In 2018, more than 3 million people filed sexual harassment lawsuits against the U.S. government, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
This is more than twice as many as in 2017, the first year for which statistics were available.
But according to experts, the number of lawsuits has been declining for years.
“People have always complained about harassment, but the frequency of those complaints is actually decreasing,” says Nancy Houghton, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and the author of Sexual Harassment in the United States: The Truth About What Happens to Men and Women.
In the early 1970s, Houghtons research found that the majority of harassment complaints were filed by women.
But now women are less likely to file harassment suits.
“Women are much less likely than men to file,” she says.
“So it’s a very small number of cases, a very few.”
The number of sexual harassment claims filed by men has also been dropping for years, according for the first time to Houghtons research.
And in the last decade, Haughton says, “the number of men who have filed lawsuits has also dropped dramatically.”
That trend is happening even in the age of Trump.
In his first month in office, Trump has taken steps to make it easier for people to sue their employers, including requiring federal contractors to file quarterly reports about harassment claims and requiring more employers to publicly report their retaliation policies.
That could make the number drop further.
But experts say it’s too soon to know if the trend is permanent.
“It’s hard to predict,” says HoughTON.
And as the number drops, so does the likelihood that lawsuits are filed.
“The courts are very slow to respond to claims,” says Susan L. Brown, a law professor at Boston University.
“In other words, the courts tend to slow down.”
Brown has spent the last 30 years studying harassment lawsuits.
“They are very difficult to get through,” she tells Newsweek.
She says that in most cases, there are “several steps” that must be taken before a lawsuit can be filed, including filing a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which can take several months.
Brown says the number that file suits often ends up with a settlement, which is a type of court case.
“You get to a point where the lawsuit is dropped or settled and you can move on,” Brown says.
Some experts say the trend toward fewer lawsuits is even happening in states where there are fewer complaints, like California and Washington, where the number dropped below 1,000 cases in 2015.
“There’s no indication that that trend will change,” says Brown.
In a statement, the Department of Labor and Wage and Hour Division of the U,S.
Department of Justice, which tracks complaints of sexual discrimination, said it “continues to actively work with federal agencies and other stakeholders to ensure that we provide our workers with the protection of Title VII and other workplace laws.”
And in January, the U.,S.
Equal Employment opportunity Commission announced it had reached a settlement with two companies over allegations of sexual retaliation.
The EEOC says the companies, which are owned by the same parent company as Houghttons law firm, settled their complaints with a commitment to improve their practices and to provide a “strong, consistent, and enforceable workplace climate” in the future.
The settlement does not require the companies to change their workplace policies.
But it does prohibit retaliation, such as having an employee fired or reprimanded for complaining about sexual harassment or other workplace issues.
“We will continue to work with our stakeholders to address these issues in a way that is both effective and fair,” the EEOC said in a statement.