By Kristina Jaks, Worklogic Consultant
Last week a young woman came forward and disclosed details of a serious sexual assault, a rape, that she alleged occurred in her workplace in early 2019. Ordinarily, this may not get much media coverage. In this instance, her place of work ensured her story would be front page news.
As the various Inquiries and reviews get under way, and long before there will be any findings of fact in relation to the allegations made by Brittany Higgins, all workplaces should be in a position to respond confidently to one very important question, namely, ‘How should we handle a situation like this?’
It is imperative to have proper processes and procedures in place to respond to allegations of serious misconduct such as sexual assault as soon as they arise. There can be no place for self-interest, bias, convenience or informality. The matters need to be investigated in a timely manner and in a way that accords procedural fairness and respect to all parties.
Trauma Informed Investigations
Like most people following the case, I was shocked at reports that Ms Higgins was questioned about the events in the same room where she was allegedly raped. It is vitally important that a trauma informed approach should be taken when dealing people alleged to have been subjected to serious misconduct such as sexual assault. This approach may also need be taken with other witnesses and respondents depending on the circumstances, and can be done without compromising impartiality/independence. Some things to consider are;
- Ensuring that the person feels physically & psychologically safe – providing a physically safe setting for the person and encouraging them to access support services
- Promote a sense of trustworthiness and transparency. Providing clear advice in terms of the steps that may be taken by the organisation in response to information received about alleged misconduct and the steps in the investigation
- Explaining the framework around confidentiality
There is no getting around the fact that these types of matters are challenging to investigate. There is much at stake for all involved if it is not handled properly. It is not uncommon for the person allegedly subject to serious misconduct to not want the matter investigated, however, depending on the seriousness of the allegation, an organisation might have to investigate the matter in line with their obligation to provide a safe workplace. Failure to do so may expose others to not insignificant risks.
If you are reading this and are not sure how your organisation would respond when faced with an allegation of serious misconduct, such as rape, you are not alone. Worklogic investigators have conducted many rigorous, independent investigations on behalf of organisations into allegations of serious misconduct, including sexual assault and our directors can provide timely advice to assist organisations when a complaint is made. We also run an established training program on how to conduct investigations that is ideal to help ensure you or your staff are well placed to act.