Stretching my hamstrings on the bright purple artificial turf of the nearest gym, I overheard snippets of a conversation between a sculpted physical trainer and a round middle-aged man.
The content of their speech was surprising, because I know such an exchange wouldn’t have taken place only a few months prior.
They were discussing sexual assault.
And while their dialogue was saturated with subtle hints of misogyny, the mere fact that these two males were choosing to converse about the widespread reports of sexual assault and sexual misconduct was an encouraging sign.
As a licensed therapist, coach, and future clinical psychologist, I’ve had extensive training on sexual violence. I know, for example, that sexual assault statistics are skewed.
Many victims of sexual assault–especially women–are unlikely to come forth with allegations.
Sharing information about a traumatic experience is a painful, overwhelming, and difficult process. Doing so–especially as a woman–places oneself under the microscope of scrutiny within a system that privileges male bodies.
Yes, there is a pay gap. Yes, there is gender inequality. And yes, sexual violence of all forms occurs–most unfortunately–on a regular basis.
Research shows that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.
Approximately 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female. About 80% of the time, the victim knows the perpetrator.
These statistics are more severe for individuals in the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.
Further, rape is the most under-reported crime, with at least 63% of sexual assaults not reported to police. On college campuses, more than 90% of sexual assault victims do not report the assault.
And sexual violence also occurs at work–with more than 8% of rapes taking place in the workplace.
With such astonishing and disgusting prevalence, it’s no wonder that the #MeToo campaign and recent big-name celebrities, politicians, and public figures being accused of sexual violence have gained national traction and captivated public attention.
If you think that your business is immune from the impact of sexual violence–you’re wrong.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are so widespread that it is virtually impossible for your business to not be impacted by sexual violence.
Therefore, it’s essential for your business to use this opportunity–the public discussion of these important issues–to support victims. To support women. To value and affirm all of the wonderful, inspirational people re-living their traumas in the wake of this popular discourse.
Here are 8 steps to support victims of sexual violence and do something helpful about sexual harassment in the workplace:
1. Adopt a clear sexual harassment policy (and share it with your employees).
Make sure your policy defines sexual harassment, emphasizes no tolerance, discusses disciplinary actions against perpetrators, and outlines how the filing, reviewing, and aftermath of complaints are to be handled.
Remind employees about this policy–especially while these national conversations are occurring.
2. Provide mental health resources to your employees.
Make sure your employees are encouraged to seek help. And make sure that help is always accessible.
3. Take all complaints seriously and immediately support the victim.
The archetype of the female employee blackmailing individuals to gain credentials is not reflective of reality. Given the research findings about the under-reporting of a widespread problem, immediately offer support to individuals filing complaints. Always believe them.
4. Train employees at least twice per year on sexual harassment.
Bring in experts to highlight what sexual harassment is, discuss complaint procedures, and encourage employees to file complaints if/when such sexual violence occurs.
5. Train supervisors and managers at least twice per year on sexual harassment.
Managers need to know how to handle sexual harassment complaints. And they need to know how to ensure that the entire group of employees feels safe after such complaints occur.
6. Monitor your workplace and look for signs of sexual harassment.
Talk to employees about the work environment. Look for offensive notes or posters. Talk to supervisors and managers. Always keep your ear to the ground.
7. Hire diverse individuals to balance power dynamics.
The more diverse your employees, the better. Not only will you have varying perspectives, creative solutions, and unique worldviews, you’ll also remove the pressure individuals feel when they are surrounded by people who look differently than themselves.
8. Consult with mental health experts for additional programming needs.
Educate yourself. Continue expanding your comfort zone by reviewing your past actions. Acknowledge that you’ve participated in a culture that causes harm to women.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about sexual violence–ponder that. Examine where that discomfort comes from. And imagine–if only for a moment–what it must feel like to be a victim.
The only way for businesses and leaders to create positive change in the workplace is to take action. Empower victims. And acknowledge that everyone–including yourself and your loved ones–is impacted by sexual violence.
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