors
- Increasing motivation to address harmful or unjust situations
- Developing skills and confidence when responding to problems
- Ensure the safety and well-being of self and others
At a time in our history when our nation’s leader promotes individualism at the expense of caring for one another, our learning how to safely stand up in solidarity when anybody in our community is targeted can help us become our best selves. Here is an article from the Seattle Times on Sunday about bystander training done by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “America’s largest Muslim civil rights group.”
Last October several Gatewood neighborhood residents contacted me about the water collection located at California Ave SW and SW Orchard St. They had already contacted Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) without resolution of the problem. The water that seeped onto the sidewalk and roadway would freeze in the winter. My staff and I reached out to SPU and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to ask if a solution could be found.
The new year brought good news, and I was notified two weeks ago that SPU was able to fix this problem. You may have already learned this since the work was actually completed shortly before the new year. Drainage and Wastewater operations staff at SPU discovered an abandoned storm water pipe. This allowed SPU to correct the problem of the water seepage because that they have been able to use the abandoned storm water pipe as a connection to newly route the water away from the sidewalk and street surface.
I want to thank everyone for their continued advocacy in order to resolve this issue. My efforts would not have been as effective without your voices demonstrating to SPU that the water accumulation was an issue of concern. The observations of residents in this area monitoring the occurrence of this accumulation of water was critical to the identification of a solution.
On January 26, I will be at the Southwest Neighborhood Service Center (2801 SW Thistle St) from 2:00p.m. – 6:45p.m. Please be sure to arrive no later than 6:30 pm, the final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30 p.m.
These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Additionally, I am working to put together a full list of in-district office hours available for 2018 by the end of this month. When those are available I will include them in my emails as well as post them on my website here.