Throughout the city of Pittsburgh and the region, women and men have been working to protect schools, workplaces and homes from harassment and sexual misconduct. PublicSource asked seven people who have been doing this work about the impact of the #MeToo movement locally, what resources are available to survivors, and most importantly, what our community can do to prevent sexual harassment and assault.
Editor’s note: Interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Alison Hall serves as the executive director for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape [PAAR], where she has worked for the last 10 years.
PublicSource: What is the impact of the #MeToo movement on those who PAAR serves and what is your organization's role at this moment of national reckoning?
Hall: PAAR is an agency that has served victims of sexual violence in Allegheny County for over 45 years. I believe that the #MeToo movement has shed light on how even one person's abuse of power can damage hundreds of lives. I think it's also shown that victims know they're not alone and has exposed the full spectrum of sexual violence, which goes all the way down to sexual harassment, and the long-term traumatic effects that it can have on victims.
I also think it has forced men to examine what they view as harmless or inoffensive as something else entirely. I think it’s engaged the public, including males, and forced them to really look at issues related to harassment and how it can potentially lead to sexual violence.
PAAR is an agency that believes victims and understands, completely understands, the traumatic effects that victims experience.
I would hope that people reach out to PAAR. As far as our role at this moment... we will continue to be a presence in this community that engages our community to talk about consent [and] know each other's boundaries and be an engaged bystander. And this is not just to women. This is really bringing males into this conversation because they absolutely have a role in prevention.
The research has talked about that young adults would absolutely speak out about sexual harassment but really may not recognize it for what it is.
PAAR offers programs and educates our community through a wide range of audiences — you know, starting with third to fifth grade with regard to your boundaries and sexual harassment. It starts very, very early in our culture. And so we work with various groups, I mean parents and college students and high school students, across the board, on helping to educate and to prevent sexual violence.
And I think with regards to prevention, the #MeToo campaign has really underscored men owning what being in a position of power means.
It’s something that parents have to realize: You might think it is too early to talk to your child. Young adults don't have the tools to really even start the dialogue, and I think that's really one of our biggest roles — is to help people have the tools.
Kathi Elliott, executive director of Gwen’s Girls, has more than 20 years of experience in social service, community and individual mental health treatment. Her career began as a victim advocate at the Center for Victims, mostly within the juvenile justice system. Advocacy and giving back to others in need is a value that has been instilled in her by her mother and founder of Gwen’s Girls, the late Commander Gwen Elliott. In August 2015, Elliott accepted the position of executive director at Gwen’s Girls. The mission of Gwen’s Girls is to empower girls and young women to have productive lives through exposure to holistic, gender-specific programs, education and experiences.
PublicSource: What kind of programs and opportunities are available locally to girls and young women through your organization?
Elliot: Following the report on inequities of black girls in Allegheny County released in 2016, Gwen’s Girls held two summits. From the summits, we’ve been working with juvenile justice, child welfare, health and wellness and education workers. We’ve been taking a deeper dive into looking at the data, but also what are some of the strategies that we can put in place to address the disproportionate rate of black girls who are being represented negatively in these systems.
One of the things that came out was school safety. We took a deeper look at, what does that mean?
We did three listening sessions with our girls... One of the things that came out that was predominant in all three [groups] was that school safety for them included being touched and people making sexual gestures. Things that made them feel uncomfortable, which lead to them feeling unsafe.
The sad thing about the conversation we were having was that they understood that this was something that should not be happening to them, but, No. 1, it was something that was expected. This is something that is normal, which it shouldn’t be normal.
But then, the other sad part was that they felt like they didn't have anybody to report some of these incidents to. There were several examples of when they did report — for instance, “a boy touched me” — and instead of addressing the issue and addressing that boy, they had the girl move her seat.
It leaves our girls feeling powerless and that these are behaviors that they have to accept. But then, when they have the courage to speak up, even when they do speak up, they’re met with adults who don’t take them seriously.
They have to make the adjustment instead of the boy.
The follow-up has been meeting up with the girls to get their input on how to address this problem… The whole premise of this is that they, the girls themselves, will be the drivers and any initiative will be focused on what they want to do. I think a lot of times, we as adults and people working in programs in the system, think we know what they need...we’re trying to move to the point where we center everything that we do around what the girls want and what they feel that their needs are.
