I was sexually assaulted at an industry event, and my employer did nothing to support me

With awards season upon us, Susie Riddell reveals the dark side of nights out in adland, and asks what you would do if confronted with a serious allegation about one of your colleagues.

What would you do if your employee was involved in a sexual assault at work?

Imagine being contacted by someone claiming they had been sexually assaulted by one of your employees; and that the attack happened at an industry awards night after party. A work event where the alleged attacker was representing you and your company.

What would you do?

Would you hear them out? Even if you strongly doubted it could be one of your tribe, would you at least investigate, just to be certain? Wouldn’t you at least want to clear your company’s name?

Or would you fob them off as one industry leader did when I made that call?

“It couldn’t possibly be anyone here at X. We love women here at X,” he said before hanging up, never to make contact again.

Now imagine the flip-side scenario. You are approached by one of your own employees who tells you they were sexually assaulted at an awards night after party, while representing your company. What would you do?

Would you offer to take them to the police? Offer counselling? Ask if they were OK at least? And look into your HR responsibilities?

Or would you do what my manager did in this situation, and shift uncomfortably then leave the conversation as quickly as possible? Never to bring it up again.

Our industry is full of small companies without HR departments, and often our business owners and managers are not trained in challenging and distressing issues such as sexual assault, harassment and even bullying.

So who is accountable when something like this happens on the job, whether during office hours or after?

Sam Lavery from Laxon Lex law firm informed me: “Employers in Australia will be legally responsible for the workplace sexual harassment of their employees in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act unless they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent such harassment.

“’Reasonable steps’ means having in place appropriate policies regarding acceptable behaviour and consumption of alcohol, ensuring employees are aware of and reminded about such policies prior to events, ensuring access to alcohol at events is moderated, and ensuring that any complaints are properly investigated and appropriate action is taken.

“It is also important to note that workplace harassment, for the purposes of the legislation, is not limited solely to the office, but can extend to external meetings, industry events and work parties.”

I was sexually assaulted by an industry peer at an industry event. My workplace and the workplace of my attacker made it clear they had no intention of supporting me in any way. I was left feeling not only violated by the assault, but unworthy as a person and a nuisance in my office.

Is your workplace taking “reasonable steps” to protect its employees?

Susie Riddell is a communications and branding specialist, and now the general manager of Agenda Studio 

If you require support or someone to talk to:

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Lifeline: 13 11 14


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