Skip to main content
ABC News
Will Women In Low-Wage Jobs Get Their #MeToo Moment?

There was physical evidence that something had happened.

The medical examination on May 14, 2011, found redness around Nafissatou Diallo’s vaginal area. Her pantyhose were torn. There was semen on her housekeeper’s uniform as well as on the walls and carpet of Room 2806 in the midtown Manhattan Sofitel hotel.

She told police that the man with the distinguished white hair — a guest of the hotel and a likely candidate for the French presidency, Dominique Strauss-Kahn — had forced her into oral sex after emerging naked from the bathroom of a suite. Strauss-Kahn was pulled from an airplane minutes before it was due to depart for Paris and arrested, a dramatic act pursuing the course of justice.

But as time went on and the case unfolded, prosecutors weren’t sure they could trust Diallo over Strauss-Kahn, who claimed that the encounter had been consensual. Whom to believe? A powerful white man in politics or a black hotel housekeeper from Africa? With none of today’s groundswell of support for women accusers, what might have become a watershed cultural moment became muddled in doubt.

In 2011, the culture wasn’t primed for it; the time wasn’t yet ripe.

Diallo was too unreliable to be an effective advocate for her case in court, said prosecutors from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. When the D.A. declined to pursue charges in the case, his office compiled a 25-page document outlining the ways the defense team could poke holes in her story. Vance’s prosecutors enumerated how Diallo had lied about a number of things in her background, including being gang-raped in her native Guinea.1 But they also cast doubt over the severity of a shoulder injury she claimed to have sustained during the attack, and they seemed to insinuate that her changing her mind about seeking financial redress from Strauss-Kahn was distasteful. “The complainant’s previous disavowal of any financial interest,” the prosecutors wrote, was “relevant to her credibility.”

The media picked up on the doubt. The New York Post called her a “hooker,” and The New York Times seemed to agree that “having been tricked by Ms. Diallo, none of the seasoned lawyers or investigators could ask a jury to convict Mr. Strauss-Kahn based on those very tools of dramatic persuasion.” Media coverage of the case seemed largely about Diallo’s inconsistencies, the casting of reasonable doubt.

She was far from an ideal witness, but her word that something violent had happened still stood, as did the physical evidence. A liar can be a rape victim, too.

The 2011 coverage of the case didn’t give rise to an outpouring of Twitter hashtag activism. No mass movement of women connected their private experiences of harassment or assault to Diallo’s very public accusations. There were certainly many who were sympathetic to Diallo, but her case did not become emblematic, lastingly imprinted in the public’s moral consciousness.

Since the Diallo-Strauss-Kahn case made headlines six years ago, parts of American society now seem more inclined to “believe women.” 2011 came close to having a sexual misconduct moment, one that was started by a low-wage woman’s complaint — the crucial element of rapt media attention was certainly there. But the culture wasn’t primed for it; the time wasn’t yet ripe.

As male harassers and assaulters have been unmasked over the last few months, the reckoning has largely been confined to the realm of the white-collar worker, particularly in industries with big names familiar to the public. While the social stigma against reporting harassment may fall away in some sectors of the economy, women with less social capital have yet to see the names of their harassers — or even simply reports of widespread patterns of harassment in their industries — splashed across front pages.

In other words, blue-collar and pink-collar jobs — the sort society has traditionally assigned to women — have not yet had their moment of catharsis. A question remains as to whether they ever will.

The most common full-time job for a woman in America is an elementary or middle school teacher. Next come the nurses, secretaries and home health aides. Nafissatou Diallo held the 14th most common job for a woman in America — a maid or housekeeping cleaner.

