When you are being sexual harassed at work you’ll have a hard time trusting others because the offender of the sexual harassment doesn’t only robs a victim´s identity but also violates their trust. This makes it extra hard for them to speak about the workplace harassment they are suffering from, unfortunately it’s the only way out.
The lack of clarity about what will happen after a victim speaks-up about the sexual workplace harassment is one of the main reasons they keep their silence, besides the threats from the offender about their position in the company, the loss of their job and other physical and emotional violence.
When victims report sexual workplace harassment to the human recourses department, they must follow the company’s policy precisely. But how can we be sure that this policy provides them with the right protection. How are we insured that this policy is anchored within the company and its management, and what about the differences in interpretation of these rules. Are the counselors that well trained so victims can rely on them when they have everything and nothing to lose.
Will it be possible to be ensured that counselors aren’t judgmental when the offender is the superior or perhaps that person you would never expect the harassment from because his or her appearance looks as innocent as a just born lamb. And what about confidentially, do all counselors work with professional secrecy and are they aware of the fact that they don’t have to report cases of sexual workplace harassment to the management but only advice the victims on their possibilities. Cases of sexual workplace harassment are most of the time complicated and victims are often traumatized by the offender´s assaults. Besides knowing and understanding about what the right procedure is, counselors have to ensure the victim that the harassment isn’t their fault. I think we can conclude that the counselor’s responsibility and liability (legally and physically) in cases of sexual workplace harassment are much more comprehensive then we are aware of. A 3-day training will not cover all the aspects of sexual workplace harassment. In order to make a full use of counselors, they should be properly trained and educated to fully understand what the consequences are in every step of the complaint procedure.
In my case the counselor represented me as the victim of sexual workplace harassment and also the offender, my employer. My employer was the director of the company and he decided that there would be no mediation, no conversation and no investigation available for me. He even tried to forbid me to see the health officer. The counselor wasn’t aware of the fact that he could not represent us both; my employer and me, so in the end this damaged my case in court. Although a company policy about workplace harassment was present in the office, there was nothing mentioned about where and how to report this. After some research on the internet I understood that the counselor was my only option and after our conversation on how my employer assaulted me, the counselor decided to confront my employer with the complaint. Like described in my book ‘Spitting on Hans’ tosti’ my employer Hans admitted at first but only two days later he retracted his confession.
This shows the importance about combining theory and practice in workshops and presentations. All involved parties of sexual workplace harassment should be fully aware of the effect of their actions, this will require professional confidentially, proper competence qualification, continuous education and creating awareness about what sexual workplace harassment really is. Because this doesn’t stop with the victim it continues throughout the organization. Counselors must be able to identify themselves in the experience of the victim, bystander or the offender and for that you need to be confidant.
When I was asked to be a guest speaker at a workshop for counselors about serial bullying, it surprised me that they weren’t aware of the fact that they don’t have to report cases of (sexual) workplace harassment to the management. And that they weren’t aware of the content of their company policy or on how employees, managers and other superiors should be trained on this subject. In this workshop I have shared my personal experiences including all the humiliating details about the sexual harassment and how it (still) affects me in my daily life by not feeling that self ensured anymore. The workshop received a positive evaluation and we are convinced that we created more awareness about offenders of workplace harassment, despite our worries about missing out on important things like lack of legal aspects.
Just one day after the workshop one of the counselors sent us an email about my blouse and that I shouldn’t wear it while speaking about sexual workplace harassment. The counselor claimed that it showed my nipples. We were perplexed about this comment because my blouse was highly sealed and I was wearing a solid short woven-bra underneath it.
These kinds of reactions from counselors aren’t very reassuring for the confidence employees should have in the keepers of a safe and healthy work environment. So tell me, how trustworthy are our counselors?