Wellesley Researcher Discusses Responses from the Public and Industry to Workplace Sexual Harassment on News Magazine show, “Chronicle”

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., senior research scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women, on “Chronicle”
December 11, 2017

Linda M. Williams, senior research scientist and director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative (JGBVR) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College, recently sat down with Chronicle, the nation’s longest-running locally produced magazine television show, to discuss the rising public and industry responses to workplace sexual harassment.

Featured during a special broadcast that coincided with the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Williams said, “It doesn’t surprise me the number of kinds of cases, accusations, realities that women and girls and some men are talking about. Many times people think that they’re the only ones that this happened to. We need to understand that this is a problem for all women, all victims, whether they are black, brown, white, rich, poor.”

For the past 44 years, Williams has directed research on violence against women, sexual exploitation of children, sex offenders, and the consequences of child abuse, including several longitudinal studies and recent qualitative work. She reports that hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted each year in the United States, regardless of where they live and work.

“I applaud the strength and solidarity of the women (and men, too) who are asserting, with the hashtag #MeToo, that they are among the estimated one in five women who have been sexually assaulted and one in four working women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace,” she wrote in a recent article on the WCW Women Change Worlds blog.

The JGBVR team’s work is built on the premise that research is a critical part of social change and that linking research, theory, and action will increase the impact on issues of justice that are critical to women and girls, including women and girls who are involved in the criminal justice system in many different roles: as victims, offenders, workers, and policy makers. As more industry leaders and policy makers are now standing publicly against workplace sexual harassment and violence, enforcement of such policies is essential by organizational higher ups.

“Maybe things are changing…,” Williams wrote in the blog article. “It did not take long before we saw that men were writing #IHave and now, as I suggest, #IWill, which can reflect steps they are taking and will take to end the role they have had in promoting gender-based violence and sexual assault, to assert that they will not stand by while sexual harassment and assault happen, that they will call it out when they see it.”

The real question is what happens after #MeToo, Williams notes, and how to respond to any backlash that turns attention away from investigating claims and remediating the abuse, and instead facilitates the protection of perpetrators. Follow-up is needed to ensure that employers take responsibility, and the cultural norms and values that promote sexual violence and harassment will no longer be accepted.   

“Though people are coming forward, it’s important to not have that secrecy return. Silence does not help this issue,” she said.

The JGBVR team conducts and disseminates research designed to examine the causes and consequences of gender-based violence and the social, health, and justice system responses to violent crime and victimization. Over her career, Williams has been principal investigator on 16 U.S. federally funded research projects, supported by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of the Navy, as well as by private foundations.

Freelance journalist Nina Varghese ’03 produced the segment for Chronicle