She who shares her story of…

Victim-centric…what does that mean?

The Story

My story is sad. My story is shocking. My story will make you feel sorry for the pain and humiliation I must have suffered. I won’t be sharing with you what happened to me as I choose to not let those evenings define me. Hearing what he did to me over multiple shifts at work, over multiple months of a year won’t help you to understand my message and call to action I am choosing to share. 

All you need to know is that something happened, and I finally got the courage to do something about it.

First I went to my Supervisor – not a lot of other options open to someone working on night shift driving a truck for 12 hours at a time. It was awkward at first. Then it was awkward in the middle. Then it continued to be awkward to the end as I told him what had happened. He told me he would address it and for me to go home and come back tomorrow night and that we would talk more.

We didn’t. He didn’t even look at me as we went through the shift assignment and safety messages.  I got on my truck at the start of the shift and I got off the truck at the end of my shift and I went to the bathhouse as I normally did to go home. I couldn’t find him when I finished. I went home and started my weekend.

The next shift wasn’t much different at first. We went through the shift assignment and safety messages, but this time he asked me to stay behind. “HR will be here to see you in about 15 minutes. You should stay in the crib room”.  HR were coming to see me? Who was HR? I think I met them about 3 years ago when I started here, but I don’t know that I have seen them since.

It was about 55 long minutes before a young lady in her late 20’s came into the crib room and sat down in front of me. She was nice. She kept smiling, but smiled with her head tilting to one side as she was listening to my story…you know, that look of empathy or being vulnerable like a dog does as they expose their neck as a way to show respect to a dominant animal. She took a lot of notes. She asked a lot of questions. She asked a lot about what may have made him do that – was there anything I may have done to aggravate the situation. She keep finishing each question with “sorry, I just have to ask”.

As HR left, HR handed me a card with the EAP number. It was the same number I had seen on posters around the place since I got here. I knew where to find that number, but now I had it on card for me. HR said they would be in touch. HR said I should call the number if I needed them in the meantime.

I don’t want this story to drag on as long as the actual event did for me, so I will cut to the chase. HR took three shifts to tell me that a more senior HR person was going to speak to me. This time I was pulled onto day shift to come into their town offices and I spent two days going over my story with the more senior HR person. This one didn’t smile and they didn’t tilt their head when they were listening to me. Their head was down and focused on taking notes. After each comment I was asked if I was clear about my story and reminded of the importance of being completely sure and honest in these circumstances. Yes…I was completely sure and honest about what I was saying. They were events I was never going to forget.

You don’t need the detail of the rest of my story to get the message and call to action I am wanting to share. All I need to say is that this went on for a long time, HR never smiled again, I went back to my night shift truck and my Supervisor never looked me in the eye again, although my memory of the events were all around – he was gone and I didn’t see him again, but others were talking about me as I ate alone in the crib room. I am now no longer working in that industry anymore. And…I never did find out what was at the end of that phone number on the poster and card that HR handed me.

The Message

Sexual harassment undermines the right of personnel to be safe and treated with dignity and respect in the workplace and in connection with work. Sexual harassment is known to lead to more adverse health outcomes, often in relation to mental health, including the effects of triggering previous traumatic experiences.

Too often, victims are required to wait for long periods of time to work through investigations defined by businesses as they fumble their way through processes they haven’t established to handle a serious allegation that warrants being handled sensitively.

In a victim-centric approach, the victim’s wishes, safety, and well-being take priority in all matters and procedures.  A victim-centric approach is an end-to-end, holistic approach applied to all engagements with victims from the moment any representative within the business becomes made aware of a sexual misconduct disclosure, report, incident or situation. In the context of sexual harassment, a victim-centric approach is a way of engaging with victim(s) that prioritizes listening to the victim(s), avoids re-traumatization, and systematically focuses on their safety, rights, well-being, expressed needs and choices, thereby giving back as much control to victim(s) as feasible and ensuring the empathetic and sensitive delivery of services and accompaniment in a non-judgmental manner.

The Call to Action

Through robust internal systems all businesses should strive to provide a diligent, appropriate and sensitive response to all incidents of sexual misconduct, placing victims at the centre of the organizations’ actions.

Paramount to any system is consideration for the well-being, protection and security first of the victim. This may entail the implementation of security measures to protect against retaliation, re-victimization and re-traumatization.

Ask questions and listen to the victim without bias or judgement. Show empathy in all interactions with a victim. Make no assumptions of guilt nor of innocence – start from the possibility that what the victim is reporting may have happened.

Keep the victim informed, in a timely and coordinated manner, of the progress and outcomes of actions or processes that concern the victim, throughout any process. If relevant, explain up-front if and why certain information cannot be shared or cannot immediately be shared with the victim. Coordinate with other stakeholders to ensure uninterrupted and predictable communication (while maintaining confidentiality and respecting boundaries of consent).

Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue, which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing. Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable.