April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a time to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and its impact on individuals and communities, including workplaces. This year’s theme is Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity. Highlighting the importance of understanding how systems of oppression contribute to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, this year’s SAAM campaign recognizes “it will take ending all forms of oppression to end sexual violence worldwide.”
Systems of oppression include:
They create unique vulnerabilities for individuals and communities with certain identities. As described by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) that sponsors SAAM, “Often, we are unaware of how historical conditions have shaped our lives and how we move throughout the world.” We don’t think about the forms of privilege that come with the many identities we each hold or the vulnerabilities they create for others.
Populations with Higher Rates of Sexual Harassment and Assault
According to the NSVRC:
- More than 29% of non-Hispanic Black women in the United States reported being raped.
- More than 84% of Indigenous women reported experiencing violence.
- Nearly 35% of Hispanic women reported unwanted sexual contact.
- Nearly 33% of adults with intellectual disabilities have reportedly experienced sexual violence.
- An estimated forty-seven percent of transgender people have been sexually assaulted.
As one of our colleagues put it, “The question is not whether any of your employees has experienced sexual misconduct; it’s ‘how many of them have?'”
Industries with Higher Rates of Sexual Harassment and Assault
The #MeToo movement shed light on numerous instances of sexual assault and harassment in several industries. Although sexual harassment does not always include sexual assault, a 2018 Harvard Business Review article reminds readers that “[m]any factors make an organization prone to sexual harassment: a hierarchical structure, a male-dominated environment, and a climate that tolerates transgressions–particularly when they are committed by those with power.”
Organizations in the below industries might be at a higher risk than most:
- Entertainment. According to a 2018 survey by USA Today, 94% of women in the industry reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault over the course of their careers.
- Building Trades. A 2018 survey by the Engineering News-Record found that 66% of respondents working in construction reported experiencing sexual harassment on the job. Additionally, 60% reported witnessing it.
- Hospitality. According to testimony before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the hotel and motel industry has one of the highest rates of sexual harassment claims, with housekeepers being particularly vulnerable. Their experiences include verbal harassment, propositions for sexual favors, and unwanted touching. “[T]he most common experience of harassment was guests exposing themselves. Nearly half of the hotel housekeepers surveyed [by Chicago’s UNITE HERE Local 1 union] said guests had exposed themselves, flashed them or answered the door naked…Stories came out during the survey about guests masturbating in front of women hotel workers.”
- Healthcare. The HBR article mentioned above reported that “[t]hirty to seventy percent of female physicians and as many as half of female medical students report being sexually harassed.”
How Employers Can Address the Impact of Sexual Violence on Their Employees
Employers have a responsibility to address discrimination in their workplaces. When they do, they avoid expensive lawsuits. More importantly, they contribute to more peaceful and productive workplaces, homes, and communities. This is why SAAM matters to employers.
To prevent sexual violence and harassment in the first place, employers must:
- Establish clear policies and procedures against sexual violence
- (In New York) conduct annual sexual harassment prevention training
- Expand training programs to include knowledge application exercises
- Reinforce the training consistently in daily operations
- Hold all employees responsible for promoting a culture of respect and consent, regardless of rank or title
Employers can also address sexual violence by adopting trauma-informed management practices. It’s what we describe at Third Ear Conflict Resolution as “listening with your third ear for the hurts you can heal.”
This human-centered management approach recognizes that individuals who have experienced trauma may have unique needs in the workplace. Rather than expecting all employees to function exactly the same, a trauma-informed approach involves:
- Considering the unique needs of individuals
- Aligning those needs with the business’ needs
- Developing custom plans to help both employee and employer succeed
This supportive and understanding environment improves success rates for all employees, including survivors of sexual violence.
Why This Is Important to Third Ear Conflict Resolution
Our founder, Nance L. Schick is a survivor of sexual assault and polyvictimization. She knows firsthand the impact sexual violence can have on individuals and organizations. She speaks regularly to criminal justice and victimology students about her self-destructive behaviors and how unresolved trauma still sometimes appears in her personal and business relationships.
By taking action to prevent and address sexual violence in the workplace, employers can make a real difference in the success of their organization. When they acknowledge the intersections of oppression that contribute to sexual violence, they improve the lives of their employees. These employees often go on to improve their workplaces, families, and communities.
Where to Find More Information on SAAM
The NSVRC offers a wealth of resources for employers looking to prevent and address sexual violence in the workplace, including resources on trauma-informed management and preventing sexual violence in marginalized communities. We also assembled this resource for survivors of rape or sexual assault.