Sexual harassment is not your fault and you have a right to feel safe. If you are being sexually harassed, tell someone.
As a Central Florida resident, there are a number of programs available to help you right now, including a free hotline run by the Victim Service Center of Central Florida – 407-500-HEAL. They can listen and they can get you the help you need and everything is free and confidential.
VICTIM SERVICE CENTER OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
The Victim Service Center of Central Florida (Facebook | Website) was founded in 2001 as an independent nonprofit organization to serve all victims of crime, sexual assault, and traumatic circumstances in the region. They have a dedicated crisis response team that provides free, individualized, and confidential services for all victims of crime, including sexual assault, domestic violence, terrorism, stalking, kidnapping, home invasion, and other traumatic events.
We spoke with Education Coordinator, Emilie Mitchell, at the Victim Service Center of Central Florida to get a better understanding of the help they offer to Central Florida residents. The first thing they want you to know is that they are a resource for you, no matter what you’re going through and they’re completely free.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment there are a four things you can do:
- Tell them to stop – That may sound odd, but it’s known that simply saying something aloud can help stop things from escalating if the offender is not aware that they have stepped over a line and are sexually harassing you. Exercising personal boundaries is always a great step before taking it up the chain of command.
- Document everything – Start a journal to log location, time, and any witnesses to the harassment. This is important because if you have to file something with the EEOC, this documentation can help you prove your case.
- Review your workplace sexual harassment policy – If your workplace doesn’t have a policy, that should be seen as a red flag. The Victim Service Center can help your employer to create a policy if they don’t have one.
- Report the harassment – Find a supervisor to report the harassment to or report it to Human Resources. If your workplace has neither, then go directly to the EEOC. The Victim Service Center can help you with this step if you feel like reporting isn’t a safe option for you at the current time.
Formally reporting harassment will be followed by interviews with a police officer who will come take your statement. There will be a series of follow-ups with investigators to have you repeat the story multiple times to vet you and what happened to you. An Advocate from the Victim Service Center can help sit with you through this process.
The Victim Service Center can help you seek compensation for any missed hours or wages due to discrimination or harassment and they can help you seek legal advice. You will be given an Advocate to help you all the way through the process and they can help you with relocation and mental health counseling, if needed.
The Victim Service Center operates a 24/7 crisis hotline at 407-500-HEAL that primary and secondary victims can call around-the-clock to receive immediate crisis intervention support.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION (EEOC)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Website) investigates complaints of job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex – including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information. If an employer is suspected to be violating the law, it is their job to take action to stop them from discriminating against you.
The EEOC also works with employers to help stop discrimination before it even happens by giving presentations to employees and employers about the laws they enforce. They help everyone to understand their rights and responsibilities at work. It is unlawful to harass a person because of their sex and harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment can also include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.
PROVING YOUR CASE – THE LAW OF THE LAND
We spoke with Mark Elliott, of Mark Elliott Law (Website), a Florida Employee and Civil Rights Attorney, about what the process is like for people who seek legal help for cases of sexual harassment in Florida. Elliott is a member of the Florida National Employment Lawyers Association (Website) which has independent state chapters with directories by region if you need legal help.
A stray comment is often not enough for a case and you will need substantial proof to prove you were sexually harassed and that includes a fact-intensive analysis of the frequency and severity of the harassment as well as a palpable paper trail which can include emailed or complaints via text. It is almost impossible to prove a one-on-one conversation took place.
Elliott told us that while not all cases are actionable, you can still seek help from Human Rights coordinators in Florida as we have state law and local courts to protect you.
- The Office of Human Relations (Website) at the City of Orlando, which advocates policies of nondiscrimination that prohibit discrimination for housing, public accommodation, and employment, per Chapter 57 of the City Code and contractual agreements with the EEOC and HUD.
- Orange County has a civil rights ordinance that gives victims a right to sue at the County level and cover private-sector employees for employers that have five or more employees working at least four calendar weeks of the current or preceding calendar year.
- At the State level, there is the Florida Commission on Human Relations (Website) that enforces the Florida Civil Rights Act and they will receive and investigate your complaints there as well.
Courts can help you recover funds lost if you quit your job due to harassment, as you were essentially forced to do so. A formula based on your wage and the amount of time that you’ve been employed will be used to come up with the number you are owed from your employer.
Another category for reparations payments is that of “Pain and Suffering” and possibly punitive damages as well as attorney fees depending on your legal representation and the nature of the harassment. Some lawyers can be paid on contingencies so that any amount won in court will be awarded directly to the plaintiff and the fee for your lawyer will go to the harasser to settle.
City and State investigations can take a few months to settle but any case that goes to the Ninth Circuit could possibly take up to two years for a trial to even be scheduled.
Reporting harassment is an intense process that will disrupt your life for a number of years, with a magnifying glass being put to your life. The opposing legal team will weigh how you dress, your overall temperament, and how you are as a person. They will look at your court background, previous complaints, arrest records, and your social media accounts to prove that your complaint has no merit in court and that you were untrustworthy and a bad employee. We don’t say this to scare you away from reporting an incident, it’s just to impress upon you the importance of documenting the harassment while it’s happening.
CONTACTING THE MEDIA
In most cases, news outlets will not cover a story about sexual harassment unless there is an active lawsuit against the alleged offender or an official complaint made with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When contacting the Orlando Sentinel, you should reach out to the Business department, unless you work in the food industry, and in that case, you are likely to have a better chance with the food critics.
Orlando Weekly and TV news channels like WESH or FOX 35 are unlikely to pick up your story unless it is affiliated with a recognizable individual or another news story. The same goes for WMFE which will rarely cover sexual harassment stories unless it’s a more extraordinary incident like the recent story on the former Orlando Fire Chief.