Radio Sputnik spoke with Dr. David Sherwyn, John and Melissa Ceriale Professor of Hospitality Human Resources and law professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.
According to Sherwyn, the decision to put the name Silence Breakers as Person of the Year was motivated by the fact that the actions of many mainstream figures, including high-profile politicians, has recently been brought to light, exposing years of abusive behavior.
"This shows the state of the country as well as the state of the world," says Shewyn, "when we see politicians in the news the most — US, Russia, North Korea…"
"We are in a kind of negative zone right now," he observed, adding that "politicians who are supposed to be solving problems seem to be making problems."
Sherwyn noted that, ironically, the US still has no sexual harassment laws. In fact, he says, US court decisions are made based on a provision from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saying that a person cannot be harassed or discriminated because of their sex. In 1986, in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the US Supreme court recognized that sexual harassment violated that civil rights provision, which makes the law relatively new.
"It was never legislated, it was never codified what is sexual harassment. It is incredibly unclear," Shewyn said.
Due to the legal confusion, as well as legacy cultural behavior modeling, getting an appropriate response in the US courts for sexual harassment cases is "very, very difficult," as there are many obstacles that a plaintiff must overcome.
"And now we have famous people saying ‘I was harassed,'" he observed, recalling that, during the rise of the #MeToo movement people "who we knew, who were successful, who were popular, who were icons" detailed that "it happened to me."
Speaking about the ongoing controversy surrounding the behavior and attitude of US President Donald Trump while he was a candidate, Shewyn noted that sexual harassment accusations against the former reality television show host went somewhat unnoticed because those who reported the abuses were unknown to the public.
"For some strange reason we think that these celebrities are friends of ours and we care about them," he suggested.
Shewyn suggested that we can expect many more sexual harassment revelations, as the behavior is so endemic to our culture that many are not aware that what they are doing is wrong.