The most common occupations, by gender

Among full-time American workers, 2016

Elementary and middle school teachers 605K 2,231K
Registered nurses 285 2,213
Secretaries and administrative assistants 133 2,078
Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides 194 1,192
Customer service representatives 664 1,185
Managers, all other 1,845 1,115
First-line supervisors of retail sales workers 1,321 1,047
Cashiers 402 965
Accountants and auditors 559 892
Receptionists and information clerks 103 848
First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers 383 819
Office clerks, general 140 760
Retail salespeople 1,103 728
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 120 661
Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks 115 641
Personal care aides 125 636
Waiters and waitresses 342 607
Financial managers 527 578
Secondary school teachers 403 562
Social workers 127 557
Education administrators 297 541
Teacher assistants 56 532
Preschool and kindergarten teachers 13 518
Cooks 892 515
Licensed practical and vocational nurses 44 481
Counselors 184 473
Human resources workers 166 465
Medical assistants 36 452
Postsecondary teachers 535 445
Janitors and building cleaners 1,139 441
Marketing and sales managers 518 403
Medical and health services managers 133 399
Child care workers 24 381
Stock clerks and order fillers 643 371
Health practitioner support technologists and technicians 113 361
Billing and posting clerks 44 360
Office and administrative support workers, all other 107 351
Food service managers 410 350
Miscellaneous assemblers and fabricators 645 345
Chief executives 832 318
Paralegals and legal assistants 43 308
Physicians and surgeons 497 308
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 819 302
Lawyers 446 299
Designers 290 297
Real estate brokers and sales agents 209 284
Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists 27 281
Software developers, applications and systems software 1,084 266
Special education teachers 49 264
Food preparation workers 215 262
Management analysts 332 253
First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers 174 251
General and operations managers 626 250
Social and community service managers 115 248
Production workers, all other 641 246
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers 445 241
First-line supervisors of nonretail sales workers 552 230
Laborers and freight, stock and material movers, hand 1,196 221
Property, real estate and community association managers 181 221
Packers and packagers, hand 166 216
Other teachers and instructors 156 214
Insurance claims and policy processing clerks 40 210
Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners and investigators 114 206
Insurance sales agents 218 205
Credit counselors and loan officers 151 200
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians 97 198
Tellers 39 195
Human resources managers 73 190
Computer systems analysts 314 182
Dental assistants 19 180
Diagnostic related technologists and technicians 79 175
Data entry keyers 51 170
Miscellaneous personal appearance workers 37 167
Medical records and health information technicians 11 159
Dispatchers 126 153
Security guards and gaming surveillance officers 576 152
Shipping, receiving and traffic clerks 322 151
Computer and information systems managers 443 150
Bus drivers 197 146
Business operations specialists, all other 110 146
Compliance officers 106 146
Sales representatives, services, all other 282 145
Personal financial advisers 258 142
Nurse practitioners 11 133
Pharmacists 89 133
First-line supervisors of production and operating workers 599 131
Market research analysts and marketing specialists 116 130
Physical therapists 69 128
Purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail and farm products 128 125
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 72 125
Computer support specialists 367 124
Social and human service assistants 29 122
Bartenders 131 122
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers 2,689 120
Postal service mail carriers 185 119
Librarians 23 117
Sewing machine operators 52 114
File clerks 21 113
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders 112 113
Miscellaneous agricultural workers 547 111
Physical scientists, all other 131 111
Production, planning and expediting clerks 113 111
Payroll and timekeeping clerks 15 110
Speech-language pathologists 3 109
Therapists, all other 32 106
Computer occupations, all other 418 106
Bill and account collectors 39 105
Computer programmers 300 104
Financial analysts 173 104
Loan interviewers and clerks 25 100
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers 609 100
Recreation and fitness workers 92 100
Interviewers, except eligibility and loan 7 98
Miscellaneous legal support workers 30 98
Purchasing managers 95 92
Bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers 275 91
Meeting, convention and event planners 30 88
Wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products 68 83
Bakers 55 83
Training and development specialists 47 82
Advertising sales agents 122 81
Laundry and dry-cleaning workers 55 80
Engineering technicians, except drafters 275 75
Metal workers and plastic workers, all other 306 74
Dental hygienists 2 73
Information and record clerks, all other 31 73
Dietitians and nutritionists 11 71
Phlebotomists 12 71
Nonfarm animal caretakers 17 71
Food servers, nonrestaurant 33 71
First-line supervisors of housekeeping and janitorial workers 119 71
Administrative services managers 101 71
