What to Do After Being Sexually Assaulted in the Workplace
No matter the nature of the organization, every employee has the right to a safe and secure workplace. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always eventuate. If things aren’t handled correctly, the workplace can become a place of unwanted interactions that lead to sexual discrimination, harassment, and even sexual assault.
Fortunately, recent movements have helped raise awareness and increased the visibility of sexual assault as an issue. As a result, more and more victims are coming forward in their fight for both justice and closure. This article will cover what constitutes sexual assault and what victims can do after being sexually assaulted in the workplace.
Differences Between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
The difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault is really somewhat of a gray area. There is a lot of confusion between the terms, which can often lead to some people dismissing sexual harassment as an issue.
These two terms have a considerable amount of overlap and sexual harassment can definitely lead to sexual assault if the same behavior patterns continue. This section will break down these two terms so that you can understand their similarities and differences.
Sexual harassment involves illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or based on someone’s sex, that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.
Verbal or Written
Verbal or written sexual harassment is the most common form in the modern workplace. This generally manifests itself in making fun of a person’s body, clothing, sexual orientation, or relationships. There are several other examples of verbal or written sexual assault; including:
- Making unwanted sexual advances and requesting sexual favors
- Threatening someone for refusing or rejecting sexual advances
- Spreading rumors about someone’s personal or sexual life
While verbal and written harassment will garner most of the attention, non-verbal sexual harassment can be just as damaging to the victim. Here are a few ways that this can occur:
- Making derogatory gestures and expressions of a sexual nature
- Stalking or repeatedly following someone around
- Looking someone’s body up and down
Physical sexual harassment can definitely be the most damaging of all. Here are a few common examples:
- Inappropriate physical contact
- Impeding someone’s movement
- Touching someone without their consent
- Unwelcomed stroking, patting, hugging, or kissing
While it does have some differences to the other types listed, visual harassment has the same underlying intention. This most commonly manifests itself in the sharing of pictures, messages, posters, and drawings of sexual context.
‘Affects working conditions’ and ‘creates a hostile working environment’ are also key parts of this definition. This could result in something like getting terminated, demoted, getting a bad evaluation or being refused a promotion. If any of these actions were taken because you refused a sexual advance, this harassment has had a very real impact on your working conditions.
Sexual assault has been defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “any non-consensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent”. This is considered a criminal offense, while sexual harassment is seen as a form of employee discrimination.
If any of this conduct interferes with your work performance or creates an intimidating and hostile environment, you have a claim on your hands.
What to Do After Being Sexually Assaulted in the Workplace
If you’ve undergone the misfortune of being sexually assaulted in the workplace, there are a few clear steps you should take. Reporting the issue to your employer is a logical first step. This will give you the option to continue with your company’s legal processes or to settle the matter in court.
Before you opt for court, it’s important to consult an attorney who is experienced in dealing with sexual assault cases. Attorneys who help sexual assault victims can help guide you through the process and improve your chances of getting a fair result. Here are several things you can do after being sexually assaulted in the workplace.
Say ‘No’ Very Clearly
Although it isn’t a proper excuse, some people just won’t understand that their actions are making you uncomfortable unless you tell them directly. They may not be able to properly gauge your body language or facial expressions. As such, you need to directly tell them that their actions are offending you and that you’d like them to stop immediately.
After you’ve done this, most people will get the message and stop. If this still doesn’t stop the behavior, the next option is to tell them to stop via written communication, which you should keep a copy of. E-Mail is one of the better ways to do this as it allows you to easily keep a record of communication.
Report the Behavior
The last thing most organizations want to be dealing with is a sexual assault case involving their employees. Most organizations will allocate substantial resources to dealing with something like this, including a dedicated human resources team. As soon as this behavior occurs, you should promptly let your supervisor or HR representative know.
These people are usually well-trained to handle such situations and have proper systems in place to deal with them. Where possible, you should ideally look to put this in writing and keep a saved copy. If nothing ends up being done about the situation, at least you’ll have this as a saved record.
Document Everything that Has Happened
Any time you experience sexual harassment or assault in the workplace, the best practice is to write down everything that happened. Document what happens and where it occurs, listing any witnesses where possible. Especially if some of your co-workers also see what is happening, get them to write it down as well.
Ideally, you should also look to keep a record of anything that occurs at home or outside of the workplace. If you’ve got these things written down, it’ll be much easier to make a case to your supervisor or HR representative.
Follow Your Employer’s Complaint Procedures
Individual organizations tend to have their own procedures to deal with complaints of this nature. Ideally, they’ll have an employee manual with written policies on how sexual assault complaints will be handled. By following these procedures, you’ll likely be able to resolve this issue as efficiently as you can.
It also shows your employer that you trust them to resolve things in-house without getting an outside arbitrator involved. This makes them likely to take this very seriously and look for a fair resolution as quickly as possible.
Keep a Record of Your Own Actions
Any time you make a report to your employer, it is best practice to do it in writing and to keep a copy. This allows you to create a written record of your own actions and your employer’s response to them. If things aren’t handled in a satisfactory manner, these records could prove very useful down the line.
Don’t Hesitate to File a Report
As soon as an incident of sexual assault occurs, don’t hesitate to report it to your employer. Far too many people are very hesitant to make these reports, which ultimately means the behavior carries on for too long. If your employer is unable to help and you’ve waited too long, you may be unable to file a report at all.
The EEOC requires that all sexual assault reports are submitted within 300 days, while some states have limits of just 180 days. Moral of the story, as soon as any instance of sexual assault occurs, you need to file a report as soon as possible.
Use Your Union
If you’re part of a union, don’t be afraid to leverage them to help navigate the grievance process. They’ll typically allow you to file a formal grievance and have one of the officials help you through the process. Especially if you’re unsure of how to proceed, they can be a very valuable resource.
File a Complaint with a Government Agency
Before you can file a lawsuit in state or federal court, you will need to file a formal charge with either the EEOC or the fair employment agency in your state. As such, this is one of the first steps you should take if things can’t be resolved in-house.
After you’ve filed this formal complaint, you may decide that it’s time to file a lawsuit for sexual assault. You can seek financial compensation, getting your job back (if you’ve been terminated as a result) and require that your employer changes their policies on sexual assault.
If you think filing a lawsuit is the best course of action, hiring a reliable solicitor is of the utmost importance. Apolinsky & Associates specialize in handling sexual assault cases involving unwanted physical touching.
To have a reliable and experienced legal team help you get the outcome you deserve, feel free to contact us today.