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Military workplace sexual harassment case sparks movement

A former member of the U.S. Coast Guard, who left the organization shortly after boot camp, is using her story to create a national effort to end workplace sexual harassment in the armed services. She is even trying to get new legislation passed in Congress. The 26-year-old claims she was the victim of workplace sexual harassment by a Chief Petty Officer during her time with the Coast Guard. Such cases, where a commanding officer is accused of abusing his or her position to gain sexual favors, are all too common -- in California and elsewhere.

The Chief Petty Officer, who the young woman reported, is currently serving time in military prison for crimes related to the abuse of his position, but not for sex crimes or sexual harassment issues. The woman contacted her U.S. Congressperson to report the fact that punishment for the man was, in her opinion, not enough and that the threshold for what the military refers to as rape must be lowered. Contacting one's congressperson can sometimes be a powerful strategy for United States citizens in California and other states who seek adjustments to the law, particularly if one's story is compelling.

Ultimately, the woman's cry for help was heard, and it has spearheaded a national campaign to change the law so that commanding officers guilty of sexual assault will be more likely to face appropriate punishments. According to one women's' rights group, there were 3,192 instances of sexual assault reported during 2011. However, only 1,518 were deemed to be actionable by the military.

When it comes to workplace sexual harassment, it is in the hands of victims to come forward, report what happened and seek justice. Nevertheless, victims often face intimidation and coercion to the point that they are afraid to come out and tell their story. It takes great courage to fight back when one is abused, but victims in California can find confidence in the fact that numerous laws exist at the state and federal levels to bring those that abuse their positions of authority to justice.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "South Florida veteran's sexual harassment ordeal spurs national effort," Ben Wolford, June 24, 2013