At the My Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally in East Liberty on January 20, 2017. Photo by Jennifer Baron.

Over the last two years, the #MeToo movement has roiled the highest levels of art, business and politics across the country. But for millions of women working in low-wage and low-profile industries, abuse and casual misogyny remain a stubborn fact of life.

“Everybody has a right to a safe and respectful environment at school or at work, but we know sexual assault and sexual harassment are extremely common,” said Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Pittsburgh-based Women’s Law Project. These experiences “are everyday occurrences of the young women we work with. They are swimming in it.”

Frietsche was speaking on the 30th floor of The Heinz Endowment’s offices in Downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday to introduce #MeTooPA, a free, anonymous telephone service that provides counseling and legal advice to anyone experiencing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

While workers at every level of society are vulnerable, Frietsche noted that women of color and women with disabilities in low-wage sectors experience disproportionate rates of abuse.

The program is being supported throughout this year by a $150,000 gift from The Heinz Endowments and was designed in collaboration with anti-domestic violence group Southwest PA Says No More.

During the press conference, the project leaders emphasized that the hotline was meant to be a resource for school students as well as adult professionals.

“Young women have told us that sexual harassment happens every day at school,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of FISA Foundation and founder of Southwest PA Says No More. “It is often ignored by adults or brushed off as a minor distraction rather than recognized as a serious personal violation.”

The project leaders were joined at the podium by three former employees of the Mattress Factory art museum who partnered with the Women’s Law Project after they faced retaliation at work for reporting a male colleague for serial harassment and abuse. Also joining them was 17-year-old CAPA senior Auja Diggs, who discussed the way toxic culture can be pervasive even in seemingly progressive institutions.

“‘Boys will be boys’ is a sentence I have heard a thousand times,” said Diggs. “I’m just done with it.”

An accompanying website will launch in the next several days. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse or harassment at work or school, the hotline staff can be reached Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 412-281-2892.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.