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Sexual Assault In The Workplace

Research suggests that 1 in 5 females are sexually assaulted at some point and they are victims in vast majority of sexual assaults. An estimated 63% of these assaults go unreported to authorities. Sexual violence is a concern in society influenced to an extent by larger systems of a social nature including workplaces. 

On average, U.S. workers spend 55 hours per week in activities related to work, making the workplace environment a critical aspect of employee well-being. Violence of a sexual nature extends to all socioeconomic levels and is so widespread that most businesses are not immune to it.

What is Sexual Assault?

The U.S. Department of Justice defines sexual assault as contact or conduct of a sexual nature that occurs to a recipient without their consent. Common examples include forced intercourse, molestation, fondling and attempted rape. The Bureau of Justice estimates over 43,000 sexual assaults occur in the workplace annually; however, many incidents are never reported. In some criminal jurisdictions the meaning of sexual assault and rape are essentially the same classification among sex crimes. In Pennsylvania, a distinction is made that rape implies the usage or threat of force, where sexual assault refers to an occurrence of a sexual act that lacks consent.

Characteristics of Victims

Victims who are likely exploited tend to be those traditionally marginalized based on things such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Other likely segments include immigrants, service industry workers, and the poor. Often these acts occur to younger women who may be unfamiliar with the norms of workplace environments who are very dependent on income. The offenders typically establish a pattern of this behavior impacting multiple victims.

Harmful Consequences

These environments likely have persistent absenteeism, poor job performance, significant employee turnover, and other problems that hurt a business. According to a National Violence Against Women study, many rape victims are likely to miss work regardless of where the incident occurs and well over 50% experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexual violence is a significant economic problem for the educational, health care and criminal justice systems. A recent study placed the annual losses at greater than $130 million.

Colorado Case

One disturbing case occurred at Vail Run Resort where a civil judgment exceeding $1 million was awarded. The resort staff was represented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after several attempted rapes. One incident involved a waitress who experienced sexual advances that quickly grew serious. She claimed a kitchen employee grasped her wrists and attempted to pull her into a walk-in cooler, luckily she was able to escape. She reported the incident to her manager, who disregarded her concern, citing that he had dozens of job applicants and suggesting she was expendable.

Best Practices

  • Establish a concisely written organizational policy
  • Offer mental health coverage to employees if possible
  • Encourage employees to seek help when needed
  • Address complaints in a serious manner
  • Provide both initial and ongoing training regarding sexual harassment
  • Supervisory and management staff should receive training twice each year

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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