Oregon law and the #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement is creating some very serious legal and political repercussions. With all of the indiscretions of the rich and powerful in the media, what is Oregon doing to reduce sexual assault and harassment to protect the silenced?

Oregon has some of the highest sexual assault rates in the country. According to statistics calculated by the CDC, in 2010 27 percent of Oregon women (or roughly 409,000) were raped that year alone. For sexual acts of violence other than rape, that number jumped horrifically to 56 percent of women or 837,000 people. These numbers are the second largest in the country following Alaska, the CDC notes.

While the words rape, sexual assault and harassment are sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, Oregon law officially categorizes “assault” as “abuse” and breaks it down into different degrees. Oregon code 163.427 defines first degree sexual assault (the most severe) as occurring under any of the following conditions: “the victim is less than 14 years of age; the victim is subjected to forcible compulsion by the actor”; “the victim is incapable of consent by reason of being mentally defective, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless”; or, even more disturbingly, if the perpetrator “intentionally causes a person under 18 years of age to touch or contact the mouth, anus or sex organs of an animal for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of a person.” The state considers first degree assault to be a Class B felony, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

In cases where the convicted is told to pay a fine, most of that money often goes to the state and is distributed into funds. One such fund is a Victim Compensation fund. These funds distribute money to different victim advocacy groups. In Douglas County, these funds are distributed to Battered Persons’ Advocacy, CASA of Douglas County, Douglas County Victim Assistance, Cow Creek Tribe and Douglas CARES. If a victim ever wishes to seek full restitution, their best bet is to take their aggressor to civil court.

Sexual harassment is different. The state believes that “sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or conduct of a sexual nature (verbal, physical, or visual), that is directed toward an individual because of gender. It can also include conduct that is not sexual in nature but is gender-related. Sexual harassment includes the harassment of the same or of the opposite sex.”

The Oregon Fair Employment Practice Act dictates all unlawful employment practices. It contains the usual anti-discrimination laws you’ll find anywhere. Such as it being illegal to hire, fire, bar or discharge someone based on the following: individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is 18 years of age or older, or because of the race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age of any other person with whom the individual associates, or because of an individual’s juvenile record.

The gist of the act, obviously, is that it is illegal to discriminate, and the state finds sexual harassment to be discrimination on the basis of gender. That’s why unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors are deemed illegal in the eyes of the state.

The OFEPA also states that any employer “is liable for sexual harassment by the employer’s employees or agents who do not have immediate or successively higher authority over the aggrieved person when the employer knew or should have known of the conduct.”

This means that if any employee is being harassed by a co-worker of equal status, employers are seen as legally responsible if they knew about or should have known about said harassment. In Oregon, harassment is considered a Class B misdemeanor. Those found guilty can face a maximum of 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $2,500.

In the summer of 2017, a new Oregon law was passed to protect janitorial workers. Many of these employees work alone in empty buildings at night leaving them open to attack. Often when attacked, they fail to report for fear of job loss, retaliation or even deportation.

Under the new law, everyone in the industry is required to complete sexual assault and harassment training, and companies who hire janitors through contractors must only use contractors registered in the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. Employers who use unlicensed contractors face penalties and fines, as well as contractors who fail to get a license.

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