Ashley Graham's Story About Being Sexually Harassed at Work Reveals an All Too Common Dilemma Faced by Women

June 5th 2017

Almie Rose

Ashley Graham has been using her voice as a prominent model to talk about a wide variety of issues, from body positivity to being molested as a child. Her fearlessness has inspired others, and she's now opening up about an experience with sexual harassment she faced when she was only 17.

"So how do you know your boundaries on set?" was the question Glamour asked Graham for their July issue.

Graham's response was revealing. "There was an incident on set of a campaign job when I was 17 years old—I haven’t told this story—and there was a photo assistant who was into me." She continues:

"He was like, 'Hey, come here,' and he led me into a closet. And I was like, 'What?' I thought he was going to show me something. And he pulled me in, and he pulled his penis out. And he was like, 'Grab it.' And I was like, 'No! That’s disgusting.' I freaked out. And thank God I was closer to the door, and I just bolted out."

When asked "did you tell anyone at the time?" Graham responded, "No. And sure enough, I’ve seen him at jobs since."

She blames herself and her "young mentality" for not speaking up, but says after that incident, "I wasn’t going to allow someone at work to manipulate what I wanted to do on set."

Graham not speaking up about sexual harassment is sadly not uncommon.

As Margaret Gardiner for The Huffington Post reported, "a 2015 study found that one in three women have been sexually harassed and that 71 percent did not report it."

Gardiner offers a few thoughts as to why:

"Some women perceive it as something you have to endure until you can segue to another department, or job, when you will need that very man’s reference over the course of a long career. Some women, before HR became a tool of protection, felt they had no other option. One also has to weigh the power of the person making the demands against the receiver. Usually it is a very successful person in a position of high power. A young woman at an entry level job may feel vulnerable, not only to the advances — but to the consequences of reporting the perpetrator. It is not unusual for some women to grit their teeth and move forward."

About half of women say that in the workplace, they have been inappropriately touched, faced pressure to perform sexual favors or experienced other manner of illegal harassment, according to analysis cited by The New York Times—but reporting it means facing "disbelief, inaction, blame or societal and professional retaliation."

In the interest of self-preservation — or simply out of fear — many choose to ignore such incidents. Those who may want to step forward face the discouragement of seeing high-profile cases of the most serious variety proceed at a glacial pace.

In light of Bill Cosby's trial starting Monday, Twitter user OhNoSheTwitnt tweeted some theories why a woman wouldn't come forward with sexual assault allegations:



The suggestion here being that when women reveal they were sexually assaulted or harassed, their accuser isn't properly punished, if punished at all.

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) notes "it is believed that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police" and when the offender is the survivor's partner, only 25 percent report. If it's a friend or acquaintance, it's 18 to 40 percent.

Thus, "due partially to low reporting rates, only 9 percent of all rapists get prosecuted. Only 5 percent of cases lead to a felony conviction. Only 3 percent of rapists will spend a day in prison. The other 97 percent walk free."

MCASA reported survivors have a long list of reasons for not reporting, including "fear of reprisal." If a woman is sexually assaulted or harassed while working, her greatest fear may sadly be getting fired for reporting it, or not working again.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), where you'll be connected to a trained person who will talk to you and help find a facility near you for sexual assault survivors. You can also visit online.rainn.org if you want to chat anonymously.