Why Every Organization Should Pay Attention to The Penn State Tragedy

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Approximately 84,000 sexual assaults and 51,000 rapes occur in the workplace every year and I believe, along with many other experts in the field, that those numbers are actually much higher. In the wake of the rape and sexual assault allegations at Penn State, we have all been inundated with conversation, amazement and disgust over the situation.

For many people, this situation evokes deep emotional pain that they have long since buried. I recently had lunch with a friend/nurse/life coach who has been working with a man in his late 50’s. By all appearances this man is a very successful, semi-retired businessman who is happily married. Since the Penn State scandal broke, he’s had intense feeling of being unsettled and can’t seem to control his anger. As he began to talk through his feelings, he shared that he also had been the victim of rape at a very young age. When his parents reported the rape to the school, they were all told that the perpetrator was a well respected teacher and coach and it would be one person’s word against another. Without a witness, they would not investigate or report it. It was simply easier to sweep this under the rug than show a child justice…sound familiar?

How many times a day does this need to occur in schools, organizations and businesses across the globe before people are willing to take a STAND against such atrocities? How and when did we as a society get so wrapped up in our “legends” and “authorities” that we would allow this behavior to occur? We should ALWAYS be taking the side of the child, the employee, or the victim as opposed to protecting the perpetrators who ruin lives.

Yes, we have a legal obligation to report such behavior and we also have a moral obligation. Many times these situations are swept under the rug under the guise of protecting the company image, the organization’s executive or the school’s legend. Has Penn State’s reputation been comprised? Big time!!! As this story continues to unfold, we will continue to see people who attempted to report their suspicions or what they actually saw and we will continue to learn about people who attempted to cover it up. As with any act of workplace violence, the story always goes much deeper than it initially seems – the layers of the onion will be peeled back for months, maybe even years, to come.

Are you prepared to take a STAND for the children in your lives, for your fellow employees and anyone else who reports this type of assault, bullying, sexual assault or rape?

What systems do you have in place at your company, organization or school to handle this type of workplace violence? Do your managers and supervisors know what to do when something like this comes to light? And is your company’s culture one that would have the moral standards to immediately deal with this type of situation?

There are three things your company can do right now to keep your people safe:

1. Every organization should be evaluating what risk factors affect their employees. Do they have women who work alone, late at night by themselves? Do they have well lit parking lots or security guards to escort employees to their vehicles after dark? Do you have jobs that put your employees at a higher risk? Do you employ vulnerable adults? And if the answer is yes, what things can you do to keep them safe?

2. What intervention strategies do you currently have in place? Is it time to develop or adopt new intervention strategies?

3. Do you have a reporting system in place? If you work in an organization with children, do you have an open-door policy with children and parents when they feel something is wrong, or do you discourage this type of interaction?

The negative impact of tragedies like the Penn State scandal are ever-lasting. As someone who has dedicated my life to the pursuit of safety and a violence free world, it is my sincere hope that all organizations will take a deeper look at their gaps in protecting their people – which runs the gambit of at-risk youth who are a part of charity, to women working in a male-dominated workplace, to high-level executives experiencing domestic violence. This is the sad trigger that should wake up all organizations and have them take a deeper look into past scenarios that might have been ignored or not properly addressed.

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