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(l-r) Victims Advocate Ipu Avegalio Lefiti; Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Glory Gervacio Saure, and Emily Mauga. The women recently met in the federal building in Honolulu where services offered by the EEOC were discussed in depth.  [courtesy photo]

Dear Editor,

Knowledge and understanding is power. It reverses the power of fear and silence to action. It sends offenders scuttling like cockroaches, preventing and stopping the behavior.

Meeting with the Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Glory Gervacio in the federal building in Honolulu was very informative, enlightening and empowering.

Through my experience, noncompliance and lack of enforcement seem to have permeated the leadership within our island. Many standard policies and operational procedures seem to  find their way right back to a merry-go-round of confusion and the lack of understanding.

Alarming is how powerful individuals begin to surface applying intimidating pressures upon the victims to drop or rescind their charges against the perpetrator or offender.

Sexual harassment is against the law under the Equal Opportunity Act.

The EEOC enforces federal sexual harassment law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex (gender). Sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination under the Act.

It is also illegal under the Act for an employer to retaliate in any way against an employee who reports sexual harassment, whether it is on the employee's own behalf or that of another employee.

An employer also cannot retaliate against an employee who participates in related proceedings as a victim or witness. Once the charges are signed and filed, YOU and YOUR JOB are protected. Report every form of threats made against you.

Some types of sexual harassment may also be offenses under criminal law. These include indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications, such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social networking sites.

Sexual harassment can involve employees, managers, contractors, agents, volunteers, clients, customers and others connected with or attending a workplace. It can happen at work, at work-related events or between colleagues outside the work environment.

A workplace covers any place that a person attends for the purpose of carrying out their work or trade. They do not need to be an employer or employee of the workplace.

Bottom line: Any actions or words with a sexual connotation that interfere with an employee's ability to work or create an uncomfortable atmosphere are considered sexual harassment.

It's also worth noting that victims of the harassment may not be just the target of the offense, but anyone who is affected by the inappropriate behavior. That is, a co-worker standing nearby when inappropriate sexual comments are uttered may be affected, even if the comments aren't directed toward them.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to prevent sexual harassment from happening, as much as possible.

Employers should consider reporting criminal offenses to the (police).

Liability: While the person who sexually harasses someone else is liable for their own behavior, employers can also be held vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment by their employees or agents.

 A single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment — it doesn’t have to be repeated.  It was also emphasized that a victim does not have to process a local police report before informing the EEOC office for assistance. Basic information is required to determine the case. It is during the independent investigation of the situation will they go deeper and expand their investigation as needed to pursue the victim’s case.

Following is the information needed to either inquire or report a case. An agent will be assigned to you.

Glory Gervacio Saure Director EEOC. 808-541-3722, fax 808-541-3390 email

In the event the EEOC visits American Samoa for training and awareness training, I had requested that the training is extended to all NGOs who deal with social issues to include the Department of Education and parochial sectors, the religious and cultural sector. The aforementioned are more accessible to provide immediate assistance to connect to federal level, when Samoa has oversight issues. It is a perfect opportunity to work together by being well informed in providing information..

Remember you have THE RIGHT TO REPORT.

Ipu Avegalio Lefiti

Victim Advocate against Violence