Wednesday, May 12, 2021

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Understanding the SVPO ruling, and Options for All Survivors of Workplace Violence


LETTER TO THE EDITOR:  Understanding the SVPO ruling, and Options for All Survivors of Workplace Violence

By:  Micah Gursky, SARCC Board Chair and Ali Mailen Perrotto, SARCC CEO

Last Wednesday, a Lebanon County Judge issued Sexual Violence Protection Orders barring Commissioner George Halcovage from contact with two women seeking safety from harassment and further contact. Protection orders are one tool in the toolbox of resources for safety, justice, and carving out space for healing in the community. 

Sexual Violence Protection Orders are designed to protect survivors of sexual violence from further abuse or intimidation. They are a civil order, which means that they can be used whether criminal charges have been filed or not. They are a relatively new tool in the civil toolbox of safety options for survivors. 

Protection From Abuse Orders (PFA’s) have provided this protection for many years, but were specifically focused on intimate or household relationships. Sexual Violence Protection Orders are available for victims of sexual violence who are at risk for harm, but don’t have the prior intimate or familial relationship with the perpetrator. This makes SVPO’s a safety planning option for workplace violence or violence that takes place in the community, at churches, at schools, and in programs. 

People who abuse others decide who, when, where, and how they will abuse. They strategically ensure there are no witnesses—unless they are also participants. The person who abuses, by design, ensures that it is a “he said, she said” scenario. Often, people who are selected by the person who abuses them are targeted because they would be unlikely to be taken seriously if the abuse ever came to light. In many cases, the abuser has more power, is better known, or is viewed as an authority. 

People who abuse also rely on silence and inaction to operate. Workplaces or community spaces that fail to respond effectively keep victims silent and ultimately protect people who abuse. People who are looking for opportunities to sexually abuse others will take advantage of general lack of information about how sexual abuse happens. It is on us as a community to promote accountability, believe survivors, create options for safety, and hold those perpetrating abuse accountable. If a coworker or employee describes problematic or harassing behavior, listen and believe them. Take action to keep them safe.  Document the behavior, Help them find your workplace's sexual harassment policy and reporting procedure.

Survivors have a right to seek justice and healing. Some survivors seek accountability by reporting in the workplace, making a formal report to police, seeking civil protection orders, or seeking damages in court through lawsuits. Each survivor’s path to justice and healing is different. Many survivors also wait to disclose, seek help, or make a report – most often because disclosure comes at a great personal cost. Regardless of the path, the investigative process is grueling, and can bring both personal and professional challenges. 

In the case of the SVPO’s granted against Commissioner Halcovage, continued access to the courthouse is a concern for survivor safety. It also shows that even when survivors report their experiences, seek help in workplaces, pursue protection orders, or make reports of the crimes they have experienced, there is still a risk for safety. All the survivors in our community are watching this play out, and are keeping score on how the community responds, supports, and carves out safe space. 

 Survivors seeking options for a protection order, or those looking for someone to talk with about their experiences of violence or abuse, have options in our community. SARCC is a nonprofit organization in Schuylkill County dedicated to preventing sexual violence and promoting healing. It provides no-cost 24- hour support to survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Connect to a sexual assault counselor at any time by calling 570-628-2965. Even if you are not sure, our counselors are here to listen and find options to respond. 

Employers in the community who are ready to be proactive in building safe space for survivors, and workplaces that promote accountability, respectful, nonviolent cultures, and options for reporting – contact us for assistance in training for staff and supervisors.

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