Sexual Assault in the Workplace

Alan Rasof Sexual Assault in the WorkplaceWith all of the high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault, the national conversation on reducing instances of sex crimes and responding to allegations appropriately has swelled to new heights. Some have called on women to be on their guard higher and reclaim their agency by dressing more conservatively and behaving in more masculine fashions. Others have focused on the perpetrators and ensuring that, no matter what, a person is safe from unwanted sexual aggressions.

With all the national tension and discourse, you may want to review in your office the definitions of sex crimes and the consequences of unethical and potentially criminal behavior. But on top of the usual song and dance,  you may want to audit your office culture, your practices for reporting, and the ways you’re preemptively preventing sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault in the first place.

How are your women feeling? Take a pulse of the body language the women in the office exhibit and their ability to fearlessly and casually fraternize with the men in the office. From the perspective of a male gaze, it may not be immediately obvious when a culture is not conducive to women, but be a little more attentive. Do women avoid spending time with the men in the office one-on-one or without another women? Do women spend time dodging hugs or chuckling uncomfortably at off-color jokes? These are signs that sexual misconduct may be occurring, and that it is tolerable and tolerated by the rest of your office.

Are there easy and discreet ways for women to disclose? Many women have written that one of the big reasons they chose not to disclose was because they didn’t feel safe doing so for fear of being blamed, not being believed, or being dismissed for being overly sensitive. By and large, women aren’t seeking some grand retaliatory measure — rather, they simply want the aggression or inappropriate behavior to stop. Ensure that there is someone in your office with whom your employees are comfortable talking about uncomfortable. You may even want to ensure that you post the numbers for your state’s sexual assault hotline, your local human relations board, and a counselling center someplace public.

What cues are your employees taking from you? Media images and urban legend note that higher-ups have carte blanche over their female employees and can get away with more questionable behavior because of their high status in the company. Be aware of the influence of your status on the way others behave around you and because of you.