Insurance underwriters 34 68
Chefs and head cooks 288 68
Sales and related workers, all other 103 68
Other education, training and library workers 24 67
Public relations specialists 40 67
Psychologists 25 66
Hotel, motel and resort desk clerks 36 66
Industrial production managers 201 66
Operations research analysts 59 66
Miscellaneous health care support occupations, including medical equipment preparers 29 65
Miscellaneous health technologists and technicians 43 64
Lodging managers 59 64
Miscellaneous community and social service specialists, including health educators and community health workers 20 63
Engineers, all other 430 63
Securities, commodities and financial services sales agents 155 63
Occupational therapists 10 61
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists 39 61
Butchers and other meat, poultry and fish processing workers 183 61
Court, municipal and license clerks 19 60
Writers and authors 39 60
Emergency medical technicians and paramedics 114 60
First-line supervisors of gaming workers 68 59
Medical scientists 69 57
Miscellaneous life, physical and social science technicians 62 57
Reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks 46 56
Editors 64 56
Eligibility interviewers, government programs 17 55
Respiratory therapists 22 54
Industrial truck and tractor operators 510 54
Clergy 315 53
Postal service clerks 58 53
Compensation, benefits and job analysis specialists 21 51
Transportation, storage and distribution managers 237 51
Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers 82 51
Hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge and coffee shop 24 50
Physician assistants 25 50
Producers and directors 78 50
Electrical, electronics and electromechanical assemblers 55 50
Industrial engineers, including health and safety 169 46
Web developers 97 45
Architects, except naval 135 43
Construction laborers 1,281 41
Food processing workers, all other 88 41
Civil engineers 350 39
Supervisors of transportation and material moving workers 126 39
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 222 38
Logisticians 75 37
Chemists and materials scientists 56 36
Construction managers 452 35
Athletes, coaches, umpires and related workers 106 35
Grounds maintenance workers 844 34
Printing press operators 137 33
Dishwashers 142 30
Network and computer systems administrators 168 29
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment 224 28
Detectives and criminal investigators 104 28
Electrical and electronics engineers 245 26
First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers and repairers 221 25
Couriers and messengers 135 25
Chemical technicians 50 25
Mechanical engineers 311 24
Welding, soldering and brazing workers 535 23
First-line supervisors of police and detectives 97 23
First-line supervisors of protective service workers, all other 66 23
Radio and telecommunications equipment installers and repairers 110 22
Environmental scientists and geoscientists 58 21
Information security analysts 65 20
Electricians 649 18
First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers 540 18
Chemical engineers 73 18
Cutting, punching and press machine setters, operators and tenders, metal and plastic 68 18
Painters, construction and maintenance 375 17
Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers 102 17
Computer, automated teller and office machine repairers 150 15
Maintenance and repair workers, general 502 13
Machinists 313 13
Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators 67 13
Cutting workers 50 13
Computer network architects 93 12
Carpenters 828 11
Automotive service technicians and mechanics 677 11
Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters 464 11
Industrial and refractory machinery mechanics 374 11
Painting workers 147 11
Parts salespersons 85 11
Aerospace engineers 114 10
Drafters 83 10
Architectural and engineering managers 134 9
Cost estimators 96 9
Firefighters 244 8
Other installation, maintenance and repair workers 130 8
Aircraft pilots and flight engineers 112 7
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators 328 6
Crushing, grinding, polishing, mixing and blending workers 82 6
Computer control programmers and operators 80 6
Construction and building inspectors 62 6
Automotive body and related repairers 112 5
Automotive and watercraft service attendants 67 5
Surveying and mapping technicians 61 5
Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers 357 4
Telecommunications line installers and repairers 168 4
Stationary engineers and boiler operators 72 4
Refuse and recyclable material collectors 64 4
Parking lot attendants 62 4
Roofers 158 3
Sheet metal workers 115 3
Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators 72 3
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians 134 2
Carpet, floor and tile installers and finishers 91 2
Highway maintenance workers 83 2
Pest control workers 59 2
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 297 1
Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers and tapers 137 1
Electrical power-line installers and repairers 125 1
First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service and groundskeeping workers 112 1
Security and fire alarm systems installers 68 1
Structural iron and steel workers 60 1
Railroad conductors and yardmasters 51 1
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics 198 0
Brickmasons, blockmasons and stonemasons 119 0
Miscellaneous vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers 73 0
Crane and tower operators 66 0

