Two years ago, we experienced a cultural awakening with a simple hashtag, #MeToo.
Survivors across the country and the globe told their stories of assault, harassment, and even rape. One at a time, tweet after tweet, story after story, survivors came forward. We had rage and sorrow reliving these assaults to our bodies and our dignity. We grieved for the humiliation and shame that held us back from coming forward and for the callous disregard, retaliation, or worse that too often met those who bravely spoke out.
The movement was sparked in Hollywood but hit close to home for many women. The Hollywood stars had experienced what many of us had experienced in our jobs in offices, restaurants, and board rooms. I recently heard Barbara Johnson, a leader in the Fight for $15, speak of having her breast grabbed at work. She didn’t say anything because her family depended on her income, and she could not risk that she, the victim, would be the one to lose her job. It was a painful reminder of when I was assaulted working as a waitress in college. My shock and humiliation kept me quiet.
Now, two years after the launch of #MeToo, we are united in our outrage and our desire to take back our power, but what are the tangible steps to creating fair, safe, and responsible workplaces?
The answer is accountability under the law.
Earlier this year, Senator Patty Murray and I introduced the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace Act, or Be Heard, the first comprehensive bill to address the issues elevated by the #MeToo movement.
The Be Heard Act puts the dignity and rights of workers ahead of the status of their perpetrators and sends a clear message: No matter your race, income, or occupation, you have a right to be safe at your job. You deserve dignity. You deserve respect.
The bill puts an end to mandatory arbitration and pre-employment nondisclosure agreements that block a worker’s path to court and — because of the confidential nature of the proceedings — mask the prevalence and severity of sexual harassment.
It extends civil rights protections to tens of millions more people, including independent contractors, volunteer interns, fellows, trainees, and those who work for small businesses. This means that, under the Be Heard Act, home health care aides, nannies, and laborers who work on family farms would all be protected.
It also extends employment discrimination protections to LGBTQ workers, provides legal support to workers so they can seek justice, and expands resources available to businesses to help them prevent harassment.
The Be Heard Act offers survivors more time to report, and eases their burden of proof in court, while providing detailed guidance for judges and employers to follow when reviewing sexual harassment complaints. Additionally, the bill eliminates the tipped minimum wage, because it has been proved to lead to harassment and discrimination by customers and supervisors.
The fact is, without the law behind women and workers, the power dynamics that perpetrate assault remain in place.
Since we introduced the bill in April, over half of the House Democratic caucus has signed on and more women have come forward to tell their stories. We know that challenging and ending misogyny can’t be achieved in one single action. We need to keep calling out bad actors. We need to foster a culture that values all voices and perspectives. But ultimately, we need accountability, and the Be Heard Act will help reclaim and rebalance power to ensure that every voice is heard.
Katherine Clark is the Massachusetts US representative for the Fifth Congressional District.