Reports of sexual harassment in the workplace are down among women overall, but the decline is far less steep among black women, signaling they are at greater risk.
That’s according to a study published in the journal Gender, Work and Organization and written by New Jersey researchers Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University and Yasemin Besen-Cassino of Montclair State University, Pacific Standard reports.
The study found that the number of complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace had dropped some 40 percent overall between 1997 and 2017, but the difference between declines among black women vs. declines among white women was stark, according to the news site.
The “likelihood” of white women reporting sexual harassment in the workplace dropped more than 70 percent in the 20-year period studied, but among black women that same rate only dropped 38 percent.
“It seems as though men have gotten more careful about who they’re harassing, and have been targeting women of color,” Dan Cassino said.
The study also found a correlation between spikes in unemployment rates and incidents of sexual harassment.
As Pacific Standard explained:
“A higher unemployment rate in one month leads to an increase in the number of reported harassment cases the following month,” [the study’s authors] report. “About one-third of the change in workplace sexual harassment reported to the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] can be attributed to changes in the national unemployment rate the previous month,” they write.
The researchers argue that this finding, too, reflects shifting power dynamics in the workplace. “When the unemployment rate goes up, producing greater social strain and a need to assert dominance, reported sexual harassment goes up as well,” they write.
And per the study’s authors, such an exploitation of power dynamics are worsened when one adds race to the equation, Pacific Standard reports.
As the study found, per Pacific Standard:
“In 1996, African-American women were 1.7 times as likely as white women to report sexual harassment to the EEOC. In 2016, they were 3.8 times more likely to do so.”
For Cassino and Besen-Cassino, these findings provide evidence that sexual harassment is largely about asserting and enjoying control.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is an expression of power—a way for men to assert their dominance,” they conclude. “The shift from sexual harassment of white women to African-American women indicates that harassers are conscious of power relationships, and choose to target more vulnerable women in their workplaces.”