How are leaders and managers supposed to deal with allegations of sexual abuse by employees or with suppliers of services who they do business with?
The principles of natural justice say that one is presumed innocent unless and until guilty. In practice, nowadays, those are accused are suspended by the employer while investigations are conducted, or (if they are self-employed) find that their services or no longer required.
In many situations, the matter is that of: one person’s word against that of another. There may be no forensic evidence available. The allegations may refer to abuse many years ago. (Why did not the victims complain earlier? Damaged self-esteem. Shame. Patriarchy. Not being believed. Having to give evidence and undergo cross-questioning, if the case is to be pursued. Etc.)
Societies are still learning about this issue. Victims are gradually gaining the confidence to speak up. Abusers themselves, and some of those who lack knowledge of the nature and severity of abuse incidents, deny the victims’ veracity and the severity of their suffering. The abusers add insult to injury.
Perhaps templates are being created. I hope this goes well – in the interests of victims.
Are allegations to be believed? Yes. What benefit is to be gained from the exposure that results from speaking out? None – quite the reverse.
My own first contact with sexual abuse occurred in or around 1979 when the social work team I belonged to picked up a complaint by a teenage girl that her stepfather had sexually abused her. We believed her; and we removed her from the household (her own mother and sister, her stepfather, and two step-siblings). At the time, there were no guidelines and no research finding available. We did our best.
Later, in a mental health team, I did my share of initial assessments of people (women) who reported their stories of having been sexually abused – commonly by family members. The referral to the service could be prompted by a significant event, eg the birth of a daughter.
Everything that I have heard and read since confirms my concern about the gravity of this issue. I am both pleased and dismayed by the volume of stories that are coming out now.
What next? Can we learn? Can we respond appropriately?