Excluding occupations with fewer than 50,000 men or women

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

When it comes to workplace harassment, particularly sexual harassment, the women in these largely pink-collar jobs face challenges both institutional and societal.

When the time comes to speak out, many of the women in these fields lack support from organizations like unions. “If I’m a low-wage worker who works in a restaurant and I’m not in a union, and I’m in a state where I’m working with a minimum wage, the customer has control over my work conditions,” said KC Wagner, director of workplace issues at Cornell University’s labor institute.

Women reporting harassers on their own are more likely to weigh the potential economic repercussions. “If I were to speak out, what is management’s response to me objecting to behavior from a customer?” Wagner said. She added that women in jobs like this often face workplace cultures that say the customer is always right, and sometimes they have to grapple with one particularly uncomfortable question: “Am I on the menu?”

In addition to the institutional challenges of particular workplaces, many pink-collar jobs are done by minorities who face systemic prejudice — prejudice that could make them less willing to report harassment or to navigate the legal system. “There are many points in time that people come forward, and then for different reasons withdraw their claim,” said Monica Ramirez, deputy director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. “That could be because they’re fearful or don’t understand the process.” Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable, she said. “They don’t always have an advocate to help them through either the criminal justice system or the civil side.”

Harassment is a useful tool to put a woman in her place. Whatever place that might be.

Even when they do pursue allegations, a victim’s social capital casts a shadow over cases of sexual assault and harassment. The cases are difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, and believability is oftentimes caught up in a victim’s life circumstances. “Structural racism — who gets believed and who doesn’t,” Wagner said, is a powerful force facing women who report harassment claims.

As in so many parts of American life, the inequities are baldly apparent, the solutions less so.

Like Nafissatou Diallo, Sandra Pezqueda worked in a hotel – and a beautiful one at that. The Terranea Resort, just a ways up the road from Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, juts out into the Pacific Ocean and is studded with pools, palm trees and putting greens.

But Pezqueda says her shift-work job as a dishwasher and chef’s assistant had an ugly element. According to Pezqueda’s complaint, her male supervisor took an immediate shine to her, hitting on her, texting her and, one day, cornering her in a part of the resort free from security cameras. He tried to kiss her. Pezqueda shook and kept her head down, and finally he let her go. After, he told Pezqueda he was watching her. He gave her more hours if she played along and responded to his texts but took away shifts if she didn’t. He followed her to a warehouse another day, cornered her and kissed her. He told Pezqueda he wanted to be with her, but that she would have to be available whenever he wanted. Pezqueda said no, and soon after, he took her off the work schedule for two weeks. Things only got worse, and finally, she reported him to management. They told her it was his word against hers.

“At first I felt relieved, but then after that, they made me feel like I’m nothing.”

A little while later, Pezqueda was fired. FiveThirtyEight reached out to Terranea for comment, but a spokesperson did not respond directly to questions about Pezqueda’s dismissal.2 She has since filed a complaint against the resort and her staffing agency for wrongful termination. The job wasn’t a unionized one.

While the power of trade unions has diminished in American society, women in low-wage, service-sector jobs might find an amplification of their voices through collective bargaining and union advocacy. Unions rose in the 20th century as a working class and middle-class counterbalance to the power of corporate interests. They were at their peak in 1954, when 35 percent of all U.S. workers belonged to one. Traditionally unionized sectors — like manufacturing and construction — have been hit hard by globalization and have seen their workforce shrink. But service sectors of the economy, which employ greater numbers of women, have grown since the 1970s, a decade that also saw increased rates of women coming into the workplace. The Service Employees International Union, half of whose members are women and which is led by a woman, is one of the fastest growing in the country.

Organized labor hasn’t been traditionally inclined to understand the needs of women in the workforce. Labor historian Ileen DeVault said that labor organizations in the late 19th century experimented with child care collectives, but “not until the 1990s and the early 2000s” did they address issues like parental leave or child care. Sexual harassment wasn’t on the radar. Just this November, SEIU fired senior leadership over allegations that they harassed women on staff.

Unions may have ignored harassment until recently, but women in pink-collar jobs have known it all too well. An analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that most sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the accommodation and food services sector, followed by retail, manufacturing, and health care and social assistance jobs.

