Can we trust companies to investigate sexual assault allegations between employees?
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This is the second in a series of blog posts exploring bullying and harassment in the workplace and the uneasy role of internal employment affair processes which put the employer in the position of judge, jury and executioner.
Imelda, who previously worked at a well known global financial firm, can only speak via a long-distance phone call and hurries out of the house when the interview begins so that she remains out of earshot of her family. She worked in the firm’s Bermuda office for several years until she was made redundant in March 2017.
Her redundancy came just 15 months after she reported to her firm and local police that she had been violently sexually assaulted by a male partner from the company’s New York practice following an evening out with colleagues in August 2015. The details of the assault, which were first reported by the Australian Financial Review, are harrowing.
Over the course of the evening the woman said she drank four glasses of wine in a hotel bar with several other colleagues. After the group viewed the hotel’s new restaurant and art collection, the partner invited them to see his freshly renovated room. But the others peeled off before they reached his door. To be polite, Imelda agreed to have a quick look before heading home.
Once inside, she noted that the bedroom was “small, the decorations were brown, and it was not new”. “I remember thinking, this does not look very interesting,” she said in her witness statement to the police. She turned to leave but was blocked by the partner.
He asked: “Why do you still have your clothes on?” Imelda immediately told him to “f**k off” and tried to get to the door. “That’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
A violent sexual attack followed. When she got home, she realised that the “skin was torn off of my nipples, the right more than the left, and they were both bleeding”, and she had bruises on her chest and arms, according to the statement.
Imelda was initially terrified of the consequences of talking about the assault. “I knew that reporting a powerful US partner would put my job at risk. I was really just in shock.”
But in the following weeks, she began to suffer extreme anxiety, connected to the fact, she says, that the partner “came and went to the Bermuda office whenever he wanted . . . I once heard an American accent in the stairwell and had a huge panic attack . . . I couldn’t go on like that.”
Imelda reported the incident to Bermudian police, on her doctor’s advice, in December 2015. She told her firm about the police’s involvement and requested that the US arm of the company be kept in the dark until the official investigation was complete. Her concern was that someone would tip off the partner.
But Imelda says her request was ignored. Within days, the partner was told about the investigation. Since then he has not returned to Bermuda, where he would face immediate arrest. “I don’t stay up at night thinking about this partner at all but I do think about this institution and how they have betrayed me. And now I think the whole world is evil and corrupt and dishonest,” she says.
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