May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Sexual Violence Impacts the Workplace
Nicole Pietsch is Coordinator of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and a community research associate with The Learning Network on Violence Against Women.
The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) includes 29 sexual assault centres serving survivor-victims of sexual violence across Ontario. Sexual assault centres deliver free and confidential crisis, advocacy and ongoing support to survivors of sexual violence throughout all of Ontario. If you or someone you know has been affected by violence and are seeking support, please click here!
Sexual violence can have lasting consequences. It’s well-known that survivor-victims of sexual assault can face emotional impacts, ranging from “shame, fear, anxiety, depression, traumatic stress reactions, and suicidal behaviours”1. People can face significant psychological distress as a result of cyber-sexual harassment, workplace sexual harassment or stalking as well2.
But we don’t often think about other impacts and losses that can follow a sexual assault. Consider, for example, the financial costs: in 2014, a Justice Canada studied examined the economic cost of violent crime, and found that by far the largest single cost – $4.8 billion of a one-year total, higher than that of gun violence in Canada – was attributed to sexual assault and other sexual offences. The study also found that the “victims bear the greatest burden of the [financial] impacts, much of it intangible, and family, friends and employers can also be burdened” by costs and lost wages3. While violence can affect anyone, the study notes that these were crimes in which more than 90 per cent of victims were women.
Workplaces can make a difference in the lives of sexual assault survivors by responding to these impacts. A Private Members’ Bill (Peggy Sattler), the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act (Bill 26), supports workplaces to do just this. If passed, Bill 26 will provide victims with up to 10 days of paid leave for reasons arising from the violence: these might include seeking medical attention, accessing counselling, meeting with police or lawyers, or finding a new place to live. The Bill also provides for additional unpaid leave, if necessary, and workplace accommodations, such as changes to hours or location of work, where needed. Mandatory workplace training on domestic and sexual violence is included in the Bill.
As survivor advocates, we know that community support – including support at work – for survivor-victims is critical. There is no disputing that sexual violence has many impacts —but help and a respectful recognition of survivors’ experiences can make a big difference in the lives of those affected by violence4.
1 Violence against Women Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University. May 2012. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document: 18.
2 Ibid, 18.
3 Beeby, D. for The Toronto Star. March 2, 2014. Violent crimes in Canada cost nearly $13 billion in one year. Online
4 Violence against Women Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University. May 2012. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document: 25.