Sexual harassment charges, by industry

Among charges filed by women, fiscal years 2005-2015

Accommodation and food services 4,801
Retail trade 4,380
Health care and social assistance 3,898
Manufacturing 3,741
Office administration and waste management 2,350
Public administration 2,239
Professional, scientific and technical services 1,944
Transportation and warehousing 1,601
Finance and insurance 1,380
Educational services 1,340
Other services (except public administration) 1,003
Information 962
Construction 774
Wholesale trade 752
Real estate rental and leasing 611
Arts, entertainment and recreation 537
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting 276
Management of companies and enterprises 213
Utilities 211
Mining 157

Not including 35,304 charges filed without a specified industry

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Food services is among the least-unionized segments of the American economy — it has only a 1.6 percent rate of unionization.

“The issue of worker voice — collective representation — in low-wage work that may or may not be represented by a union is really key,” Wagner said. Many workers in these industries are left vulnerable without a steady base wage, formal advocates or the leverage provided by collective bargaining. Take restaurant workers, for example. In 2014, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a worker advocacy organization, studied the way tipped work can disincentivize reporting harassment and found workers’ reliance on customer relationships to be a big factor. “Due to the two-tiered wage system that allows restaurant employers to pay as little as $2.13 an hour (the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991) to tipped workers,” the study notes, “women in tipped occupations often make a living entirely off tips.”

Organizations like the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United help workers in sectors of the economy that aren’t union-organized, Wagner said. That advocacy organizations hear workers’ experiences and grapple with how to solve problems creatively is crucial to implementing change.

For hotel workers, the Diallo-Strauss-Kahn case proved to be an unexpected reckoning, a tabloid moment that loosened stories that might otherwise have remained tucked away. “We realized how far spread it was in our union,” Rachel Gumpert of the Unite Here hotel workers union of New York City said of the aftermath. “When that happened and we saw our member (Diallo) get villainized, it made it really clear that women need protections on the job.” The Unite Here union campaigned for panic buttons for its workers, a solution that came directly from members to solve a problem distinct to women.

In 2012, the union’s New York City collective bargaining agreement included a requirement that housekeepers be provided with a personal panic button in the case of emergencies. The decision affected 75 percent of hotel workers in New York, according to the union. This fall, Chicago passed a city ordinance mandating panic buttons for hotel workers after a campaign by the union and a survey that found that 49 percent of housekeepers reported that guests had opened the door naked or exposed themselves.

Part of the Chicago campaign for panic buttons (“Hands Off, Pants On”) included a video of gruff union men reading aloud the testimonials of female hotel workers, grimacing into the camera at the descriptions of lewd behavior.

“If my sister or my daughter was subjected to this, there would be some violent action taking place,” says Jesse Rios of the Federation of Labor, glowering at the camera.

Things have largely gotten back to normal for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. After the Diallo case, he was investigated for possible involvement in a prostitution ring and a gang rape, though French prosecutors later dropped the probe. He also stood trial in France on aggravated pimping charges but was acquitted. He’s since entered the business world, moved to Marrakech and, according to recent reports, married his fourth wife.

As for Diallo, she won a civil suit against Strauss-Kahn and has since lived a quiet life, opening a restaurant in the Bronx.

Looking back on the case in the midst of 2017’s spate of sexual harassment stories raises the question: Would prosecutors have pursued her accusation differently if it had cropped up in the present moment? Would the system have found the word of an African housekeeper against a powerful white man’s more credible? Doug Wigdor, one of her lawyers, isn’t confident that things would have turned out much differently at all.

“You compare the way she was treated as a victim to the way DSK was as a suspect, it’s incredible,” he told me. Strauss-Kahn wasn’t initially handcuffed when he was arrested, and while he didn’t invoke his right to counsel for hours, the police never interrogated him. Diallo, on the other hand, “was yelled at and was just treated very distastefully.”3

Particularly in the service industry, all the inherent racial and economic power dynamics of American society are on display.

Minority women make up substantial numbers of those who occupy pink-collar and service industry jobs. They’re also more likely to be both sexually and racially harassed. But they might feel more apprehension reporting their harassment up the institutional chain at work, let alone to law enforcement, for a number of reasons.

A fear of poor treatment might be considered by women before they make an official complaint. A Department of Justice report last year on Baltimore found that its police force and prosecutors fostered a dismissive culture toward minority victims of sexual assault. One prosecutor referred in a text message to a woman reporting an assault as “a conniving little whore.” Similar dismissive patterns were investigated in New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Missoula, Montana, after each locality was investigated by the Justice Department.

