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The law behind sexual harassment

WHAS11 News wanted to know what exactly is sexual harassment, and what recourse do you have if you're a victim of it.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – The recent case of former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover along with allegations against Metro Councilman Dan Johnson has put sexual harassment front and center in Kentuckiana.

With the topic, WHAS11 News wanted to know what exactly is sexual harassment, and what recourse do you have if you're a victim of it.

Under the law, sexual harassment is a form of discriminating against someone because of their gender, that is severe or pervasive enough and sexual in nature to affect your working environment.

That definition is according to University of Louisville Professor Ariana Levinson, she says the worst thing you can do if you feel violated is keep quiet as she states, "We pay attention when it's these high-profile cases but there's a lot of less high-profile cases where this is happening and its very damaging to women and their physical state, their emotional state."

Levinson says sexual harassment has been happening since the beginning of time, adding, "A lot of times there are misunderstandings that sexual harassment has something to do with sexual activity but it really is in many cases, not all, it’s about power."

Levinson says if you've been in an uncomfortable situation where you've addressed the person or when you feel advancements have crossed the line, you can talk to your internal department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In some cases, like the one involving former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover who resigned amid claims of sexual harassment on Nov. 5, the accuser and Hoover's lawyers reached a settlement.

"With settlements, they're confidential so they're not accessible to the public which is part of the reason we may not know how widespread sexual harassment or really any type of claim is," Levinson said.

Recently, we've seen campaigns of women making their voice heard like the #MeToo campaign.

Levinson, a fan of the social cause, said, "If a lot of women aren't speaking up then the laws won't change and the system won't change to more effectively address this and kind of make sure we are eliminating sexual harassment."

It is the will to report these instances that Levinson says is the best way to phase out this problem.

The Center for Women and Families in Louisville sent us a statement when we asked about the organization's stance towards recent local and national cases of alleged sexual harassment, it reads:

“The Me Too campaign and all of the recent incidents of sexual assault, locally and nationally are all very alarming however, they continue to bring light to the epidemic issue of sexual assault and harassment in our nation. Most people don’t know that the vast majority of sexual assaults occur between people who know each other. It is far more likely that a person will be sexually assaulted by a current/former partner or an acquaintance than by a stranger. The most important thing to remember that it is important to seek help. There are so many resources for those who need to talk someone."