HONOLULU - The national number of high profile people caught up in sexual harassment scandals keeps rising, but in Hawaii, there has actually been a dramatic drop in the number of complaints filed with the state agency that looks into them.

"It has gone from the largest number of sex discrimination complaints to last year -- we only had nine sex harassment complaints filed, said William Hoshijo, the Executive Director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

Nine years ago, there were over 50 complaints.  The number may have come down because of better workplace training, although sexual harassment is one type of discrimination that is believed to be largely underreported.

"There is fear of retaliation and it keeps people from coming forward and asserting their rights, but retaliation is prohibited under state and federal law," said Honshijo.

But all the national accusations against actors and high profile people could have an impact in reporting here, already there has been an increase in calls coming into the Civil Rights Commission.

"I think it is a good thing that so many people are coming forward. It is the only way for us to affect any change," stated Honshijo.
The commission will investigate complaints to see if there were violations. Which can include working in an offensive environment with unwanted sexual conduct, or being fired or promoted because of denying or giving sexual favors.

"If at the end of the investigation we find reasonable cause, we would seek remedies for the complainants. That includes damages, pain and suffering and punitive damages," said Honshijo.

There have been some cases that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims. Others involved city or state agencies, universities along with regular island businesses. But most are settled out of court, usually with confidentially agreements, so people don't even know they took place.

This also happens in Congress.  Over the past two decades, taxpayers have footed the bill for 268 congressional settlements adding up to more than $17 million. 

"We cannot allow this problem to thrive behind closed doors, and in the shadows. We are seeing every day more and more issues coming out, in Congress and the media. In order to combat this persuasive problem, we need to start here now," said U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She is one of several Congressional members who introduced legislation that would disclose those payments to settle sexual harassment claims, as well as name the accused.  

"Pull back the curtain that protects predators instead of survivors, and hold them publicly accountable for their actions," added Gabbard.

While some of the recent national accusations date back years or even decades ago, for victims in Hawaii they have to file with the Civil Rights Commission within 180 days. Although someone who has been sexually harassed has two years to take their case to court.

For those looking for more information regarding sexual harassment in Hawaii, contact the commission at:
(808) 586-8636, or go to its website at http://labor.Hawaii.gov/hcrc