Going Public With Your Experience of Harassment

So you're considering going public with your experience of harassment connected to a Jewish communal figure or institution.

You are not alone; many of us have been suffering in silence and in fear. Whether you decide to go public or not, know that you have a right to the safety and autonomy of your own body and well-being.

Our only concern is your safety and wellbeing - now and in the future, physically as well as socially, emotionally and professionally. Going public with your story of harassment carries many risks and also presents the opportunity to use your experience to help others. As you contemplate whether to go public, take stock of your emotional support system - professional colleagues as well as loved ones and friends.

People decide to come forward for many reasons, all intensely personal. This is not a decision to be taken lightly or hastily. Going public with your story will affect your life and your career, possibly severely and for many years to come. This guide is not meant to encourage anyone to come forward publicly. We are here to support your agency and safeguard your wellbeing, whatever you decide to do.

Use the questions below to clarify for yourself whether you want to proceed with coming forward publicly, and if so how. For those who still want to come forward, even considering the risks, this guide aims to help you adjust expectations and prepare for potential future scenarios.

Going Public with Your Experience of Harassment: What to Expect

This guide is for anyone considering going public with their experience of harassment in the Jewish communal world. Here you will find questions and suggestions to guide you through the decisionmaking process. This guide is not meant to encourage you to go public, rather to ensure you make an informed choice. There is no “right" answer, there is only the answer that is right for you, your family, and your future.

Before We Start:

Harassment is endemic in every sector of the workforce and fears of retaliation are well-founded. Even if you are willing to take the risk of coming forward publicly with your story, the truth is that only a tiny fraction of accounts of harassment are of journalistic interest. Unless the harasser or the organization he or she works for has stature in the community, the unfortunate reality is that most publications are unlikely to be interested in your story. This doesn't mean that this document has no value for you or that your story has no importance. People who think through these questions and decide that going public is not the appropriate route should call the infoline or use the reporting mechanism.

What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation, according to law, occurs within an organization if you engage in a permissible activity (such as filing a harassment complaint) and as a result your work situation is changed in an unfavorable way (which the Supreme Court refers to as materially adverse change). If you or others perceive that changed situation (a loss of promotion, reassignment, exclusion from certain workplace activities, etc.) as a warning or a disincentive to complain, it’s retaliation. And it's illegal.

In a wider perspective we can break retaliation down into several types to cover situations broader than a single organization:

  • Professional - Being fired. Any threat to your livelihood, income, future job prospects, health insurance, etc. Many women who might come forward have little job security compared to their harassers, which just in itself creates an effective deterrent to speaking out. Before coming forward it is important to assess every component of your income and all your professional affiliations to consider which might be susceptible to retaliation, what the consequences might be, and how to take steps to protect yourself.
  • Reputational - Being attacked publicly by your harasser or his supporters. In a recent case where harassment was alleged against a major figure in academia, a female colleague of his, also a major figure, emailed the following message to dozens of female colleagues of the victim: "Shavua tov. Hope all is well. This is a confidential email. A reporter has been in touch with me concerning negative accusations against our friend and colleague. I have encouraged the reporter to speak with the young colleagues whose careers he has mentored and/or supported. (I first learned of your very important work through him.) If the reporter does contact you, I hope you will tell her about the ways in which [he] was helpful to you. If you want more information, please feel free to be in touch." She then emailed academic listservs asking "(1) Have any other women actually come forward now or is the whole thing still shadowy innuendo? (2) If more women have come forward, are their accusations similar to [deleted] --they had to endure having dinner in a too-nice restaurant with a male colleague and then they were unpleasantly surprised by an unwanted hug and kiss at the end of evening?" Consider whether your harasser is likely to come after you directly or ask others to do so.
  • Legal - Being sued. For women who already lack job security and financial resources even the threat of a lawsuit can be effective intimidation. If you are considering coming forward publicly, a consultation with a knowledgeable attorney is a must (not just with any attorney). An attorney can help you understand what your actual (as opposed to imagined) legal risks are and counsel you regarding which actions might expose you to liability.

Relationships in the Jewish Communal World:

Harassment, sexual or otherwise, is about power. Consider how power dynamics are manifest in your experience of harassment.

  • What are the relationship dynamics embedded in your experience? How do issues of gender, age, rank and power come into play?
  • What is the relationship between you and the harasser? Do you both have the same role (professional, clergy, donor, board member, volunteer, congregant, participant) or different roles?
  • What is your respective rank vis a vis one another? Does one of you supervise the other? Is one more senior than the other? Are there informal indications of differences in rank and power?

Reporting to Institutions:

As part of due diligence, a journalist will ask if you have reported the incident through channels, i.e. if you spoke to a supervisor or made a formal complaint to an institution. If your experience occurred within a professional workplace or academic institution:

  • Have you made a complaint through proper channels?
  • Have you reviewed your organization's harassment prevention policies and procedures and determined the extent to which they are in force?
  • Does the institution have clear guidelines for how to lodge a complaint?
  • What processes do they have in place for how to review such a complaint?
  • How do they support those who come forward?
  • If you did report the incident to someone or file a complaint, what was the response? What, if anything, happened following that response?

