Mary is a new intern at a tech company. In the first week of her job, she receives constant flirtatious and unwelcome comments from her boss. In the next week, her boss attempts to rape her. Mary is confused about what to do next.
These incidents are pretty common in the workplace. If you are in a situation such as Mary's, you may be wondering what to do next. Probably, you are afraid, traumatized, and depressed.
In this blog, we will explain what you ought to do when sexually assaulted at work. But first, let’s cover what sexual assault entail.
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or behavior without the explicit consent of the victim.
In the workplace, your colleagues may force you to engage in a sexual act. They can do so physically or use threats, coercion, intimidation, or manipulation tactics.
Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Harassment
Many people confuse sexual assault with sexual harassment. These two are entirely distinct from each other.
The term sexual harassment means making offensive and unwelcome sexual remarks or constant requests for sexual advances. Often, sexual harassment escalates to sexual assault. Some examples of acts that may be deemed to be sexual harassment include:
- Making comments about the appearance of someone else
- Stories, conversations, and questions about sex
- Being threatened by another person simply because you rejected his/her sexual advances
- Too much staring
- Being pressurized for sex
- Unwanted physical contact or touching
- Rumors about another person's sex life
- Displaying pornographic materials, including screensavers, posters, calendars, emails, and drawings
- Suggestive text messages or emails
- Use of vulgar language, sexist jokes and comments, and innuendos
- Playing music with sexually explicit lyrics
- Following someone else around
Examples of Acts of Sexual Assault
Some examples of acts of sexual assault include:
- Attempted rape
- Being forced to do oral sex
If someone in your workplace commits any of these acts, he/she is guilty of sexual assault. All these acts are criminal offenses and can result in hefty fines and lengthy imprisonment sentences upon conviction.
California Sexual Assault Laws
As earlier stated, most acts of sexual assault are categorized as criminal offenses. The California Department of Prosecution can charge them as either misdemeanors or felonies.
Sexual assault is also prohibited by Federal law. This means that a perpetrator of sexual assault can be prosecuted both under Federal law and State Law.
What to Do when Sexually Assaulted at Work
Often, it is a personal choice on what you should do next after you've been sexually assaulted at work. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
Document Everything From The Start
Remember, sexual assault often starts with sexual harassment. This is why it is so important to document everything from the start. Keep a log of all the acts of sexual harassment committed against you.
Note that you will need evidence to prove that you’ve been sexually assaulted. General complaints of sexual harassment give too much leeway to companies. To build a good case, you’ll need the specific dates when the harassment occurred and the specific acts of sexual harassment committed against you. Jot all these down in a book, and keep it at home (or anywhere else besides the workplace).
This way, when sexually assaulted and you report to the police, a lawyer, the EEOC, or your employer, you’d have strong evidence backing up your complaint. You may decide not to report, but documenting everything from the start doesn’t hurt.
Clarify that It is Unwelcome
If the act of sexual assault committed against you is not serious, you can clarify that it is unwelcome to the perpetrator of this act. But, do not try this if you do not feel safe doing so.
For example, you may try saying:
- Stop touching me inappropriately. I consider it offensive.
- I don’t want to date you.
If the perpetrator continues assaulting you and you decide to report him/her to the authorities, you can truthfully say that you warned him/her to stop, but he/she didn't do so.
Talk to a Lawyer
You won’t need a lawyer if the only thing you intend to do after the act of sexual assault is to report to your employer. However, if you are considering other options or believe that your employer may not take steps to protect you, it would be best to consult an attorney.
Do not just talk to any lawyer. Consult a lawyer who has experience in filing sexual assault complaints. We at Stop Unpaid Wages have extensive experience in enforcing the legal rights of victims of sexual assault in the workplace. Get in touch with us for a free consultation.
Decide to Change
You may wish that there couldn't be any form of sexual assault in the workplace. But, in our imperfect world, sexual assault in the workplace is rampant, and very little is done to mitigate the situation. As a victim of sexual assault, your livelihood and safety may be endangered simply because of reporting the incident.
For these reasons, you may opt not to report the sexual assault incident. However, this does not mean that you continue enduring the abuse. Start planning ahead by applying for new jobs. Or, it might just be the right time to make a significant change in your career. Or rather, if you have saved up enough money, you can quit first before starting to apply for new opportunities.
How to Report Sexual Assault
You’ve got plenty of options if you decide to report sexual assault. However, choosing the best option will depend on your situation. There is no one fit-size formula to reporting sexual assault. Here are the options that you can consider:
- Reporting to your Employer
- Using your Union
- Filing a claim with the EEOC
- Reporting to the Law Enforcement
- Filing a lawsuit
Below, we discuss each of them briefly:
Reporting to your Employer
All companies have policies that dictate how you should report sexual harassment and sexual assault incidences. You can check out these policies in your employee handbook, any paperwork you received while onboarding, or anywhere else you can find your company’s official documents.
