How Workplace Sexual Assault Affects Mindset

Air Date:
Heard On The Morning Show
Sam Javanrouh (CC BY-NC)

Dozens of people accuse high-profile men of sexual assault, and more survivors are going public. The allegations stem from Hollywood, news organizations, and political offices. Our guest is a clinical psychologist who explains how people process assault, how a deluge of accusations prompts others to speak, and the lasting effects of sexual abuse.

Have you witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace? Maybe you are a survivor of sexual assault. How do you want to be heard? In what way do you prioritize respect for all workers? Email, post on the Ideas Network Facebook page, or tweet @wprmornings. You can call 800-642-1234 during the show to share your thoughts on air.

Featured in this Show

  • How Companies Should Handle Sexual Harassment

    The current stream of high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment and the resultant public conversations are positive things for survivors, according to a Michigan State University psychology professor.

    “They go from feeling isolated and alone to feeling like there’s a community (and) that they weren’t targeted because there was something wrong with them,” Nicole Buchanan told “The Morning Show.”

    While open discussion of sexual assault raises awareness and empowers survivors, large structural change still needs to happen, Buchanan said. Public conversations and media attention is crucial, but what happens if that stops? Will those responsible still be held accountable?

    Just one facet of this issue is how workplaces choose to handle sexual harassment. Women are more likely to experience harassment in industries that skew toward male leadership, like the media, entertainment, the military, construction and law enforcement, Buchanan said. They’re also more likely to experience harassment in workplaces with hypermasculine environments that allow — or even encourage — behaviors like bullying, she added.

    So what should companies do to prevent sexual harassment and to deal with it when it does happen?

    “Everything starts, in my opinion, with leadership,” Buchanan said.

    When a company’s leadership behaves appropriately, employees are more likely to do so as well. When leaders demonstrate inappropriate behavior or a lax attitude toward inappropriate behavior, it signals to employees that the organization is tolerant of sexual harassment, and that increases rates of harassment dramatically, she said.

    Employers need to make it clear that sexual harassment is unacceptable, and they should also make employees aware of how to report harassment if they experience it or witness it. And employees should know exactly who to talk to and what their rights are, Buchanan said.

    Even when employees know their rights, employers need to understand that many people who experience harassment don’t report it for fear of retaliation, job security or being labeled as an outsider. Often, “it takes a lot for people to report that it’s happening,” Buchanan said.

    Because of this, a company’s leadership and human resources department need to actively seek out information about whether harassment could be happening, even if it’s not an official report. Doing so allows them to intervene early if it is happening, protecting the organization from legal liability later and protecting employees from further harassment, she said.

    It’s also important for employers to give victims of harassment options for how to deal with it.

    “Contrary to popular belief, very often targets do not want to have severe action (taken against the perpetrator of the harassment). They just want it to stop,” particularly if the harassment has only happened a few times, Buchanan said.

    Companies need to provide options outside of terminating an employee accused of harassment, such as telling the employee directly to stop the behavior, requiring additional training, and holding interventions with the employee to stop the behavior and prevent it from escalating, she said.

    “I’d like to see comprehensive changes made so that people are not violating these boundaries” to begin with, Buchanan said. “Organizations (need to be) more active in seeking out information about whether or not harassment is happening, seeking it out early on, and then appropriately responding.”

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Kealey Bultena Producer
  • NiCole Buchanan Guest