Sexual Misconduct at Chicago Beaches

Unfortunately, there have been several recent instances of unwanted sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in and around the Chicago area throughout the past few years. Of particular notoriety is the case surrounding Evanston's beaches. Multiple women have accused the city of enabling a culture of sexual harassment and misconduct on the Evanston lakefront. A recent petition signed by over 50 women and young girls employed by the city of Evanston in lifeguard roles cited unwanted sexual attention and advances from their older male managers.

Since the petition, the city has opened a case to investigate individuals accused of engaging young girls in sexual activities and making untoward advances. Already, legal bills are over $100K, and other women have continued to come forward. There seems to have been a culture of rampant harassment and hazing conducted against young women in lifeguard positions.

In one case, a female lifeguard asked to be reassigned to a different location twice because of harassment concerns, and no one responded to the request. She was employed at Oak Street Beach for four years, beginning at the age of 16. The workplace culture at Oak Street Beach consisted of harassment and gender-related violence, including an event called Sexual Harassment Saturdays. This particular engagement allowed the male managers to inappropriately touch the female lifeguards throughout the day.

This conduct was sanctioned by upper management, including the mates and the captains, promoting an atmosphere that was unwanted and considered unsafe by the complainant. She cited a code of silence — no one reported what was really going on out of fear.

Another case involving a junior lifeguard employee at Oak Street Beach asserted that an environment of sexual harassment, hazing, and other employee misconduct was the norm. At the end-of-the-season banquet, employees were given awards meant to degrade them, such as “Slut of the Beach.”

The misconduct isn't limited to Evanston or Oak Street Beach. Another sexual abuse lifeguard scandal has also rocked the Chicago Park District. Allegations in the district have resulted in dozens of sexual misconduct accusations and one criminal charge of sexual assault against a former management employee.

In light of the scandal at the Chicago Park District, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on the CEO of the district to be fired as a result of the mismanagement, harassment, and sexual abuses that were deemed to have occurred for years. He resigned in October 2021.

Sexual misconduct is clearly a problem on Chicago's beaches. There is much work to do to ensure female employees feel safe from unwanted attention when performing their duties.

To combat the issues, Chicago's Parks and Recreation Department must adopt a structure of intolerance toward unwanted sexual advances. However, creating safer surroundings is not just limited to beaches. Sexual misconduct policies should be clearly outlined by companies, organizations, and other government entities.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual abuse due to the misconduct that occurred at one of Chicago’s beaches, you may be entitled to compensation. The compassionate sexual abuse attorneys at Levin & Perconti are committed to holding institutions where abusive conduct occurred fully accountable and can help you receive maximum compensation for your case.

Defining Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct nvolves using power, control, or intimidation to harm another. It may take the form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

A behavior may be considered sexual misconduct when there is an absence of consent. Consent is a clearly indicated, affirmative yes and cannot be given when the person is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment.

Some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Making conditions of employment dependent on sexual favors
  • Physical acts of sexual assault
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Unwanted touching or physical contact
  • Feeling pressured to engage with someone sexually
  • Exposing oneself or performing sexual acts on oneself
  • Unwanted sexually explicit photos, emails, or text messages

Experiencing sexual harassment, especially in a repeated context, may cause some survivors to face mental health concerns. These can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Substance abuse
  • Loss of motivation

If left untreated, these issues can result in significant future health problems. Thus, it's important to address the problem as soon as possible.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault definitions vary from state to state, but the common description involves unwanted sexual touching. Sexual assault may include sexual battery, criminal sexual penetration, or rape. Categories of sexual assault include:

  • Attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts
  • Sodomy without consent
  • Sexual contact with minors, consensual or not

If force, coercion, or incapacitation exists in a sexual act between two adults, it is considered sexual assault.

Similar to sexual harassment, instances of sexual assault can also lead to future mental health issues.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of one person trying to control and dominate another person. It can involve many different actions, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and economic abuse.

Physical abuse has the potential to seriously injure or kill someone, while economic abuse can result in someone not having access to the funds they need to live. Emotional abuse has long-lasting consequences, including severe mental trauma, difficulties with sleep, and anxiety.

Dating Violence

Dating violence involves violence committed by a person who is or who has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. It may involve a combination of physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse behaviors.

This type of sexual misconduct can be frightening to those who experience it, especially if there is a sense of trust between the victim and the person who acts with ill intentions. Victims may be injured physically or suffer from long-term mental health issues.

Stalking

Stalking occurs when there is a pattern of behavior directed toward someone that results in the victim fearing for themselves or others. Victims of stalking may experience a sense of pervasive apprehension. Not infrequently, stalking leads to physical harm of its intended subject.

Examples of stalking include:

  • Stealing from the victim or burglarizing their home
  • Threatening, following, or monitoring the victim
  • Leaving unwanted telephone, text, email, or handwritten messages
  • Using technology to gather information on the victim
  • Assaulting the victim

If you are the victim of stalking, you may constantly be looking over your shoulder or excessively concerned about whom you are meeting and where you are going.

What to Do About Sexual Misconduct

If you experience sexual misconduct, there are steps that you can take to stop the unwanted harassment. Illinois law makes it illegal for anyone to sexually harass another person.

The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) protects employees against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This law makes it illegal to make unwelcome sexual advances or request sexual favors.

As defined by the IHRA, unlawful conduct occurs when "submission to such conduct is either expressed or suggested, submission or rejection of the conduct by an employee is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting that employee, or such conduct interferes with employee's job performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."

In the cases involving sexual misconduct along the shores of Evanston and Park District beaches, the victims described a hostile work environment between management and the younger, female workforce, who were subjected to an unwritten code of conduct that allowed for unwanted sexual advances.

Despite attempts to report the behavior to management in Evanston, no action was taken until a petition was signed by 50 women supporting changes to the work environment. This indicates a blatant disregard for the women who were subjected to the abuse. After the petition was presented, investigations began into the situation.

For those who have experienced sexual harassment, you may take actions to prove your case. These include:

  • Avoiding the alleged harasser
  • Asking the person to stop bothering you
  • Reporting the harassment to a supervisor or manager
  • Talking to your doctor about emotional distress that you have experienced

To build a convincing case, begin with the following:

  • Document every incident
  • Keep work performance records
  • Speak with witnesses and ask them to report the harassment they saw
  • Discuss the illegal behavior with other victims
  • Understand how the company prefers to handle complaints by talking to a supervisor
  • File a formal complaint with your supervisor

If there is no action taken to address charges, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Illinois Department of Human Rights. This may lead your company to initiate immediate investigations into the matter.

Victims of sexual abuse can and should receive compensation to not only hold perpetrators accountable but to also receive the resources needed to effectively cope with the physical and emotional trauma the abuse caused. If you've been the target of unwanted sexual advances, contact the nationally recognized attorneys at Levin & Perconti to confidentially discuss your situation. Our firm has an experienced team of compassionate advocates who understand the sensitive nature of these cases and work closely to make sure our clients feel comfortable and safe.

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