We provide prevention and intervention services care of our after-school program, and we focus on emotional support like anger management classes. But, we also provide an opportunity for them to talk about any issue that might be bothering them or that they may be dealing with. …
This month is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. We held our third annual event entitled Keys to Healthy Relationships, and we partnered with Prime Stage Theater. They did a play entitled You Belong to Me. In that play, the girls got to witness scenarios of different types of abuse so that they can recognize, again, what is healthy, what is unhealthy. And, what are some things that they can do? We often know that there's that bystander situation where they notice something is happening with their friends but they just don't know what to do to help them.
Lauren DelRicci joined the Navy in 2000 when she was 17 and stayed in until 2003. She is executive assistant at the Veterans Breakfast Club, where she has cohosted an oral history podcast called the Longest War. She is in the process of starting her own podcast called MST (My Story Told). She has received a fellowship from The Mission Continues to continue her work in the veteran community.
PublicSource: Lauren, from the perspective of a veteran and someone who has experienced military sexual trauma during your service, could you please talk about your work at the Veterans Breakfast Club and your podcast project to contribute to the #MeToo conversation locally?
DelRicci: Back in March of last year with the Veterans Breakfast Club, I had a unique opportunity. I was invited on the podcast Longest War to contribute my story of my military sexual trauma. And I was basically the first person on the podcast to do that. I was very nervous about it, but after I did that, it was like there was some sort of fear lifted and something freeing about sharing it on a public forum like that. I've never done so before.
As you share your story, there is a type of healing that is intrinsic with sharing that story. And then on the other hand, the listeners, survivors and victims of military sexual trauma, would reach out to me and just say how helpful it was to hear someone talk about it. I’m in the development process of the MST (My Story Told) podcast. (MST is also the acronym used for military sexual trauma.) The podcast is intended to give victims and survivors a safe platform to share their story and, more importantly, to tell us how they got through it, how they came out on the other end and how they are standing and breathing and living and thriving today despite their challenges.
I'm grateful for the attention that sexual misconduct and trauma is getting recently because it was about time to bring this into the light.
I endured my sexual trauma in 2001. Besides on the ship when I initially came out and told someone, I believe the first time I ever talked about it was when I went to D.C. to see the Women's Veterans memorial. The Pentagon Press asked me what brought me there that day and somehow I said it. I said it to the Pentagon press in 2008. Whatever a 20-something-year-old version of a nervous breakdown is, I think I had it shortly after those words came out of my mouth. I’ll never forget that day.
It wasn't until this last year working with a psychologist who was well-versed in cognitive behavioral therapy, that led to me sharing it on this podcast. It wasn't until this year that I really — I will never feel comfortable talking about it — when I was able to talk about it without exacerbating my symptoms of PTSD too much.
I’m speaking with different women in the military and veterans about this and there are some who are active duty, still right now, who are willing to talk to me about it. I can see the effect of this trend and this hashtag already instilling a higher level of bravery with these women who are willing to share. Even still in active duty. Despite repercussions they might endure because of that. I don’t know what the words are besides brave and fearless.
Len Caric serves as an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Caric is the co-chair of the board of directors of the Women and Girls Foundation and also serves on the board of directors of the Blackburn Center, an organization that advocates for the rights of all individuals to live free from domestic and sexual violence and other forms of violence.
PublicSource: You recently co-authored an op-ed on how men must help lead the way to gender equity and how the #MeToo era will come to an end only when men and boys are educated and engaged. So what do you think men should do?
Caric: The first thing is men have to stand with women. You know this isn't just a woman's issue and men have to show their support. The second piece to that is men have to believe women. This idea that women would make things up — women just don't make things up when it comes to this kind of stuff.
Believing is a very empowering thing. And it has to be done.
I think the second thing is we need to talk to our boys. We need to educate the boys better. That's where it's going to start. It’s tough to get old guys to change our ways. So we gotta show boys the way. We gotta teach them about, “What does consent mean?” They need to understand that. And we need to lead by example. We can't allow “locker room talk” to be something that's acceptable. It's not acceptable, and we need to make sure that the young people see that.
As men, through male privilege, we have the power to do something about changing a culture… That’s the way it’s going to stop.
We can't be complicit in this.
I mean this stuff has been going on and we need to call these things out out and say, “That’s wrong, I’m not going to stand for it.”
Everybody has the right to be safe.
