Workplace harassment and abuse are difficult and challenging issues to contend with, even if you are witnessing it rather than being the one to go through it. However, as a witness, you can play a crucial role in providing support to survivors and help them have their voice heard. These situations are not easy, and it takes a great deal of courage to become an ally to someone being harassed or abused.
What is an ally, and why is it important to be one?
Ally is defined as someone who provides support to another. Within the context of a workplace, it can be incredibly tough to know what to do or how to handle the situation and provide adequate emotional support and a safe space. It’s often easy to deflect and avoid the issue for fear of bringing up our own traumas, or we think it’s not ‘our place’ to get involved and that we might make it worse. But your presence and support can make a real difference. Allyship can take many different forms, and you can decide how involved to be.
But being an ally is incredibly vital because that’s how we change the system. Even if it’s providing moral or emotional support, an ally can be a champion and help the survivor gain the courage and confidence to speak out. If you have witnessed something that could help, sharing that and standing up for what’s right is a crucial part of how we change workplaces for the better.
A question that’s often raised is why. Why should I be an ally? What’s in it for me?
The answer to this question can vary immensely based on your own values and what is important to you. Being an ally ensures that you support someone who has been wronged, who has gone through a traumatic experience, and is working towards healing. As an ally, you are standing up for what is right by creating a safe space for someone to share the experience and help ensure that harassment or abuse is no longer swept under the rug.
When one person speaks out and shares their experience, it’s all too easy to dismiss them. We’ve all heard the terms ‘attention-seeker’, ‘difficult,’ to belittle and demean their experience. It’s a way for workplaces to deflect blame and place it on the survivor rather than rectify the situation. This is a deeply traumatizing experience for the survivor, leaving them lonely, isolated, and demoralized.
Without allies, these experiences continue to be labeled as such and do not receive the time or attention they deserve. There is no one to encourage speaking out, stand with the survivor as a witness to the behavior, or take decisive action to keep it from happening again.
Allies are important, especially in today’s society. You, as an ally, will let them know that they are not alone and that they are speaking the truth. You need to remind them that they are loved, no matter what.
How to support someone going through harassment and stalking
Supporting a survivor or an individual going through harassment and stalking is not always easy, as it may often place you in the center of the storm. You may see similar behavior towards yourself as an ally, or some form of retaliation for supporting the survivor in speaking out.
However, we all need to understand the power we possess as an individual and as an ally. It’s easy to get scared off, but try not to let the intimidation and fear show. Stay your path, and know that you are making an immense difference for the survivor – and others in the future.
If you’re unsure where to start, here are some ways to support someone going through harassment and stalking.
- Listen: Most of the time, all a survivor wants is for someone to listen to their trauma. Listen without judgment, without trying to place blame or rationalize the situation. Just being present and a listening ear is enough as a way to acknowledge what they are going through.
- Don’t rush them: Trauma affects everyone differently, and there are different stages that a survivor may be going through. So don’t try to rush them or force them to make a decision. Instead, give them time to process, heal, and be ready to listen when they are ready to talk about what they are going through.
- Encourage when needed: When it comes to reporting behavior such as stalking and harassment, it’s not easy to make that move. Be patient, and talk them through the decision and provide encouragement if they falter.
- Do not victim-blame: It tends to be an ugly knee-jerk reaction when hearing someone else’s experiences, but it must be stopped. Do not try to assign blame or imply that the survivor was somehow at fault or that they may have invited the behavior somehow.
- Don’t downplay the situation: Try to understand their pain and refrain from telling them it could have been worse, or to forget about that or that they are ‘making a big deal out of nothing.’ No matter the degree of pain, the trauma is severe and can impact in different ways.
- Be prepared to speak up: If a survivor wishes to raise their voice and file a formal complaint be prepared to be a witness or provide a statement. You can provide a statement on any behaviour you have witnessed directly between the survivor/complainant and the perpetrator, of any inappropriate behaviour you’ve witnessed or been informed of between the perpetrator and someone else and of what the survivor/complainant has told you about their experience.