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06 April 2016

Sexual Assault By A Colleague

In 2011, Diana Guerrero was a rookie cop trying to find her way on a small police force in a New Mexico town. Before 2011 was over, Guerrero would be in the process of filing a sexual assault lawsuit against a fellow officer who assaulted her while the two were on a shift together. Sexual assault in the workplace is something no one ever expects, but its consequences can linger for the rest of the victim’s life.

Woman crying

Available Information About Sexual Assault

According to the AFL-CIO, it is estimated that 36,500 rapes occur in the workplace each year, with eight out of every 10 victims being women. It should be noted that these estimates are based on the number of cases that are reported, which are often well below the number of cases that actually occur.

Nurses experience sexual assaults at a rate that is twice that of any other type of medical professional working in a hospital or field setting. Mental healthcare providers such as psychiatrists and social workers are assaulted on the job at a rate that is two or three times more prominent than anyone in the medical field.

To get a grasp on just how large the problem of sexual assault in the workplace has become, it helps to look at workplace sexual assault as compared to sexual violence against women as a general population. In this context, 12.7 percent of all non-fatal but violent sexual crimes committed against women happen in the workplace and on the job.

How Can Workplaces Respond?

When a sexual assault happens in the workplace, it changes the entire situation considerably. According to WorkPlacesRespond.org, many victims of sexual assault in the workplace do not report the crimes committed
against them because:

  • They do not want to lose their jobs.
  • They do not want to risk the attacker coming after them again.
  • They do not want the publicity in and out of the workplace that comes with this type of incident.

Federal and state laws provide a process for victims to get justice, but corporate policies need to be enhanced to prevent sexual violence and give victims a way to report the incidents without fear of retribution. To do this, companies can:

  • Educate every employee on the zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault and make the consequences very
    clear for anyone who commits this sort of act.
  • Remove a victim’s address from company records to prevent the attacker from getting that address.
  • Educate the victim on the company’s comprehensive privacy policies and what they can do to protect themselves during the process.
  • Remind victims that the information they reveal to the company may have to be used in a court of law if charges are filed.
  • Advise the victim that they should get a lawyer to help them decide on how to proceed legally and help the company to determine the proper approach for releasing any information about the victim or the attack.

In some cases, providing assistance to a sexual assault victim is not so black and white. For example, the
company may fire the perpetrator, but that will not make the victim feel safe. To help the victim feel safe in the workplace, the company can offer to change the worker’s’ shift or work hours, or offer to transfer the worker to a different location.

What Can The Victim Do?

Woman covering her face

U.S. News and World Report reminds us that a company, regardless of its policies, cannot take sides in the case of a sexual assault. The company can offer resources to the victim and create comprehensive privacy policies to protect the victim’s personal information, but the company must do what is legally correct in these types of situations.

The fact that the company cannot be an assault victim’s judge and jury does not mean that a victim should not attempt to help themselves in an assault investigation. If a worker is assaulted in the workplace, they should:

  • Record the progression of events towards an assault if possible – for example, if a male employee is acting in a way that makes a female employee feel uncomfortable, then the female employee should send an email to the male employee outlining her concerns. If it turns into an assault, then the female employee has a record of her attempts to stop the problem before it got worse.
  • Victims do not need to report incidents to their immediate supervisor – in some situations, the relationship between the attack and victim is that of a supervisor and subordinate. Assault victims should know that they can report their issue to anyone in a position of authority whom they trust. A victim should never feel powerless because they feel they have to report their assault to the person who potentially could have committed it.
  • Utilize the resources that are offered. There is a very long list of organizations that can help people who are sexually assaulted in the workplace to make decisions on what they should do, and then help those victims to move on with their lives.

Victims of sexual assault in the workplace should remember that they always have options aside from working through a company investigation. But before a sexual assault victim decides to call the police on a workplace sexual assault, they should consider working with the processes the company has in place.

As stopping workplace harassment and sexual assault becomes more of a prominent topic among lawmakers and corporations, the sensitivity and attention being given to the rights and needs of the victims also starts to take more of a priority.