Recently, the term “Weinstein effect” has been used as a way of trying to trace the ongoing cascade of sexual-abuse allegations back to early October, when Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct first started dominating headlines. While that story certainly had a profound snowball effect, other stories may have played an even bigger role in prompting more women to take action, sue their assailants, and file complaints about their employers.
At least, that’s judging by new web-traffic data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with preventing workplace harassment. The “sexual harassment” section of EEOC’s website has experienced numerous traffic surges in recent weeks, and the dates of those surges are telling: For instance, when the New York Times published its front-page exposé on Weinstein on October 5, the revelations rocked the world but didn’t really prompt that many people to visit the EEOC’s site.
However, on October 15, the day after Alyssa Milano helped spread the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, traffic tripled—from 2,595 page views to 7,832 page views.
And to illustrate the impact of morning TV, the firing of Matt Lauer on November 29 also caused traffic to the site to more than double, from 2,676 to 6,961.
When Time magazine announced that its Person of the Year for 2017 was the “Silence Breakers,” a group of women who had the courage to tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault, that also caused a surge in traffic to the site.
It’s unclear how many of those page views translated into actual complaints filed with the agency. Anyone wishing to file a lawsuit in federal or state court has to first file a formal sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC, which enforces anti-discrimination laws. In fiscal year 2016, there were 6,758 complaints of sexual harassment filed with the agency, a 15% drop from 2010. The low totals suggest that workplace sexual harassment is extremely under-reported. This year, that’s likely to change.MB