Kristy Trautmann is executive director of the FISA Foundation, a foundation focused on improving the lives of women, girls and people with disabilities. Under Trautmann’s leadership, FISA founded Southwest PA Says NO MORE, an effort to prevent domestic and sexual violence that is operated in partnership with the Heinz Endowments and the United Way of Southwest PA.
PublicSource: Could you talk about how the #MeToo movement influenced your work and what initiatives are underway?
Trautmann: The #MeToo movement is really a watershed in this national conversation about sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. What is different now is that many women who are speaking out are being taken seriously and believed and some perpetrators of violence are really facing consequences. This is a pretty significant change from how we treated gender-based violence in the past.
We, FISA and Southwest PA Says NO MORE, believe that sexual assault [and] domestic violence are completely preventable crimes. But, we believe that we can't prevent them by talking only to women. Too often in the past, prevention efforts have looked like risk reduction. We can't end violence against women by teaching women and girls to not get raped and beaten. That has been our approach in the past and it doesn’t and cannot work. If we do believe that these are preventable crimes, we need to shift the way that we're thinking. Instead, focus on how do we prevent the perpetration of abuse? Which leads us to focus on men’s behavior.
We're focused in a couple of ways.
One is to prevent the small group of predatory men who abuse women regularly from being able to do it and get away with it. But also, the bigger part of our work, is that we believe the vast majority, overwhelming majority, of men don't abuse and don't condone any form of disrespect or abuse against women. But, many of them aren't sure what to do to take action. Our work focuses on engaging with them and helping them recognize that men have a really unique role to play in speaking out against other men’s violence toward women and girls.
If women could end violence against women, we would have done it a long time ago.
We need many good, respectful, caring men to step forward and do their part in promoting culture change.
So, on March 6 we're doing a half-day workshop called “Men and Women Working Together: Confronting Sexual Harassment and Promoting Respect.” It's open to men and women who are really activated by #MeToo and want to do something to promote further culture change.And then the next day on March 7, we're having a much smaller workshop. It's really a leadership training for people who are in decision-making roles — could be the director of youth-serving nonprofit, could be an athletic director, could be a principal, could be a corporate executive who is committed to going beyond “check the box” sexual harassment training. It’s really on, how do we transform the culture?
Nicole Battle, a bartender for 20 years, is the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild. The guild’s Pittsburgh chapter is partnering with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape to institute a training and education program about sexual assault and harassment in the restaurant industry.
PublicSource: Could you talk about the impact the #MeToo movement has had on the service industry? How is this workplace different from others, and where can we go from here?
Battle: There's a different kind of attitude that comes along with working at a restaurant. I’m not sure where that started, but it’s a little bit more casual. And whether or not the behavior was good or bad, I think people are quick to say, “Well, that's just how it is in this industry.” And I think with #MeToo movement, people are now saying, “That’s not OK; this industry shouldn't be any different than any other industry.”
I think some people are a little bit more scared in this industry to speak up about those bad behaviors because there is so much time spent with coworkers and employers, people drinking and hanging out late night. So, the line gets a little blurry. But, what might be good for one individual might not be good for another individual and then that individual feels uncomfortable becoming the whistleblower.
I think that the industry needs to recognize that even if they don't have necessarily a handbook, or a human resources department, they need to have people in place to handle these type of situations so that if someone does have a problem or a complaint that they will be heard.
But the complaints by the women I know are complaints toward people that are in authority positions. So, who do you go to from there? The person who is making you uncomfortable is the person who is writing your paycheck or is one of your bosses. You really don't have someone to complain to.
I know that there are some things getting put into motion, mandatory trainings and sessions for managers and owners and chefs and people in those positions to get some training under their belt so that maybe this behavior can stop.
On top of all of the other certifications you have to get just to be working at a restaurant, I think we need to be adding sexual harassment and assault training and making it mandatory. Possibly giving a tax cut to these establishments. I don't think that the people exhibiting this type of behavior with their staffs even realize that it's inappropriate because it's just so ingrained into our heads that this industry is different.
Also, you need to have a diverse management team. I’ve been saying this for years. If all of your managers are men, white men, who do the women turn to when they need help?
And when you have such a diverse group of people working in an establishment — people of color and different ethnicities, women and men of all different ages and sexual orientations — you need to have a diverse management team to handle those people. Because managing people is the hardest thing you can do.
Sue Frietsche is the senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project. The Women’s Law Project is dedicated to advancing the rights and status of all women through high-impact litigation, advocacy and education.
