CHICAGO (CBS) — Karen Kent recalls a time when she was assaulted on the job.
“I was scared, he tightened his hold. Even as I backed away, he tried to force his lips on mine, his tongue in my mouth. I pushed him away and started to scream. I told no one ever because of shame, because of fear, because of my husband, boyfriend would be mad at me, because I might get fired or maybe I brought it on.”
Kent says her story isn’t unique so UNITE HERE Local 1 did a study and spoke with hundreds from the hospitality industry about sexual harassment.
Sarah Lyons, also with UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana areas, says a new survey of 500 Chicago women in the workplace revealed some startling findings.
“What would you do if a male client or customer pulled his pants down in front of you? In our survey of women, nearly half of the housekeepers we surveyed said guests had exposed themselves, flash them or came to the door naked.”
The survey found that the industries with the highest levels of harassment are hospitality and food service.
“A national survey says 1 in 3 women are sexually harassed at work. Who here thinks that’s kind of low? We wanted to know about women’s experiences working in Chicago’s hotels and casinos. What we found was shocking.”
Amongst hotel workers, 58 percent of women had been harassed by a guest.
“We found that women had been cornered by a guest, women had been grabbed or groped and touched in other unwanted ways. Guests had pressured them for dates and sexual favors, made sexual comments, jokes and had shown sexual pictures that women didn’t want to see. For housekeepers, the most common form of harassment, was guests showing them their penises. Stories came out in our survey about guests masturbating in front of the women hotel workers and they reported that these experiences impacted their sense of security,” said Lyons.
Lyons joined a panel of women in other industries to start the discussion and talk about consequences and culture.
While the panel was assembled months ago, the topic is timely as sexual harassment and so-called “locker room” talk has made headlines recently.
The “Hands Off, Pants On” panel also debuted a new video called “Union Men React to Workplace Harassment and Assault” which shows men reading women’s stories of sexual harassment.
The panel was lead by Justice Anne M. Burke. Sports anchor Julie DiCaro of sister station, 670 The Score, spoke about her experience of online harassment and how a YouTube video #MoreThanMean made a difference.
“That video changed my life but it also got people talking. We were doing press all over the world. It was a great way to bring attention to the issue of sexual harassment online,” she said. “There’s something about seeing people’s reactions and those visceral reactions strike a chord with people. We need to continue to tell these stories.”