Sexual Abuse in Workplaces – Awareness and Prevention

Recently, a large multinational in the agriculture sector with operations in East Africa was in the news for the wrong reasons.

An investigative documentary by an international news network suggested endemic sexual abuse of seasonal workers within the organization. The abuse incidences were not for the want of rules or policies suggesting “zero tolerance on sexual abuse.” Far from it. The abuse thrived due to a broken corporate culture. It seems, as the documentary suggests, many of the alleged victims of the abused suffered in the hands of junior managers and direct supervisors. The company, as part of its effort had assigned “gender officers,” who were available to staff to report cases of abuse to, but the prevailing culture was such that, the reporting mechanism broke, with the “gender officers” taking liberty to blame alleged victims, rather than investigating further to establish the veracity of claims of abuse.

Given that this is a large distributed organization, it is plausible that the cases of abuse were only endemic in certain “sectors” or “branches” of the company and the executives sitting at the head office may have not had the opportunity to get wind of the reality on the ground. Primarily due to a micro culture of silence and fear prevailing in such “branches” or “sectors” of the company. It is also interesting to note that it is senior members of management who are responsible for selecting, mentoring and promoting immediate managers and line supervisors in charge of the seasonal workers in the said organization.

Whereas rules, policies, regulations and reporting mechanisms exist, about how  organizations may handle victims and cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, if the internal culture is not fit for purpose, then such rules, policies and regulations often fail to protect both the victim and the company.

Our R.E.S.P.E.CT program, focuses on changing organizational cultures around sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace. The program includes an organization wide survey measure organizational (in)tolerance of sexual harassment so as to assess a company’s levels of (in)tolerance. This gives your organization a barometer regarding how your “no tolerance policy” is perceived, by both employees and management. By identifying and addressing subcultures within the organization that enable sexual abuse, a process we refer to as a cultural detox, leaders can dramatically improve employees’ experience. Your company is at risk of endemic sexual abuse and exploitation if:

  • you run a large operation and your workers are single gender but are supervised by a manager or supervisor of another gender. Such situations obtain in large manufacturing companies, agricultural companies with plantations, Export Processing Zone companies etc.
  • your company recruits large numbers of casual, seasonal workers and a supervisor or manager has singular influence to recruit without the guidance of agreed laid down procedures.
  • your company does not explicitly and publicly set the standards of “zero tolerance” in policies and rules
  • your managers and supervisors have never received direct training and awareness about what sexual abuse and exploitation in the workplace is, and how they should handle cases.
  • your company lacks a reporting mechanism, that gives voice to victims of alleged abuse, while at the sufficient enough to establish facts from each report made.
  • your company lacks an objective review and effectiveness of such a reporting mechanism
  • the perception internally, is that the alleged abusers are “powerful” and “nothing” can be done to them.
  • the prevailing culture is one where manager means “power” not “leader” and that managers do not role model the accepted standard of behavior expected by the company

The effects of sexual abuse and exploitation in organizations include unwanted attrition of highly skilled and talented employees, employee disengagement, corporate work environments become epicenters for the spread of disease, negative word of mouth with internal and external stakeholders, bad publicity that damages the company’s brand reputation including the immediate risk of loss of business  if buyers boycott your products and services. It takes bold leadership to counter such challenges head on and managers or executive leaders who are not proactive, with awareness, training, prevention etc., always react, when it is too late.

The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. program is delivered through immersive 2 day workshops intended for the following groups within the organization:

  • Executive and Senior Management
  • Middle Management & Supervisors
  • Employees – can be divided into groups per department in large organizations
  • External suppliers who interact with employees or supply contracted labor to the organization

For further details about the program, please see



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