Power Dynamics Contribute to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Alex Stuckey, a graduate of Ohio University and reporter at the Houston Chronicle, says she was sexually harassed during an internship at a newspaper in college. It ranged from colleagues making inappropriate comments about how she dressed, to a male reporter sending her creepy messages.

“I was getting attention for things that had nothing to do with my abilities,” she said. “And so I really felt like, okay, maybe I’m not that great at this. Maybe I’m not doing enough.”

With that experience in mind, Stuckey knew something had to be done when news broke that Matt Lauer, the man who provided a scholarship and internship opportunity to students at her alma mater, was fired for sexual misconduct. She tweeted about her experience as an intern and how much it affected her, which was the first time she talked about it publicly.

With new allegations of sexual misconduct by prominent figures coming out almost daily, many people say this is a turning point for the country. But what is contributing to the misconduct in the first place? Assistant Director of Health Promotion for Sexual Assault/Misconduct Prevention Mathew Hall says a lot of it is about power dynamics.

“When you have someone who’s in a authority position, or someone who has positional power, whether that be a professor or like a boss, do you actually ever feel like you can say no?” he said.

Legally there are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is a “this for that” type of exchange, and a hostile work environment is one where sexual-based behavior is so prevalent, it negatively affects the victim’s job performance. Being an intern wasn’t the only reason Stuckey did not speak up about her hostile work environment.

“This is something that happens in the corners of the office and you’re sort of conditioned not to talk about it,” she said. “This fear, that I think is finally going away, but this fear that you will be punished for this. This fear that you’re overreacting. We’ve been conditioned to think that what we’re experiencing isn’t real.”

Stuckey wanted to bring to light this issue of the sexual harassment of interns, because she didn’t feel like there was anyone she could report her experience to at the time. She felt like she was in an awkward in-between place — not quite an employee, but not quite a student. Stuckey will co-convene a task force, along with Ohio U journalism school director Bob Stewart, for student media leaders which will be aimed at protecting interns.

The group will meet on January 16 at 7 a.m.