June 3rd, 2011

Protecting the vulnerable at work

Two high-profile cases of sexual assault involving prominent financial leaders have increased scrutiny of how vulnerable certain professions are to sexual harassment.

On May 14, International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a maid at Sofitel hotel in New York City. Barely two weeks later, in the same city, Egyptian bank chairman Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar was charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeper at the Pierre Hotel.

In AWARE’s experience, such cases are not at all unusual. What is unusual is the pro-activeness of the hotel supervisors in reporting the cases to the police.

In Omar’s case, the superintendent of the victim only noted the incident in a log book. However, another supervisor saw the entry the next day and contacted the police.

Speaking to ABC News, a spokesman for the Housekeeper Equality Initiative said: “These working women are afraid if they complain about a guest they won’t be heard, they will be ignored, they will be shamed. They’re put in a very difficult situation. If they speak out, their job might be on the line.”

The cases show clearly that it is important for organisations to put in place solid practices that protect employees against sexual harassment. In fact, the failure to deal effectively with sexual harassment may expose the organisation to civil liability and reputational damage.

In a case that AWARE assisted on, a housekeeper employed by a Singapore hotel was molested by a guest in his hotel room. The victim did not report the incident as she was was not sure if her bosses would be sympathetic. The hotel only found out later when the traumatized staff did not show up for work.

We are pleased to learn that at least two hotels here will be stepping up measures to deter any amorous guests from hitting on staff such as chambermaids. Royal Plaza on Scotts, is issuing staff with panic buttons, and The St Regis Singapore is sending its staff on refresher sessions of a workplace harassment prevention training course.

But much more can and should be done. Since 2009, AWARE has been training organisations in Singapore on how to deal with workplace sexual harassment. Our training programmes covers the following:
– Policies and procedures organisations should institute to deal with sexual harassment
– Empowering employees to deal with sexual harassment
– Providing managers with the skills needed to handle sexual harassment claims

The nature of the hospitality industry means that employees are particularly prone to sexual harassment. Thus, hotels should make sure that they educate their staff on what constitutes sexual harassment and what they should do when faced with such situations.

AWARE’s sexual harassment training programmes cater to both employees and managers. Companies receive AWARE’s Sexual Harassment Training Certification when at least 75% of their employees attend these training sessions.

To learn more about Workplace Sexual Harassment and our programmes, visit our micro-site or email Pam at publiceducation@aware.org.sg for more information.
Our Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (SABS) also supports victims of sexual assault by providing them with counselling, legal advice and accompaniment to the police and to hospitals.

One Comment ...

  1. fabrizzo

    care must be taken not to focus protection policies solely on women while making any men out to be the threat.anyone can be a victim just as easy.especially within the military,abuses can happen behind closed doors and go unnoticed due to enforced surbodination.and since only lads are compulsorily enlisted,they are the likely victims,for those whos characters are unconditioned to the military way of life.aware is an organisation for the people thus it must serve all and not just jump at women’s issues.modern society has granted women ample rights to gain an equal footing with men or even get an extra edge