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The Crisis Upon Us – An Impactful Leader’s Response to Sexual Assault

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Orie Rubalcava
February 23, 2018

The American public has faced a rash of allegations of sexual misconduct, with the accusers naming prominent figures within the business and entertainment industry. It’s what main stream media has coined as the “reckoning that reached the footsteps of government” as well. According to the 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice, roughly 23 percent of reported crimes nationwide were sexual assaults, which correlates with the National Sexual Violence Resource Centers’ estimates that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. Given the prevalence of this issue, leaders within government will likely have a member of their team who is a victim of sexual misconduct. How then should government leaders address these subordinates?

The subject matter is one that could drive many to push it aside as “not my job” because it is something for law enforcement to handle. However, whether you’re an immediate supervisor or an executive, you can have a major impact on the lives of these victims and do so by using basic management practices needed in everyday teambuilding. One of those practices include the five C’s of a team: Communication, Community, Cooperation, Coordination and Coaching.

  • Communication. Communication allows the supervisor to engage the victim and set the expectation on the support they can provide. This is also an opportunity to inform them of any available services your organization may have. If your organization doesn’t have any such services, make sure to be armed with information about victim advocate nonprofits that do offer services. More importantly, this is a time for the supervisor to listen. Listening is a powerful tool and will give you insight into what your subordinate is thinking and feeling. Remember, keep such communication as confidential as possible and resist the urge to discuss with others what you have discussed with a victim — doing so could jeopardize trust. Finally, supervisors should never ask the victim about the details of the crime because it harms both the victim and the criminal investigation.
  • Community. This is the act of bringing others into the fold and creating a collegial environment. Unfortunately, rape myths ostracize victims from communities and are rampant in American society. Common myths include that the victim is lying, ) perpetrators are easily identifiable and that men can’t be raped. Impactful leaders will create a culture of acceptance and be vigilant in stopping practices that alienate.
  • Cooperation. This ensures that everyone understands the organization’s purpose and allows members the opportunity to share ideas. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, one of the most important aspects in assisting recovery of sexual assault is empowering the victim and putting control back into their hands. Cooperation gives way for empowerment by allowing members to add to the organization’s purpose and kick-start ideas. This signals to your subordinate that they are important, their ideas are important and no assumptions about their capabilities are being made because of the assault. A word of caution though: enacting cooperation in a way that gives the impression that you are “coddling” could stigmatize that individual and have an undesired effect.
  • Coordination. This ensures members know how important they are to the organization’s mission and how the individual’s actions affect organizational success. Again, this is an opportunity to show how important the individual is to the team and build an inclusive environment.
  • Coaching. Impactful leaders are active participants in their team’s development and growth. This is especially true of victims of sexual assault who often times do not report an assault for fear of professional reprisals, more so if the offender is within the organization. This is yet another opportunity for leaders to foster positive relationships and trust among victims and signals that their position is secure and that you intend to see them grow professionally.

At this point you may be wondering if the five C’s can really be that impactful. According to the same study by the National Institute of Health, 94 percent of women who were sexually assaulted experienced symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with 50 percent of those victims having a lifetime prevalence of PTSD. What they discovered is that recovery from sexual assault is not an individual challenge, but also a challenge for those close to the victim. Positive support networks play a large role in the recovery process and the work environment is a part of that network. The five C’s are a means for leaders to contribute to the recovery process through empowerment and a supportive environment.

This is not an all-inclusive article for leaders when supporting team members who have been victimized. Remember that sexual trauma is extremely personal and recovery is highly individualized; if you have access to specialists I highly recommend you consult them. But for leaders needing a starting point, the five C’s go a long way in supporting your team member and creating that positive impact.

Author: Orie J. Rubalcava is a Special Victims’ Paralegal with the United States Air Force who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He is currently enrolled in a MPA program with Troy University. The views expressed here are that of the authors and not those of the Air Force or DoD.  Email: [email protected]

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