Sexual harassment, assault prevention representatives educate workforce

By DLA Public Affairs DLA Public Affairs

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Providing information about the pervasive issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault can be uncomfortable and challenging. But Renée Ferranti and Michelle Crafts partner to teach workers about the Defense Logistics Agency’s role in precluding these incidents during Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training.

As the DLA Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program manager, Ferranti conducts the sexual assault portion of the sessions. Crafts, as DLA Equal Employment Opportunity specialist, covers what behaviors constitute sexual harassment.

Separate sessions are given to employees and supervisors. Both classes promote open discussion regarding hypothetical scenarios involving unethical sexual behavior, but the latter prompts attendees to consider managerial responsibilities and appropriate responses when a sexual assault or incidence of sexual harassment is reported to them. The course begins with a legal disclaimer due to the delicate nature of the material and candid discussion.

“This is a very sensitive topic and sometimes very difficult for some folks,” Ferranti said. She encourages course attendees to speak to her or Crafts if discussions trigger thoughts, emotions or feelings related to previous incidents. They can also step out of the room if necessary.

The training doesn’t provide employees legal advice, Ferranti stressed, nor does it present every possible example of sexual harassment and assault.

When counseling employees who experience discrimination or harassment, Crafts describes her role as a “neutral party.” She advises on any form of harassment connected to an EEO protected category (i.e., race, sex, and gender). Harassment involving non-related EEO matters are referred to HR. Crafts recommends employees visit their servicing EEO Office for as resources when incidents occur.  Depending on the issue, Crafts said she might refer an employee to DLA Human Resources, SAPR or the Employee Assistance Program.

Crafts also explained EEO’s responsibility to define sexual harassment according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

“Sexual harassment is severe, pervasive and unwelcome. That’s the most important part; it has to be unwelcome,” Crafts said.

Third-party sexual harassment occurs when an employee is affected by offensive behavior, such as when someone witnesses a violation against another employee, or an offense resulting from an inappropriate poster or calendar displayed in a co-worker’s office.

Illustrating another example of inappropriate behavior, Crafts said embracing a colleague who’s also a friend might be acceptable, but hugging a stranger might be perceived as harassment.

An employee may not resist the action, especially if the initiator is the employee’s supervisor, she said. Employees who don’t feel comfortable asking someone to stop an offensive act should consult with their superiors and or if they feel uncomfortable they may exercise their right to consult with an EEO practitioner.

Other examples of sexual harassment include: discussing sexual activities; commenting on physical attributes; displaying sexually suggestive pictures; and using demeaning or inappropriate terms, crude and offensive language, and explicit or unseemly gestures. It may also involve ostracizing workers of one gender by those of the opposite gender.

Sexual harassment that includes tangible employment action or “quid pro quo” also creates an unhealthy climate by subjecting a person to offensive or unwanted comments and behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with the employee’s work performance through word or action.

Though a single utterance, joke or act may not be considered actionable harassment under the law, such conduct is contrary to DLA’s values and human dignity, Crafts explained.

Employees may report sexual harassment to their immediate supervisor, DLA Human Resources, DLA’s chaplain or inspector general, or EEO. But supervisors bear ultimate responsibility to set a good example for their subordinates, monitor their work environment and initiate a management investigation when sexual harassment is reported, she added.

The Department of Defense defines sexual assault as the intentional sexual contact, characterized by the use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. In a nutshell, this means any physical contact of a sexual nature, without consent. Behaviors include, but are not limited to, unwanted grabbing or groping, touching, pinching, forcible kissing and more severe incidents, including rape. 

In cases of sexual assault, the key element is consent. During the training, instructors show a video that clarifies consent, focusing on two primary facts. One, a current or previous dating, social or sexual relationship by itself doesn’t constitute consent. And two, a sleeping, unconscious or incompetent person cannot consent.

Ferranti stressed that sexual assault is a crime and can only be investigated by military or civilian law enforcement.

Supervisors who are informed of a sexual assault incident must immediately notify their sexual assault response coordinator or the SAPR program 24/7 hotline. They are not to initiate a management inquiry or investigation, but should support victims, listen without judgment, and safely intervene when they see inappropriate behavior, she added. They should also treat all employees with dignity and respect. Sexual assault response coordinators are located at DLA Headquarters and at major subordinate commands, where they support all DLA employees in that location. SARCs serve as advocates for victims. They provide information about options and help victims navigate their own path to recovery.  It is important to know that DLA has SAPR resources throughout the enterprise. 

Many DLA employees are unaware that reports of workplace violence, including rape and sexual assault, are higher among government employees than they are civilian workers. This statistic is according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Additionally, sexual assault and harassment affects the reputation of an organization, as well as sick leave usage, productivity, workers’ compensation, increased security costs, and litigation costs.

Anyone who witnesses inappropriate behaviors in the workplace should be empowered to do something about it, Ferranti said, stressing that all DLA employees are encouraged to point out, correct or elevate inappropriate behavior.

SAPR and POSH training are mandatory annual requirements, and supervisors must attend at least one in-person session. The interactive sessions offer an open forum to allow employees to ask questions and get answers in real time. 

Employees can register for the sessions through the Learning Management System by typing “SAPR” in the search bar and clicking on the appropriate class: GEN-SAPRCLASS for employees or GEN-SAPRSC for supervisors.