Creating Healthy and Inclusive Workplaces Can Prevent Violence


Honoring survivors and their families during Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

When we talk about sexual assault, we often focus on the impacts that violence has directly on the victim. However, sexual violence also spills over to a victim’s family. Physical health problems, depression, anxiety, and stress strain family life and relationships. When sexual violence occurs at work, a survivor’s fear of financial instability if they were to lose their job can overburden them as a parent or caregiver, making it difficult for them to provide the necessary care and support for their children.  

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We honor sexual assault survivors and their families when we take the opportunity to understand sexual violence, and then take action to prevent it. Sexual violence (abuse, assault, and harrassment) often takes place at home and at work. This type of violence takes a toll on the victim and their families, and at work, it affects both employers and employees. 

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 80% of harrassed women quit their jobs within two years. Sexual harassment may cost an average organization up to $6.7 million annually due to lower productivity and morale, and increases in employee turnover and absenteeism.

Employers can help prevent sexual violence by understanding behaviors that define it.  Sexual violence is not primarily about sex, but about power and control. It can include physical assault and abuse, and sexual comments – spoken, written, pictures, repeated unwanted requests for dates and intimate contact, and gender-based harassment. 

Employers can prevent sexual violence by creating healthy workplaces that have clear and consistently implemented policies about violence, as well a culture of inclusivity that is affirming of employees’ gender identity, ethnicity, and race. Race and ethnicity play an outsized role in workplace sexual harassment and violence. When compared to white men and women, women who are Black, indigenous, and other people of color are almost twice as likely to not feel physically safe at work. 

The NSVRC recommends strategies for how employers can establish healthy workplaces, including:

  • Reviewing and strengthening sexual violence and related policies such as those about gender equity to determine if they (1) exemplify a safe, healthy, and inclusive work environment, and (2) are consistently implemented and enforced.
  • Asking employees for input on the development and implementation of workplace policies to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
  • Familiarizing new employees with the workplace culture during onboarding.
  • Providing ongoing training staff to recognize sexual violence and ways to prevent it, including bystander intervention.

In addition, offering workplace benefits such as a family-sustaining wage, paid health insurance, paid sick leave, and paid vacation time support the health and well-being of employees and their families. These policies also support survivors when they need to seek care in the wake of a traumatic experience.  Eighteen percent of sexually assaulted survivors reported threats and exclusion from coworkers; and felt alone and afraid both on and off the job, especially if the sexual assault took place at work.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Let’s make it the impetus to move from awareness to action by creating workplaces that are safe, healthy, and inclusive.