“Scantily clad bodies can provoke sexual harassment”

Amy and I have written quite a lot about sexual harassment. Quite a lot. About the root causes and manifestations of sexual harassment, and the prevention and remediation of sexual harassment.

But here’s a solution to the problem from a concerned citizen that, frankly, never crossed our minds:  Force women to adhere to a dress code because “scantily clad” bodies can provoke sexual harassment.

Say that again?

Yes, argued a citizen to the Riverhead Town Board on Long Island which was considering a sexual harassment policy.  According to the local paper, John Q. Public declared that “I read this thing in quite a bit of detail,” and citing well-known sources such as Let’s Make a Deal and The Price is Right, said that the proposed policy needed amending: “I feel that inappropriate dress constitutes sexual harassment, and I think that needs to be put in here.”

He therefore requested that the Board implement a dress code to help prevent sexual harassment.  When asked to explain what he meant, John Q. stated that:

“Did you ever see ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and ‘The Price is Right,’ — the models? Half the time, they’re inappropriately dressed…scantily clad,”

Yes, I suppose that’s true, albeit a tad irrelevant.  But one astute Councilmember, ignoring the inescapable logic embodied in this historical reference, responded “But that’s no reason for somebody to sexually abuse them.”  Point taken.

However, a Councilwoman demurred.  “I think it’s a good idea — like the school district has rules about midriffs and too-short skirts. I think a dress code is a good thing.”

The battle was joined.  Dress codes were open for debate!

“I’m going to disagree,” a second Councilwoman said. “I don’t think we’ve had a problem here with the dress code and it’s a little offensive to say that sexual harassment happens because someone was scantily dressed.”

“I’m just saying one thing leads to another,” concluded John Q.   Another indisputable bit of logic.

“That’s called blaming the victim,” answered another Councilmember.

And then Mary Q. Public got up and, according to the news item, agreed: “Dress codes are appropriate but should not be implemented with the idea of preventing sexual harassment. How a woman dresses should never be seen as the cause of harassment.”

Checkmate!  Mary Q won the argument (although her statement that “dress codes are appropriate” seems a bit incongruous).

The stirring debate finally over, the Board unanimously adopted a resolution ratifying the sexual harassment policy, which states that sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct…of a sexual nature” that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work, including “physical acts of a sexual nature such as “touching, pinching, patting, kissing, hugging, grabbing, brushing against another person’s body or poking another person’s body” and “unwanted sexual advances or propositions.”


Mary Q gets our “takeaway of the day” – “How a woman dresses should never be seen as the cause of harassment.”

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]