SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Donald Trump denies multiple accusations that he groped or grabbed or otherwise forced himself on women. Those complaints, and the candidate's denials, have prompted new discussions about sexual harassment at work and the responsibility of co-workers to intervene. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Elizabeth Allen was at a happy hour for a San Francisco tech firm a couple years ago when a co-worker started forcing himself on her and the few other women at the party again and again.
ELIZABETH ALLEN: Giving us lots of hugs, trying to kiss me a few times. He grabbed my butt a couple of times.
NOGUCHI: The women were outnumbered by men, some of whom looked on bemused as the women tried to signal their distress.
ALLEN: Probably the worst thing about that incident was that there were many, many men there, including this guy's manager was there, and none of them did anything about it. There's absolutely, you know, no doubting that we were very uncomfortable. It was very obvious. Nobody lifted a finger to try to do anything about it.
NOGUCHI: Allen says as a teen, her fast food manager sexually harassed her, but she felt she was supposed to go along with it. She recalled that feeling, many years later, after the happy hour incident, when she and the other women debated whether it was worth taking the matter to human resources.
ALLEN: It's interesting, you know? We were all a little bit uncomfortable with that because, again, I think there's this sort of feeling of, like, not wanting to be the uncool person who reports something like this.
NOGUCHI: The frequency of workplace sexual assault is hard to accurately quantify. Rape prevention advocates say the prevalence varies by industry. Low-wage workers are especially at risk. Last week, 15 McDonald's workers around the country filed harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The main problem in gauging the prevalence of sexual assault is that many incidents go unreported.
Cynthia DeKay understands why. She says she was harassed as a teen working at a chicken restaurant. The St. Paul graphics designer says years later, when she worked at a commodities broker, many of her male colleagues watched porn and bragged of sexual conquest. A physical threat never materialized, DeKay says, but she likely wouldn't have reported if it had.
CYNTHIA DEKAY: I would have been doubtful that I would have had support.
NOGUCHI: This is a common sentiment that affects even bystanders like Robert People. People was deployed in Iraq 13 years ago when a female co-worker confided she'd been raped by another colleague. He was determined to come to her defense and report it, but his friend begged him not to.
ROBERT PEOPLE: She said, what happens if he doesn't get in trouble? What will I have to deal with then?
NOGUCHI: So he had to bear the burden of silence.
PEOPLE: I'm coming into work every day, I have to see her. I see her face, and she's worried and everything. I see him close by. And so that it doesn't, you know, hurt her or he doesn't come back on her in some type of way, I have to keep quiet.
NOGUCHI: People says the experience still haunts him today. He says he feels he allowed rape culture to persist.
PEOPLE: I blame myself for it. I have no problem saying, yeah, I enabled it by not knowing what to do.
NOGUCHI: He says he thinks and hopes the culture of the military has changed. In his unit, quarterly sexual harassment trainings are required. Still, he says, during one such session, a presenter said the Army's goal was to reduce sexual assaults by 50 percent. People was aghast.
PEOPLE: You can't call this zero tolerance if the goal is only 50 percent.
NOGUCHI: His impassioned response, met with ridicule from some of his co-workers, People says he doesn't care. Now, he says, it's his turn to speak up. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.