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US-Based Campaign Against Sex Harassment ‘Overwhelmed’ by Cases, Official Says

Dozens of complaints of sexual harassment on the job are arriving nearly every day at the Time’s Up campaign, showing that decades of battling workplace misconduct have failed, its legal head said Tuesday.

Reports of harassment have come from employees in more than 60 industries, from steel workers and prison guards to hotel maids, said Tina Tchen, head of the legal defense fund for the Time’s Up effort to fight workplace sexual harassment.

Time’s Up was launched at the start of the year by hundreds of actresses, writers and others in the entertainment industry to battle sexual harassment in workplaces nationwide.

It came on the heels of the #MeToo movement, an outpouring of women recounting sexual harassment and assault that followed accusations of sexual assault made public last fall against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Since January 1, Time’s Up has received about 1,900 requests for legal help, mostly from women, Tchen said at a women’s conference held by Catalyst, a nonprofit group.

Time’s Up has raised $21 million in the same time period, she said.

Many women faced with harassment are low-wage workers with no means to hire lawyers, she said.

“There has been a whole segment of the workforce that hasn’t really had representation and, as a result, nobody has been holding people accountable,” Tchen told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

“The response both on the fundraising side and the requests for assistance have surprised us and overwhelmed us,” she said.

Tchen worked as an assistant to former President Barack Obama, as head of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and as chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama. She is now a partner at the Buckley Sandler law firm in Chicago.

Tchen said complaints persist despite the fact that U.S. companies have conducted employee training on sexual harassment since court rulings and federal laws were enacted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“We have to honestly admit that what we’ve been doing for the last three decades hasn’t worked,” she said.

Time’s Up is using donated funds, attorneys working pro bono, and volunteers. It is housed at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, she said.

The number of requests for help is likely very low, given that studies and experts estimate three-quarters of victims of sexual harassment do not report it, Tchen said. Three-quarters of those who do report it suffer retaliation, she said.

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