Workplace sexual harassment at a "tipping point of public attention"

NEW YORK -- Intense public outcry over the latest sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly ultimately brought down one of the most powerful people in cable news.

But the reaction 26 years ago was much different, when Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of harassment.

In October, Hill told CBS News that the focus on the issue has to change.

“For 25 years we have been saying that sexual harassment is a real problem,” Hill said.

Fatima Goss Graves, incoming president at the National Women’s Law Center says that companies may finally be held to account.

“We are really at a tipping point of public attention, public awareness on the issue of harassment,” Graves said.

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According to a CBS News poll conducted last September, 78 percent of women and 71 percent of men believe sexual harassment exists in the workplace. But just 37 percent of victims report it to a supervisor.

“Most women do not report harassment because they fear retaliation and they won’t be believed,” Graves said.

Graves says while O’Reilly and former Fox chairman Roger Ailes’ ouster could signal a sea change, other examples show there’s more work to do.

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Fatima Goss Graves

CBS News

She says last fall’s leaked “Access Hollywood” tape of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump is one of them.

“It really was a real reminder that harassment happens everywhere. Especially when it involves powerful men and unfortunately the lesson that we learned after the election is that sometimes harassers are rewarded,” she said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Office, which tracks harassment allegations reports, says in the last three years some 36,000 people have filed federal complaints, receiving $110 million in settlements. But Graves says because harassment is underreported, that is just the tip of the iceberg.