SOCIAL ISSUES

Sexual harassment in NJ: Encouraging victims to speak up

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

A workplace victim, as well as advocates and experts in sexual harassment prevention, all shared testimony at a Asbury Park public hearing Wednesday, united by the common goal of encouraging victims to tell their stories.

The state Division on Civil Rights and the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault partnered to host the first of three hearings of a series on sexual harassment announced by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

“And so the purpose of the hearings is to really end the silence and allow people to come forward and be heard and share their voices,” said Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the Civil Rights division. “Not only to their own personal experiences but also when it comes to what they know about what we can do better, what government agencies can be doing better, what are the laws and policies that need to changed.”

While sexual harassment is illegal in the state, advocates believe there’s not enough enforcement or accountability — in part because victims lack safe outlets to report offenses. Lou Kimmel, executive director of New Labor, an organization that advocates for better work conditions, says it’s especially difficult for the most vulnerable to speak up.

“It’s very important to have anti-retaliation protections for workers…” Kimmel said, adding that those protections should extend to immigrants. “Policy and legislation can definitely help, but that’s only as good if it can be enforced.”

In the days to come, the state Division on Civil Rights, NJCASA and the Rutgers Law School International Human Rights Clinic will issue a report with recommendations to see what policy, legislation or education should be put in place to better address sexual harassment in the state.