But even reporting harassment to workplace supervisors can be challenging. For women who don’t speak English and who work in temp jobs, Ramirez of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement said, it can be challenging to know how to report something up the chain of command. Instead of lodging a complaint with HR, victims might be forced to talk directly to a supervisor. “Sometimes the supervisors are the only people with whom they can communicate if they’re a Spanish-speaking immigrant or an indigenous worker,” Ramirez said. “And that person can sometimes be the perpetrator.”

For many immigrant women who fill low-wage jobs, their immigration status can weigh heavily as they consider whether to lodge a complaint. “Certainly now in this political climate, people are afraid to come forward because if they make a report, they think they’re going to be turned over to immigration,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes, that’s what the perpetrators tell them.”

Particularly in the service industry, all the inherent racial and economic power dynamics of American society are on display. In its survey and report on the harassment of hotel workers in Chicago, Unite Here pointed out that “the social and economic status of the male guests who frequent hotels, casinos and convention centers often contrasts sharply with that of the women who work there.” Hotel management has a “conflict of interest,” Wigdor said. “On the one side they want to treat their employees well, but on the other side they need to make sure that guests are treated well too, especially guests that are rich and famous.” Guests’ sense of impunity was brought up in the Chicago report: 65 percent of casino cocktail servers surveyed had had a guest touch or grab them. Women described men following them around the casino and suggesting sexual gratification in exchange for tips.

Wigdor pointed me to an advertisement for the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas from a couple of years ago that shows two maids blindfolded and tied to two chairs. The ad is emblazoned with the slogan, “Just the right amount of wrong.”

So will the harassment reckoning for women in low-wage jobs ever come?

Unlike in 2011, much of what has been talked about in recent weeks has to do with the dignity of women in the workplace. Sexual harassment is meant to mark a person out, to keep her in her designated place. But the nature of harassment changes depending on who it targets. In one form, it is a reminder to a woman that she is her body, first and foremost. In another form, it’s not a proposition or a lecherous squeeze but a reminder that her value is simply “less,” for whatever reason. Researchers call the latter sort “gender harassment” — “analogous to the difference between a ‘come on’ and a ‘put down.’”

Harassment is, in other words, a useful tool to put a woman in her place. Whatever place that might be.

An accountability revolution of the sort we’ve seen in Hollywood might never come in the same way for low-wage workers. In part that’s because what gives women the power to speak out against harassers is, to a certain extent, economic autonomy and a safety net. To see the economic devastation that reporting harassment can wreak, one need only look at the former congressional communications director for Rep. Blake Farenthold, who reported her boss’s behavior and now can’t land a full-time job. She’s baby-sitting for extra cash.

Women in low-wage jobs, often immigrants, usually can’t afford to call harassment out.

That is not to say a change won’t come. Though it might come in a more gradual form, a creeping, rising tide rather than a wave.

For Wagner, tackling bullying in the workplace is actually one of the surest ways to eat away at behavioral norms that come to damage women. Sexual harassment, after all, is a way to demean and insult — a gendered way to bully. A macho workplace culture can normalize bullying, meaning men don’t act when they see women who are sexually harassed. “The overwhelming target of bullying is men against other men,” Wagner said. Men who are bullied become prisoners of the same power dynamics that plague women who are harassed, though the damage takes different forms. Men become numb to bad behavior — and learn to stand on the sidelines and watch without speaking up.

For now, it falls mostly to women to take on the mantle of change, though that is still something that makes Wagner optimistic for the future. What brings change, she said, is “individuals pushing the law forward through their courage to bring complaints.”

I recently talked to Sandra Pezqueda, through a translator, about reporting her harassment to her supervisors at the resort.

“At first I felt relieved, but then after that, they made me feel like I’m nothing,” she said.

Other women at work had warned her about reporting her supervisor, but Pezqueda felt she had nothing to lose — she wasn’t getting the hours she needed anyway.

Pezqueda has a new job — she works in a warehouse — but she still thinks of the people at her old one. It makes her feel good, she said, that her complaint might do something to fix the conditions for others.

“I think things are going to change there for the better.”


  1. She admitted to prosecutors that she had fabricated the story.

  2. The spokesperson did say the resort has “a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and harassment” and is “committed to ensuring all guests, and associates, are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.”

  3. A 2011 filing by Wigdor’s partner, Kenneth Thompson, described these claims in detail against Vance’s office.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.