High profile sexual assault claims emboldening local victims

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- High profile allegations of sexual assault and harassment are leading more victims to come forward in the Houston-area, according to employment attorneys.

"It's hard to say whether it represents an actual uptick in the incidences of underlying sexual harassment, but there does seem to be an increase in the number of people coming forward," employment attorney Sidd Rao said.

Rao works on harassment cases and other employment matters at the lawfirm of Shellist Lazarz Slobin. He said allegations like those against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and now Louis C.K. are encouraging other victims to speak out.

But it's still not easy for many. The fear of retaliation is a major hurdle, Rao said.

"There's a real fear of being blackballed when you make these types of claims. People have to understand that it is their right. This is not allowed," he said.

EEOC regulations indicate victims have 300 days after an incident to report it, but Rao said that shouldn't stop people from coming forward. Some incidents can also be considered criminal.

A victim should email a boss, bosses' boss or HR to explain what's happened. If there's a potential crime, like indecent exposure or rape, victims should also call police.

Victims sometimes feel a sense of shame or embarrassment. Rao hopes the recent cases will help change the culture to let victims know it's not their fault.

"It does, I think, take seeing other people successfully come forward and have their rights vindicated for people to feel comfortable doing that themselves," he said.

If you've been the victim of rape or sexual assault, you're not alone -- there is help.

You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline to speak with a trained professional at 1 (800) 656-HOPE (4673).

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