If you're brave enough to come forward with allegations against a powerful figure, the next logical step is to lawyer up, because the risk of retaliation looms large. And for low-wage workers, who direly need but can't afford legal assistance, that's where the Time's Up legal defense fund comes in.
Just two months after Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, and other prominent women in the entertainment world banded together to launch the long overdue movement to combat mistreatment and gender inequity in the workplace, its $21 million defense fund has already received over 1,700 requests for help from people across a broad range of industries outside of Hollywood including construction, government, and hospitality. According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), which is administering the fund, 98 percent of the requests have come from women, but there are some from men as well.
And for many of these women and men, coming forward presents a great, and public, risk. "Many people who have come forward are not famous or powerful themselves, but the harasser is famous and powerful, so they are currently experiencing defamation against themselves," says Tina Tchen, who previously served as chief of staff for Michelle Obama, and is co-leading Time's Up's legal efforts. Currently, 600 attorneys and a network of PR professionals are assisting the NWLC, many of whom are working pro bono.
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Unfortunately, being vocal about misconduct has already cost some of these victims their jobs, even before they turned to legal channels. "Some of these women were fired or demoted, and others experienced more harassment for reporting the harassment," says NWLC president and CEO Fatima Goss Graves. "Many made the decision that now was the time to come forward after seeing the visibility on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. They knew there was a community that had their back, and that makes all the difference."
The NWLC's caseload consists of people who have experienced sexual violence and assault in a range of ways. One in particular involves a restaurant worker who was raped by her boss and then threatened that there would be grave consequences if she told anyone; another came from a woman who endured years of physical and verbal harassment from customers and co-workers and faced the threat of being fired for complaining. "People should be able to do their job without having to endure harassment," Graves says. "We're trying to shift that dynamic. This should not be part of the fabric of any woman's work life. It's up to the institution to change how it reacts."
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While Time's Up has already raised an impressive amount of money for the fund, they still have a long way to go. "Anyone who's ever been involved in paying legal bills or in court cases knows that litigation is expensive, and court cases can drag on for a long time," Tchen says. "We got 1,700 cases just from people watching the Globes alone. You can only imagine how many people need help that are out there."