As we come to the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we ask that employers not jump quickly to the next awareness month, marketing campaign, or series of events. Sexual assault doesn’t only happen in April. According to the Department of Justice, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. Several will have occurred by the time you finish reading this post and watching the videos.
Sexual Assault Myths That Are Still Common
We started this month’s video series because we’re still hearing three common myths about sexual assault:
- MYTH #1: It’s about sex. Although sexual assault involves a physical action with a sexual component, it “is likely to occur more commonly in cultures that foster beliefs of perceived male superiority and social and cultural inferiority of women.” Perpetrators want to control their victims at least as much as they want the sexual gratification.
- MYTH #2: Victims who didn’t fight back or hard enough must have wanted it, or it wasn’t that bad. Humans have more responses than fight or flight. Rape victims often report “freezing,” for example, as a method of coping with the attack when they don’t know how to stop it.
- MYTH #3: A lot of alleged victims lie about being sexually assaulted. In reality, an estimated two to eight percent of reported sexual assaults involve victims who have lied. This is consistent with the percentage of lies related to other crimes.
We can’t take effective action to resolve the problem of sexual assault until we are willing to look at the statistics objectively, even when they are uncomfortable.
Who Are the Victims?
This year’s SAAM theme has been Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity. Many of us recognize that to end sexual misconduct, we must also end all forms of oppression. Yet, again, there are many misperceptions about who the victims are and where to commit resources.
Here are three important sexual violence statistics from the Center for Disease Control:
- More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence
- 90% of adult rape victims are women
- 79% of rape victims know their assailants
- 47% of transgender people experience sexual violence
- Women of color disproportionately experience sexual violence
As advocates and trainers in sexual assault prevention, we join with organizations like the CDC, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and RAINN in calling on all individuals, families, employers, communities, organizations, and institutions to change ourselves and the systems surrounding us. We must build racial equity and respect for bodily autonomy.
Who Are the Perpetrators?
RAINN estimates that only 310 of 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, which complicates our ability to answer key questions about perpetrators. However, here’s what we do know, based on the sexual assaults that are reported:
- 50% of perpetrators are 30 years old or older
- 57% are white
- 27% are Black
Perpetrators of sexual assault can be anyone, including coworkers, supervisors, or clients. They often use their power and authority to intimidate or manipulate their victims, preying on those they view as powerless and vulnerable. In the workplace, it is probably not your entry-level employee as likely to commit a sexual assault on a co-worker as it is for someone with supervisory authority to assault someone subordinate.
What You Can Do Year-Round
New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence published this toolkit to help employers and others have the uncomfortable conversations necessary to reduce the number of sexual assaults that occur. These conversations make a difference. The silence surrounding my first victimization left me unhealed and ashamed. It contributed to decades of polyvictimization due to distorted views of my self-worth and a naive willingness to take the pain I thought was required for love.
When I finally spoke about my experiences, I learned the distinctions between healthy and unhealthy relationships. That had an impact, including the loss of family relationships, but it also opened my opportunities for mutually loving and supportive relationships in all areas of my life, including at work. You can be a bridge to that experience for your employees.
Some ways employers can support employees who have experienced sexual assault include:
- Providing access to counseling and support services. You might not be able to offer an independent employee assistance program or counseling services, but you can learn which industry or community resources are available and share those resources with your employees.
- Offering flexible work arrangements. In New York, survivors of sexual assault can use accumulated Safe and Sick Leave to attend counseling or other appointments. They might also be eligible for reasonable accommodations of temporary or permanent disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Creating a supportive work environment for all employees. Employers can create a supportive work environment by fostering a culture of respect, inclusion, and understanding. This includes providing training to employees on how to prevent sexual assault and harassment, and taking swift and appropriate action when incidents occur in the workplace.
Again, employment is not a one-sided exercise of control. It is a partnership toward mutually beneficial goals. Keep looking for opportunities to resolve conflicts with employees who are underperforming. Invest in them and give them opportunities to invest in the business’ initiatives. Most of them will rise to the occasion, if they feel they are cared about and being set up for success, even under traumatic circumstances.