Sexual Assault: You don’t have to put up with it

Channel Nine’s ‘A Current Affair’ program aired a shocking story on Wednesday night about the sexual assault of a McDonald’s worker in the United States. It was portrayed as a bizarre and elaborate hoax but in reality it was an example of gross misconduct on behalf of an employer.

Sexual assault, harassment and bullying are common problems facing young workers in fast food and retail. We publish this article to highlight the problems and to let workers know what they can do to ensure this behaviour is stamped out.

The 18 year old worker in the US, Louise Ogborn, was left humiliated and emotionally scared after she was forced to strip and then to perform a sexual act in her workplace. This horrifying workplace ordeal has changed this young woman’s life forever.

Ogborn was always willing to take on extra shifts at McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky as her mother had recently lost her job and she did whatever she could to help make ends meet. In April 2004, Ogborn offered to work through the restaurant’s evening rush, trying to be helpful and make a few extra dollars.

During the shift Ogborn was called into the assistant managers’ office where she was told a police officer was on the phone. The assistant manager told her that the officer on the phone had their store manager on the other line and that he had described her and accused her of stealing a purse from a customer.

Ogborn denied she had stolen anything but the assistant manager claimed it was her word against someone claiming to be a cop. Ogborn was threatened that she must submit to a search or be escorted to the police station.

Ogborn was told to empty her pockets and surrender her car keys and cell phone, which she did. Then the caller demanded that the assistant manger have Ogborn remove all of her clothes. The assistant manger was then told to bring other people into the office to continue the search. The young McDonald’s worker went through over two hours of torment including being hit and forced to perform a sexual act. To make matters worse the incident was filmed.

Ogborn is now suing McDonald’s for $200 million, on the claim that the company didn’t provide her with a safe working environment or do enough to protect her from the incident. This legal action is welcomed but will do little to heal the emotional scars this worker will live with for the rest of her life.

This horrific story of an ordinary young worker highlights the need for union representation particularly for young workers, whom are often unaware of their rights and more vulnerable to forms of violence and abuse in the workplace.

While Ogborn has courageously come forward many young people are afraid to speak out, and many cases of assault go unreported. Until these workplaces are organised, and young workers feel supported and protected at work – this type of abuse will inevitably continue to occur.

UNITE stands opposed to all forms of bullying, sexual harassment and assault. We campaign for workplaces to be safe and healthy for all workers at all times. It is important that workers understand exactly what sexual assault is and what to do if you experience any form of abuse at work in any way.

Many young people are uncertain if they have experienced workplace bullying or assault, while many young people feel afraid to discuss these issues due to the humiliating nature of their experience, or because of fear, shame or the feeling that they will be blamed or not believed.

What is sexual harassment and assault?

Sexual assault is any behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable, frightened, intimidated or threatened. It is sexual behaviour that someone has not agreed to, where another person uses physical or emotional force against them. It can include anything from sexual harassment through to life threatening rape. Some of these acts are serious indictable crimes. It’s important to understand that sexual assault is not necessarily just about sex, it’s about power. Sexual assault is an abuse of power. Sexual assault is never the fault or responsibility of the victim or survivor.

What can you do?

1. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, harassment or bullying it is important to report and document it straight away.

2. Seek support – UNITE gives full support and advice to members who have experienced any form of violence at work. UNITE can assist its’ members to pursue criminal charges against any perpetrators of sexual assault if they so wish. If you do not feel safe doing something at work you have the right to refuse to do it. This is your legal right and is part of the OH&S legislation.

3. If you are ever in the situation where you feel uncomfortable talking to your employer alone you don’t have to do so. You have the right to ask for representation. Some one else can be in the room such as a union delegate, a UNITE official or even a parent or guardian. As a rule of thumb workers should always ask for representation on every issue.

Your boss cannot sack you for refusing to do something that is unsafe or inappropriate, if you are sacked, as a UNITE member you are entitled to full support, the union will organise industrial or legal action, or both.

4. Seek advice – If you have been a victim of sexual assault in your workplace contact UNITE for advice as soon as possible. It is also a good idea to seek counselling, you can contact the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) who offer free counselling. They have a confidential after hours Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) simply call 1800 806 292.

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