Legally speaking, your employer cannot be held liable for sexual assault if you do not file a complaint with him/her. If you don’t report the incident to your employer, you miss out on him/her solving the problem (hoping he/she would) or risking him/her claiming that he/she never knew about the incident.
As per your employer's policy, the first step might be telling your immediate boss, the perpetrator's boss, someone in the Human Resource Department, or anyone else in the supervisory chain of command in the organization. If you are working for a large organization, you may be directed to fill out an online form or call a toll number. Note that once you've filed a complaint with whomever your employer's policy directed you to, he/she is obliged to report it to the Human Resource Department.
You should consider consulting a lawyer, if according to your employer’s policy, the only person you ought to report to is the perpetrator of sexual assault, or you’ve known, from past incidences, that your employer does not take seriously sexual assault complaints.
Ensure you document everything while reporting to your employer. For instance, you can request a copy of the complaint record. Should you need more intervention from other authorities, this paper trail will help you out.
If your employer refuses to provide you with a copy of the complaint record, it would be best to deliberately create a paper trail by sending him/her a follow-up email. This way, he/she will never claim that you did not say anything.
It would also be best to ask when you will most likely hear back from your employer after reporting the sexual assault incident. This way, you can easily follow up if you do not hear back from him/her.
Using your Union
You can opt to speak to your union representative. Ideally, this union representative should serve as a go-between between you and your employer. He/she can help you navigate the sexual assault reporting process. You should strongly consider this option if the person you ought to report to is the one who assaulted you.
However, note that if the person who assaulted you is also a union member, your union representative will not help you out. One of the primary roles of the union is to protect its members from harsh disciplinary measures. Your union cannot advocate for the imposition of a severe penalty on one of its members, even if this member sexually assaulted you.
Filing a Claim with the EEOC
You may opt to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or any local or state Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). Note that you must observe specific deadlines when filing a claim with the EEOC.
After you’ve filed a claim with the EEOC, it will investigate it. Then, it may:
- Attempt to resolve the issue with your employer through conciliation
- Give you a ‘right to sue letter’
- File a sexual assault lawsuit on your behalf
Reporting to the Law Enforcement
Remember, sexual assault is a criminal offense in California. Some acts of sexual assault are too serious to be only dealt with by the company or the EEOC. For instance, if you've been raped at the workplace, the best step to take would be to report to law enforcement.
Nevertheless, regardless of the act of sexual assault, you can choose to make a police report. Also, remember that as a criminal offense, sexual assault attracts grievous penalties upon conviction.
Filing a Lawsuit
You may decide to file a civil lawsuit for compensation. Contrary to popular belief, filing a civil suit for compensation for sexual assault is not a complex process, especially if you have a highly experienced attorney to help you out.
Note that you can still receive compensation if you file a complaint with the EEOC or the FEPA. Only when your employer is adamant about compensating you for sexual assault can you file a civil lawsuit for compensation.
The following are the types of damages that the court can award you:
- Special damages for all the losses you suffered due to the sexual assault, which can be quantified monetarily. For instance, medical expenses and loss of your job.
- General damages for all the losses you suffered due to the sexual assault that cannot be quantified monetarily. For example, undergoing pain and suffering, anxiety, depression, and mental anguish.
- Punitive damages, whose primary purpose is to punish the employer, especially if the act of sexual assault committed was severe.
We at Stop Unpaid Wages can help you file a civil lawsuit for compensation for sexual assault. Get in touch with us to get started.
What to Do if Retaliated Against
Sadly, if you report sexual assault, you may face retaliation. In fact, this is the primary reason why many sexual assault victims do not report the incident.
The good news is that you still have legal recourse if you face retaliation for reporting sexual assault. You can still file a complaint about retaliation with your employer or the EEOC. You can also file a lawsuit.
Note that even if your sexual assault complaint did not hold water, you could still receive compensation for being retaliated against. You do not have to be ostracized or face persecution simply because you filed a report for sexual assault.
The Best Way to Take Care of Yourself
Dealing with sexual assault is an arduous and frustrating experience. Sometimes, you may end up in depression and suffer a host of emotional and mental health problems.
The best way to take care of yourself is to have a solid support system. Surround yourself with friends and family members whom you can trust.
Moreover, seek the help of professionals. Besides a lawyer who will give you professional legal advice, you should consider seeking the help of a therapist. This is especially if you've undergone depression and any other mental health problem resulting from the sexual assault.
Find a California Sexual Assault Attorney Near Me
If you’ve been sexually assaulted at your workplace, we invite you to contact us at the Stop Unpaid Wages for professional legal help. We will assist you in figuring out the best steps to take to remedy the situation. Call us today at 424-781-8411 for a free consultation.