PublicSource: From a legal standpoint, what can and should women do to report and pursue legal action if they have been sexually harassed? What should they know about the process and resources available here?"
Frietsche: First I would say to survivors that they should do what they need to do to be safe and to heal. And that might include going to the police and it might not. It might include a campus disciplinary proceeding and it might not. And it might include talking to human resources or taking steps to file a lawsuit, and it might not. And this is somewhat difficult because we would really like to see all sexual harassment and assaults stop.
We are trying very hard to eliminate barriers to reporting. We want police to investigate skillfully and promptly. We want prosecutors to bring offenders to justice. We want schools to take effective action to stop the harassment. We want to remove the stigma that keeps people silent. But the thing we want more than anything of all is, we want to return control over their lives to the victim.
No one should be pressuring survivors to do anything but survive.
Many people who do go through with reporting do get some relief, do get some assistance, can get some measure of justice. And so if you do decide to take action, what we would say would be, legal advice and guidance can help even very early in the process. And earlier is better than later.
So, you need to find out who the appropriate person is to notify. It might be the police, it might be someone at your school with the authority to discipline the harasser. It might be a Title IX coordinator or compliance officer. It could be your immediate supervisor.
It could be the human resources department. Figuring out who to talk to is part of what a good consultation with a lawyer or a legal professional can do for you.
There are strict time limits that are in the statutes of limitations that say when you have to file your complaint or charge of discrimination by and, if you wait too long and miss the deadline, you can miss your chance forever...These are very strict time limits and they are not something you can get out of very easily or very often.
So for example, for legal action under Title IX you would have two years. You'd have 180 days for a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights and a year for the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission. One hundred and eighty days or 300 days if you filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] for a charge to that administrative agency, which is a requirement before you can go to court on an employment discrimination claim.
So these are complicated enough and different enough depending on what forum you're in. It would be helpful to have legal assistance about that as well so you don't miss your deadline and know how long you have. Generally, the more promptly you can act, the better, because people's memories are fresher and your witnesses are there. Maybe you will get relief faster if you're still in the environment where you were being harassed.
There is a very vibrant and very good private bar in Allegheny County that serves plaintiffs in sexual harassment employment cases. These are the kinds of cases where most lawyers who practice in this area won’t charge you upfront for representation. They will evaluate your case and if they take it, they will do it on the chance that if you win they will recover their fees at that time. I would encourage people to go to the Allegheny County Bar Association’s lawyer service and get a referral for an employment lawyer who just works for plaintiffs. The cost of a consultation is very low. And you can get some very important information that way.If the sexual harassment is happening in a school setting, people are welcome to call the Women's Law Project. I'd be happy to talk to them especially if it's very early in the process. There aren't a lot of private attorneys out there who at that point would be in a position to take that case. I'd also really encourage people to call PAAR.
- Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) (www.paar.net)
- Confidential helpline - available 24/7
- *Counseling is also available in Spanish
- Confidential helpline - available 24/7
- Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh (www.wcspittsburgh.org)
- Emergency shelter, support groups
- 24-hour hotline (412) 687-8005 ext. 1
- (877) 338-8255 (toll-free number)
- Legal advocacy (412) 355-7400
- Medical advocacy (412) 232-7479
- Center for Victims (www.centerforvictims.org)
- 24-hour crisis hotline 1-866-644-2882
- RAINN (www.rainn.org)
- 24-hour hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)
- Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center (www.akhopecenter.org)
- 24-hour hotline 888-299-4673
- Crisis Center North (www.crisiscenternorth.org)
- 24-hour hotline 1-866-782-0911
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (www.pcar.org)
- Coaching Boys Into Men: If people are interested in bringing Coaching Boys Into Men to their school or community, they can call 211 or email Kiandra.Foster@unitedwayswpa.org. The United Way will help them get connected to a trainer near them.
- STANDING FIRM: The Business Case to End Partner Violence has more than 350 member employers who have joined this regional effort to help companies Recognize, Respond and Refer if partner violence is an issue in their workplace or workforce
- Father’s Day Pledge to End Gender Violence is an invitation to fathers (and coaches, mentors, teachers, neighbors, youth group leaders, etc.) who want to help both young men and young women learn about healthy, respectful relationships.
Correction (2/20/2018): A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Lauren DelRicci's role in relation to foundation funding and a Veterans Breakfast Club podcast.
Brittany Hailer is a freelance journalist based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at email@example.com.