A Calverton man asked the Riverhead Town Board to amend its proposed sexual harassment policy to require women to dress modestly.
Scantily clad bodies can provoke sexual harassment, according to Sal Mastropaolo, who took the podium to ask the board to implement a dress code to help prevent sexual harassment.
“I read this thing in quite a bit of detail,” Mastropaolo said of a proposed sexual harassment policy for town government on the town board agenda.
“I feel that inappropriate dress constitutes sexual harassment,” Mastropaolo said, “and I think that needs to be put in here.”
“In what respect?” asked Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.
“Somebody coming in inappropriately dressed constitutes sexual harassment,” he replied.
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard told him.
“Did you ever see ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and ‘The Price is Right,’ — the models? Half the time, they’re inappropriately dressed…scantily clad,” Mastropaolo said.
”But that’s no reason for somebody to sexually abuse them,” Hubbard countered.
“Well, why is some of the things that are in here sexual harassment?” Mastropaolo replied.
“I think it’s a good idea — like the school district has rules about midriffs and too-short skirts,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “I think a dress code is a good thing,” she said.
“I’m going to disagree,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent replied. “I don’t think we’ve had a problem here with the dress code and it’s a little offensive to say that sexual harassment happens because someone was scantily dressed,” she said.
“I’m just saying one thing leads to another,” Mastropaolo said.
“It would be saying that somebody is causing sexual harassment,” Jens-Smith replied.
“Yes, that’s my point,” Mastropaolo said. “Inappropriate dress can cause —”
“That’s called blaming the victim,” Kent interrupted.
After Mastropaolo left the podium, Riverhead resident Ellen Hoil got up to argue with him. “How someone dresses should not be construed as an excuse for anybody to do sexual harassment,” he said.
“That’s not what I said,” Mastropaolo objected from his seat.
“That’s exactly what you said,” Hoil answered. The supervisor cut off the discussion, asking Hoil to address her comments to the board.
Dress codes are appropriate but should not be implemented with the idea of preventing sexual harassment, Hoil said. How a woman dresses should never be seen as the cause of harassment, she said.
The supervisor agreed. “I don’t think a woman should be required to wear a bra if she chooses not to wear a bra to work. I don’t think [dress] should be dictated other than what is expected in the conduct of their business in a professional manner.”
The board unanimously adopted a resolution ratifying the sexual harassment policy by a vote of 4 to 0 (Councilman James Wooten was absent.)
The policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct…of a sexual nature” that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work, including “physical acts of a sexual nature such as “touching, pinching, patting, kissing, hugging, grabbing, brushing against another person’s body or poking another person’s body” and “unwanted sexual advances or propositions.”