Military, Campus Sexual Assaults Raise Serious Questions for Workplace

Don Tennant

Recent media reports on sexual violence against women on college campuses and in the military have shed some much needed light on crimes that all too often go unreported. The extent of the abuse in those environments raises a question that needs to be asked: How widespread is the problem in the corporate workplace?

In the military, the statistics are sobering. According to one report, the Defense Department estimates there are about 19,000 sexual assaults in the military each year, but in the most recent reporting year, only 1,108 assaults were reported. The reason for the reticence is obvious: Why make a potentially career-endangering report when, during that same reporting period, only 575 cases were processed, and only 96 of those went to court-martial?

A study conducted earlier this year by the Society for Human Resource management provided at least a glimpse into the workplace impact of domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking, and how seriously this abuse is taken in the corporate environment. This is how SHRM defined “workplace impact”:

For the purposes of this study, “workplace impact” considers the two main ways domestic and sexual violence and stalking can affect the workplace. First, there is violence or threats of violence that occur in the workplace. For instance, a perpetrator who is not an employee may appear in the workplace and cause an incident, or send threatening or harassing e-mails to an employee. Another example is that of an employee who uses work time and resources to make threatening phone calls, send harassing e-mails or text messages, or engage in violent behavior. Second, violence may occur outside the workplace but have an impact on the workplace. For example, employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence may need time off to meet with police, obtain an order of protection or seek medical attention; or employees who are perpetrators may have performance issues as a result of the violence.

The study found that in the past five years, more than a third of the organizations surveyed (35 percent) had to deal with at least one incident of domestic violence; 20 percent reported at least one incident of sexual violence; and 28 percent reported at least one incident of stalking. On the percentage of organizations that have a formal workplace policy in place that addresses these issues, the respondents reported:

  • Sexual violence: 54 percent
  • Domestic violence: 35 percent
  • Stalking: 31 percent

Other key findings of the survey had to do with training related to these issues. On the percentage of organizations that have a formal workplace training program:

  • Sexual violence: 36 percent
  • Domestic violence: 20 percent
  • Stalking: 20 percent

On the question of whether that training is mandatory:

  • Sexual violence: 73-87 percent (depending on their level in the organization)
  • Domestic violence: 56-73 percent
  • Stalking: 70-80 percent

On the question of the level of employees the respondents feel should receive training in these issues:

  • Management level: 95 percent
  • HR staff: 91 percent
  • Executive level: 82 percent
  • Non-management: 74 percent

So is this training offered to employees in your IT organization? If not, the SHRM survey might serve as a good opener to get that conversation started.



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