How Laws Against Sexual Harassment And Abuse Work07:39
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Harvey Weinstein as seen in February 2013 in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Harvey Weinstein as seen in February 2013 in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal is spreading. Other men in Hollywood and in media are also facing accusations and losing their jobs, including the senior vice president for news at NPR.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Deborah Rhode, professor of law at Stanford University, about how the laws against sexual harassment and abuse work and if they're fair.

Interview Highlights

On the legal definition of sexual harassment

"There are two forms of sexual harassment: One is what's called quid pro quo harassment, which is exchanging favors for some job opportunity. The other is a hostile environment form of harassment, which is creating a pervasive atmosphere that interferes with work performance."

On how difficult it is to prove a harassment case

"Sex harassment cases have historically been difficult to prove. Oftentimes there are no witnesses and the conduct is sometimes seen as trivial, and sometimes a single incident is. But when you have a cumulative pattern, it really creates a corrosive workplace. And sex harassment, despite a quarter century of laws and litigation, still is a very high cause of loss of jobs, job turnover, lack of retention and social and psychological difficulties resulting from the experience of being in one of those workplaces."

"It used to be that women rarely were willing to go public with this, and I think we're now seeing a sea change in that view."

Deborah Rhode

On differences between the Weinstein allegations and other harassment allegations that have come out since

"It's on a spectrum, and not all of the claims that we're seeing surfacing now look like ones that would probably constitute a hostile environment. But I think it's important to remember that, for centuries, women — especially women, but also men to some extent — have been harassed, but had neither a title or a remedy for it. That's finally started to change, and it's changing because I think the culture is finally waking up to the pervasiveness of the problem, and the recognition that power and entitlement breeds a form of abuse that can lead, if unchecked, to serial offenders: the Roger Ailes, the Bill O'Reillys, the Harvey Weinsteins. It used to be that women rarely were willing to go public with this, and I think we're now seeing a sea change in that view."

On whether there's a statute of limitations for harassment allegations

"There certainly are in courts of law, but in the world of public opinion, not so much. So you can see people losing their jobs for conduct that occurred well before the statute of limitations. They may not have a legal claim, but they have an audience. And the reputational injuries — as we've seen with someone like Kevin Spacey — could be substantial."

On how many of these cases end up going to court

"Rarely are sex harassment cases actually litigated. We know that historically, less than 5 percent of cases get to court. Fewer than those are actually litigated. And what normally happens when the cases are filed is they're settled with a confidentiality clause that prevents the victim from disclosing any details. And that's one of the issues that's gotten so much attention with these recent cases, because of course, the way that perpetrators maintained their power was through settlements that had confidentiality clauses that gag the victims."

This segment aired on November 2, 2017.

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