Interacting with Journalists, Press, and the Media:

  • How do you want your story to be told? Would you like to tell it yourself in first person? Would you like it reported in the third person?
  • What will you do if journalists aren't interested in your story, or if you are unable to agree on mutually satisfactory terms? Will you self-publish your story online? If so, where and in what form?
  • Would you prefer to be featured in a story that includes other women who are speaking out?
  • A journalistic article will likely have a particular theme or angle, so it is important to consider your comfort level with various ways a newspaper might choose to contextualize your story, which may include leaving out portions you consider important.
  • What sort of reach will the publication have? On what platforms willwith the story appear? Consider how people will read the story (sometimes just the headline or first paragraph), share it and comment on it. Make a plan for how you will monitor or filter your exposure to comments, and whether you plan to respond.
  • In what ways might this published piece put pressure on an institution to respond?
  • How might the story be amplified after the initial reporting? Consider that you will be living with the published story for a long time and possibly with iterations beyond your own telling of the story (response statements by institutions, blog posts by supporters/detractors).
  • To what extent will you be available for further articles and interviews?
  • Even if you do not yet know whether you will want to publish your story or even show it to anyone, take the time now write down your experience, in your own words.

Reporting To The Police:

  • Is this a criminal matter which you might, now or in the future, consider reporting to the police or other law enforcement authorities? Some forms of harassment are crimes. Touching or grabbing someone else’s body may be the crime of Forcible Touching, when a person “forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire.” The crime of Sexual Abuse In The Third Degree occurs when a victim is subjected to sexual contact without consent. Stalking is a crime which includes engaging in an intentional course of conduct, for no legitimate purpose, that is reasonably likely to cause a victim to “fear that his or her employment, business or career is threatened, where such conduct consists of appearing, telephoning or initiating communication or contact at such person’s place of employment or business, and the actor was previously clearly informed to cease that conduct.” The crime of Coercion occurs when the offender creates a perception that if a sexual demand is not complied with, the offender will harm the victim’s health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships. Any harassment or abuse involving children is a crime and should be reported immediately.
  • How might your going public via the media affect reporting to the police?
  • What would be the reactions and repercussions - professionally, communally and personally- if you did go to the police?

Professional Considerations:

  • Have you informed your employer about your plan to go public? At what stage in the process will you do so, and how?
  • If your employer is the setting in which you are lodging your complaint, what concerns do you have about retaliation?
  • If you work for an organization, who is responsible for harassment prevention? How can they support you?
  • In what ways does your work setting and professional network intersect with the person you are reporting about? What consequences might result from public disclosure?
  • What supportive ties and networks do you have that you can draw upon for support and understanding?

Legal Considerations:

  • Have you consulted an attorney who is specifically knowledgeable in this area?
  • How will any legal fees you might incur be paid?
  • Are you working with an adviser or group that supports people coming forward with their stories?
  • Are you considering filing a lawsuit? Would you sue the individual or the institution(s) involved?

Communal and Personal Considerations:

  • In what ways does your personal and community life intersect with the person you are reporting about? What consequences can you imagine resulting from public disclosure?
  • What supportive ties and networks do you have that you can draw upon for support and understanding?
  • In some communities coming forward may result in being socially ostracized. You may learn that people you counted as friends do not support your decision. What might be the ramifications for you and your family of coming forward publicly?

Considerations for Jewish Communal Professionals:

  • The Jewish community is small heavily interconnected. People may have multiple ties or connections to each other and an accusation may have repercussions in many areas of your life including both your current and future employment. How would this affect you if you came forward with your story?
  • The Jewish community can be protective of both people and institutions. You may encounter extra skepticism or criticism as a result. How will you respond to this?
  • Professional gatherings and networking events may be more challenging in the days and weeks following going public. Colleagues may be more aggressive in engaging with you, offering a variety of responses from support and kudos to criticism and attack. What sorts of gatherings do you have scheduled over the next few months and how might your attendance be affected by your decision to come forward?

What Might People Say To You Once You Come Forward With Your Story?

These are questions you should be expect to be asked, or that will be asked about you, online and in person:

  • “Why are you only speaking up now?
  • "Do you really want to be responsible for ruining his/her career?"
  • "If s/he really did this, why isn't s/he in jail?"
  • “S/He is so supportive of so many women’s careers.”
  • "If this was really a problem for so many decades, why hasn't somebody done something by now?"
  • "Do you realize you're airing our community's dirty laundry -- there are a lot of people who hate Jews out there and this plays right into their hands."
  • "Did you tell <insert name of authority figure> about this? I'm sure if he/she knew, he/she would have stopped it?"
  • "S/He never did anything like that to me!"
  • “What do you want me to do?”
  • "What would you like to see happen?"
  • "You have to understand - things were different back then."
  • "Look -- she's a troubled person to begin with, always has been."
  • "There's always a he-said she-said in these things. You can never know."
  • "It wasn't REALLY sexual harassment, it's not like s/he ....."
  • “If they observed yichud/followed the Pence rule . . .”
  • "You've worked so hard and have a such bright future -- if you do this no one will ever hire you."
  • "That's just how s/he is.... he's like that with everyone"
  • "[Accused harasser] will be off the board soon/contract ends soon/retiring soon. Let's just hold out until then."
  • "S/He's going to come after you and who do you think people will believe -- not you."
  • "S/He's done the same thing to me but I can't say anything, at least until I have tenure."
  • “Oh everyone knows you have to put up with a little "handsiness", how do you think I got where I am? Do you really think I'm going to give it all up now?”
  • “Who's going to believe you?”

Please return to the top of the document and go through each section to insure you feel comfortable with the risks.

If you would like to discuss the possibilities and concerns related to going public please click here.