DES MOINES, Iowa -- Local and statewide sexual harassment victim advocacy groups say they have seen an increase in victims coming forward and speaking out since the start of the #MeToo movement.
While high – profile and powerful men are taking center stage for sexual harassment accusations, advocates say we shouldn’t ignore those who are not in the spotlight.
“It might be a co - worker who makes jokes that make you uncomfortable or who is touchy feely with people inside your office. That`s where it starts. It doesn`t happen overnight with just the powerful and monied individuals doing it,” says associate director for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Kerri True – Funk.
The blurred lines between what is and is not considered sexual harassment is actually quite clear according to the organization.
“It’s about the unwanted component. The difference between consensual sex and rape is whether or not somebody says that the act is okay and the same thing goes for sexual harassment,” she says.
Sexual harassment is defined as someone making repeated and unwanted sexual advances, comments or even touching. The increase in reports made to advocacy groups comes during a time of what experts say is culture shift. Advocates say now victims feel safe to share their stories because others are too. True – Funk says if the alleged acts didn’t happen recently, it doesn’t mean victims their lose their credibility.
“It is safer for them now. For them it’s like there is some sort of believe that wouldn`t have been as safe for them three days, three weeks, three months ago. They really feel like today is a day they can talk about it. It’s really about the victim feeling safe and feeling empowered to back that moment.”
On Wednesday, NBC News fired Today Show host, Matt Lauer amid sexual harassment allegations. The accuser's lawyer claims the harassment began three years ago while both she and Lauer were on assignment in Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics.
Local advocacy groups say anytime a victim chooses to come forward is the right time despite statute of limitation laws. Under Iowa law, the statute of limitation is ten years in criminal cases. In civil cases its only three years.
Legal experts urge people who feel like they are being harassed to document the incidents. They also encourage work places to review their harassment policies with employees.