AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – As more and more victims find the courage to come forward to blow the whistle on powerful figures accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment, organizations will need to respond. One Augusta University professor told NewsChannel 6, it’s good for those organizations to be well prepared.
Sexual harassment in the workplace comes as news continues to unfold following the firing of NBC Today show co-host Matt Lauer and the firing of long-time radio personality Garrison Keillor. Both announcements follow a long list of media and political figures also in the same predicament.
NewsChannel 6 set out to find out what that fine line is between a right and a wrong way to behave on the job.
“The issue deals with consent,” said Saundra Ribando, Augusta University Public Administration Professor. “If the person that asks for the date is told no that should end the conversation. If it doesn’t end the conversation and it becomes a persistent characteristic of daily work life, that’s sexual harassment.”
Ribando teaches Human Relations at Augusta University. She told us there is a way organizations should investigate sexual allegations, starting with looking for other victims.
She said, “The alleged incidents of ‘I’m taking a photo with you and so I reach over here and I grab your tush,’ was there anyone else around who might have seen that?”
Ribando elaborated on the issue explaining how abusers typically use objectifying language such as “my girls” or use excuses such as “she dressed that way so she wanted it.” NBC’s quick response to firing Lauer is a move the professor said needs to happen more often, getting in front of the situation before financial liability happens. She also suggest every organization set a sexual harassment policy and offer training.
“They should have as part of that policy procedures for reporting that includes your obligation to report it either through your chain of command if that’s possible, but also provide an out of chain command,” she said.
She also said the policy should require victims must report, especially within a time frame to help with the investigation. While more cases are in the news, Ribando said HR departments have not changed, victims have just become more confident. But she said having clear examples shown during training helps victims know what’s happening to them.
Ribando added, “Swatting somebody’s tush or rubbing a shoulder or asking them about their sex life, you need to offer examples like that. A video would be even better.”
It’s important for organizations to investigate promptly, Ribando said, in case there is a need to interview other people. She said it might be harder to remember the incident if a longer amount of time has passed.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps