As a former sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor from one of the New York District Attorney’s offices, the standard question I get asked is, “Is it just like an episode of Law and Order: SVU?” Although there were times when my colleagues and I wished that violent crimes against adults and children could resolve themselves in 47 minutes with three commercial breaks – they never did.
As a young prosecutor, there are certain cases, interviews and images that are seared in my mind, that made it difficult to come home and parent young children, and yet everyday the pursuit of justice – drove me to do more.
In 2016, I transitioned to an investigative company that had a small division of former sex crimes prosecutors working on historical abuse and grooming investigations, as well as sexual abuse and sexual harassment investigations, at many organizations and companies across the country. Though the statistics change constantly, somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 13 children experience sexual abuse by the time they turn 18, and 91% of that abuse is committed by people that they or their family knows. In looking at the statistics for adults - Every 68 seconds an American experiences sexual assault.
In working with K-12 schools, summer camps,faith based and youth organizations, I began to see how the majority of the demand for our expertise was needed to uncover historical abuse. In the corporate sector, I began to see how a check-the-box approach to an annual sexual harassment training wasn’t effective in changing the work enviornment. Often, abuse and harassment were allowed and even enabled to flourish over long periods of time. With the right education, policies, procedures and training, it could have been prevented. One doesn’t need to be a sex crimes prosecutor to prevent sexual abuse and harassment - one just has to want to be a part of the solution.
One of my clients once asked me, “Why isn’t conversation around how each of us can prevent abuse and harassment commonplace?”
I truly believe it is our communal responsibility to do what we can to keep people safe. In schools, in houses of worship and in our workplaces and communities. Those communities need us to make better choices around safe spaces.
This is why I swapped the courtroom for the boardroom. This is my why for having founded The Bayar Group: a consultancy that works with corporate sectors, schools, camps, faith-based organizations, and many other entities on implementing effective and impactful abuse and harassment prevention. The kind of prevention that doesn’t feel like a burden or a check the box, but rather the kind that creates the ripple effect of change and a positive change in culture.
Here is how you can proactively prevent sexual abuse and harrassment in your organization:
Empower your community: Sexual abuse and harassment prevention is not just about risk mitigation and should not be an insurmountable hurdle. Empowering a community to create safe spaces is something that should be attainable by all. A corporate workplace should work to ensure the safety and respect of all employees—it is doable.
Training, conversations, knowledge and prioritization: Many organizations are not even sure how to get started in creating safer spaces. Having policies or protocols is an important first step, but having impactful training and conversations about the why behind those policies is an even more important step. An organization must commit to conversations on preventative topics such as these to create an environment where workplace misconduct is not tolerated. They must empower their staff to engage in the dialogue. Without an open forum to navigate these complicated issues, even the best training and policies will fail at creating the safe spaces.
Proactively create safe spaces: Being reactive to an issue once it arises is a solution to an endemic problem, but it is not a way of creating safe spaces. Fixing the problem before it arises is possible, with the right tools, training and commitment to change. For example, one way to proactively create a safe space is to acknowledge that no workplace is immune, and to commit to doing more than an annual training. Creating safe spaces for all means a commitment to conversations and regular check-ins, and working to ensure your employees are prepared to engage in bystander intervention and in being an upstander. It is a powerful message when you host a workshop on how your employees can intervene if they see something that just feels off—it is also a powerful message when you practice how your workplace, as a community, can respond to unwelcome jokes, comments or degrading comments.
WRITTEN BYRahel Bayar