‘The experience of harassment can feel like choking,’ says restaurateur and sexual harassment PSA poster co-creator Karen Leibowitz
In case of sexual harassment, follow these four important steps: Keep a record. Tell your employer. Make it official. Find allies.
That’s the public service announcement that two women have put on a free, eye-catching new poster that instructs service industry workers on what to do if they ever feel unsafe on the job. And they’ve mimicked their bold bulletin after the kitschy “Choking Victim” PSAs that the NYC health department rolled out in 1989 to publicize the Heimlich maneuver.
“The experience of harassment can feel like choking — like you can’t breathe or speak freely,” co-creator Karen Leibowitz, a San Francisco restaurateur who’s already handing out postcard versions of the PSA in her own eateries, told Moneyish.
And food industry workers are underserved when it comes to this kind of counseling. More sexual harassment claims in the U.S. are filed in the restaurant industry than in any other, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data analyzed by Buzzfeed, where as many as 90% of women and 70% of men reportedly experience some form of sexual harassment.
The 41-year-old co-owner of restaurants Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and NYC, and The Perennial and Commonwealth in San Francisco, was strategizing with other women business owners last December on ways to support workers in jobs that often don’t respond to sexual harassment complaints. When she was sexually harassed in her youth, she didn’t know her options.
“And when it happened, I felt quite disempowered, so I wanted to speak to people in similar circumstances and offer resources,” she said. “I thought it should just be among all of the other posters we already post about workers’ rights to breaks, minimum wage, and so on.”
And the choking PSAs from the 80s and 90s had always stuck with her. “I lived in New York about 20 years ago, and I used to see these purple posters with fish bones all of the time,” she said. “I looked for it online, but I also found a line drawing of a woman clutching her throat as a man performed the Heimlich maneuver on her. That spoke to me.”
“It’s about someone experiencing immediate physical danger,” Brooklyn graphic artist Kelli Anderson, who designed the posters with Leibowitz, told Moneyish. “And so when we’re talking about sexual harassment, and we’re talking about people feeling unsafe, that seemed like the best iconography.”
The #MeToo era PSA inverted the old choking victim poster’s primary color scheme to be largely red and black, instead of orange and blue, with “sexual harassment” standing out in white, and other text in vivid blue and green. It features a sketch of a hand reaching out to grope the backside of a non-gender-specific worker in an apron.
“We took the typography and the composition from the original choking poster, but we gave it an alternative-reality color scheme so that it would be too bold and fashionable to be a health department poster. We want people to do a double-take and to read it, instead of tuning it out,” explained Anderson, 36.
They toyed with including more text, or running a longer list of anything that could be considered sexual harassment, but realized the most effective PSA would be short and to the point.
“It was important to us that it was actionable, with really clear steps that people could take,” Anderson said. “So we thought simply by saying, ‘If you feel powerless, or if you feel unsafe, or anything you don’t like is happening, the default is to report it.’ It doesn’t matter if it falls in one of these boxes or not. People can be creeps in a variety of ways, as we’re finding out.”
The poster leads off with: “In case of … sexual harassment: You are not powerless,” along with a few broad bullets on what to watch out for (touching, verbal abuse and coercion) and then the steps to take if you feel sexually harassed. They include:
Keep a record. Take notes, save screenshots and emails (of inappropriate behavior and incidents) and keep them outside of work.
Tell your employer. You must notify your employer to get the process started. Keep a record of this report.
Make it official. If your employer retaliates or fails to help, report them to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. State law varies, but incidents usually must be reported within 180 to 300 days.
Find allies. It lists sites such as timesupnow.com, betterbrave.com and equalrights.org that can provide guidance and legal support.
The posters launched in time for the in mid-April Jubilee conference hosted by Cherry Bombe, which celebrates women and food through a biannual magazine and weekly podcast. Besides postcards, Leibowitz has also ordered several full-sized posters (18-by-24-inch) from Cherry Bombe for her restaurants. And the site is also offering a free 11-by-17-inch print-at-home version available for download in English here, or in Spanish here. Or you can also buy the full-sized poster for $10 at Cherry Bombe, with the money covering the printing, packaging, shipping, labor and the initial design work.
“I have been approached for posters by restaurateurs, a knife shop, a butcher and a sexual harassment prevention training teacher, but because they are free as downloads, I direct them to the website and don’t follow up on the numbers,” added Leibowitz. “This is something I have done for free, so I am perhaps not pushing or tracking it as one would if it were a business.”
Both women emphasized that this isn’t a money grab, and it isn’t exclusive to restaurants. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements may be rooted in entertainment, but journalists, athletes and lawyers speaking up about sexual misconduct at work show this abuse of power has run rampant against men and women in all industries.
“I would love to see this adopted in small businesses that don’t have an HR department,” said Leibowitz, “where things often feel personal and ad hoc, it can be helpful to know that there are systems and structures to handle these problems, and that you’re not alone.”
Anderson added, “I think this (PSA) is functioning now not because it’s a poster, but because of the larger conversation we’re having about sexual harassment that it references.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved