Sexual harassment workshop draws wide interest

CHD, in partnership with Cambridge College, presented the "Through Her Eyes" conference at the MassMutual Center. The conference focused on educating and empowering those who can work with youth in Western Massachusetts, Connecticut, and beyond.

 CHD "Through Her Eyes" conference discusses timely topic

Although it was scheduled months before a series of high-profile sexual harassment scandals exploded in the media, a workshop on prevention offered as part of a human services conference yesterday couldn't have been more timely.

The workshop was one of more than 20 focusing on girls and young women offered during "Through Her Eyes," an annual conference hosted by CHD, the area's largest human services provider, and Cambridge College.

The event drew hundreds of social services workers to the MassMutual Center and other nearby office space, melding networking, vendors and workshops on a variety of topics centering around the mental, physical and social well-being of girls.

Presenter Gemini Murray, a former corrections worker, teacher and consultant, led a 90-minute discussion on the myriad personas sexual harassment can take on, including unwanted advances, groping, catcalling and outright assault. Despite the intense focus on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, political commentator Bill O'Reilly and others as of late, sexual harassment of both males and females has proliferated, thanks in part to technology, Murray said.

"Texting, sexting, tweeting, emails... (have become as common) as jokes, taunting, whistling and jeering," she told her audience.

An avalanche of actresses and former employees have gone public in the wake of parallel New York Times and New Yorker stories featuring a handful of accusers detailing harrowing but consistent tales of harassment by Weinstein. The fallout caused Weinstein's own company to fire him. Meanwhile, accusations of outright rape in New York and London prompted the mogul to retreat to "sex addiction" treatment.

The scandals have sparked millions of "#metoo" social media posts catching fire internationally.

Murray argued that sexual harassment is less about sex and more about power and dominance. Many attendees agreed.

Murray cited statistics about college students including that 82 percent in one poll reported either experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment. Another poll by a Brandeis University researcher produced estimates that 400,000 part-time high school-age employees are sexually harassed annually.

"I don't feel terribly optimistic about the landscape right now," one attendee remarked. "But I think these discussions are important so we can think about it from the ground up."

During the discussion, many offered troubling anecdotes about children in grade school and middle school including "boys will be boys" examples such as bra-snapping and instances of girls threatening boys with "gay rumors" if they were simply unresponsive to their advances.

Ruinous outcomes from school and workplace sexual harassment are widespread, including fear, anxiety, decreased productivity, avoidance of responsibilities, plummeting self-esteem and psychosomatic physical symptoms.

In a corporate setting, fallout from sexual harassment also can be costly. Aside from the Weinstein scandal, complaints against ousted American Apparel founder Dov Charney helped to bankrupt the once-successful trendy clothing company.

Sitting presidents also have not been immune to sex scandals. The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal nearly cost Clinton the White House.

The day-long conference also included workshops on self-care, family counseling, substance abuse, supporting LGBTQ youth and reproductive health care.

The keynote speaker was Linda Edgecombe, a noted motivational speaker billed as having a "non-BS approach" and author of "Breaking Busy: Finding Peace in the Chaos."

CHD spokeswoman Kim Lee said more than 500 registered for the event. See event program