Experts say Cuomo sexual harassment allegations should empower victims to come forward

The sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are bringing to light what can happen in toxic workplaces, and victim advocates say the attorney general’s report can be empowering for other victims who want to speak about their experiences.

"In this day and age, every single one of us has been exposed to sexual harassment training. It's a requirement in pretty much every single workforce. So just for somebody to say, oh, I didn't know, I was just trying to be friendly, we all know that that's garbage," said Clara Reynolds, the president and CEO of Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. "I think for individuals who have been experiencing that, it is incredibly empowering."

Reynolds explained how significant the moment is, in the scope of overall awareness.

"Just like the #MeToo movement did for victims of rape and sexual assault, it does give them a voice. It gives them the sense of what somebody is going to believe me, because nine times out of ten, that's why people don't come forward," said Reynolds. "That's why victims of these types of crimes don't come forward, because they're afraid that they're not going to be believed and that they're going to have a lot of victim shaming as if it's their fault."

Reynolds said sexual harassment is power-based violence, and she says a victim sharing their story helps take that power back.

"Sometimes that's the most powerful thing, to get people on a path to healing and moving forward in their lives," said Reynolds.

Workplace sexual harassment can happen anywhere and to anyone. Attorneys say the law also protects you, so they suggest letting the person know they’ve crossed a line and documenting something when it happens.

"So keeping a diary of what's happened can be very helpful and then using text message or emails to follow up with that person. For example, if something occurred on a lunch or on a work trip and you wanted to make sure that it was recorded," said Marc Edelman, an attorney with the Morgan and Morgan Law Firm in Tampa. "I think it's very important that anybody who has made every effort that they can make personally to let the other person know that they've crossed some boundaries, make sure that they protect themselves by capturing evidence of the harassment and evidence of their attempts to let the other person know that they've crossed the line."

Edelman said many companies also have policies for reporting harassment, and victims can go through those channels to document the harassment.

"If it reaches the extent where somebody really feels affected by it and the employer is unwilling to involve themselves or do the right thing, then there may be an opportunity to report these incidents to the police," said Edelman.

He said the Cuomo allegations are a reminder that behavior is a crime.

"I think it serves a purpose because fundamentally, nobody should have to endure any form of harassment when they go to work and try and earn a living for the reasons that 99% of us go to work," said Edelman. "It's hard enough to survive every day, let alone be placed in an environment where you're being harassed or discriminated based upon your sex."

Victim advocates said the attorney general's report on Cuomo will likely empower others to come forward.

"Oftentimes that is the only justice that you ever find is being able to tell your story in your own words to somebody who at the end says, I believe you,’" said Reynolds.

Victim advocates say if sexual harassing behavior is happening to you in your workplace, there are resources available. If you want someone to talk to about sexual harassment or abuse, you can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211.