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Sexual violence is a topic that should be talked about more. The more people talk about it, the more power it gives to the survivors. Whether it’s at home or in the workplace, sexual assault is something that needs to be addressed. Join your host Corinna Bellizzi as she sits down with sexual violence survivor turned speaker, Tim Mousseau. Tim is on a mission to encourage people to share their stories and opinions so they can be more open as themselves. Learn more about this difficult topic that no one wants to talk about. Understand the trauma that happens with sexual assault and how you can stop it. Know your boundaries today!
About Tim Mousseau
Tim Mousseau is a survivor of sexual violence turned speaker and advocate on this critical topic. For nine years, Tim has spoken with over 450 organizations, including Congressional offices, top universities, and Fortune 1000 companies worldwide. Today, Tim helps organizations move beyond merely meeting compliance standards to instead cultivate empathetic curiosity focused on embracing people’s whole selves.
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Website – https://www.timmousseau.com/
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0:29 – Introduction
2:52 – What Is Sexual Violence?
4:12 – Tim Mousseau’s Story
9:04 – Talking About Sexual Assault
14:17 – Dealing With Workplace Sexual Harrassment
19:28 – Knowing Your Boundaries
25:00 – The Power Of Asking
31:00 – Workplace Dating
36:24 – Consent Resources
41:51 – Taking Action
46:18 – Summary
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A Safer Society: Ending Sexual Violence Through Survivors’ Stories With Tim Mousseau
We’re going to talk about a sensitive subject that’s got social impact at its core. It may be triggering for some readers as we discuss what it takes to create a safer society and culture that’s free of harassment, sexual violence, and discrimination. To navigate this is sometimes a difficult conversation, I’m joined by Tim Mousseau.
He is a survivor of sexual violence, turned speaker and advocate on this critical topic. For many years, Tim has spoken with over 450 organizations, including congressional offices, top universities and Fortune 1,000 companies worldwide. Tim helps organizations move beyond merely meeting compliance standards to instead cultivate empathetic curiosity focused on embracing people’s whole selves.
Tim Mousseau, welcome to the show.
Corinna, thank you so much for having me and the chance to talk.
This is a touchy subject for so many people, myself included. I want to make sure I get this right. I looked up some statistics and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 81% of women and 43% of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetimes.
That center is the best data we have. Essentially, they pull from a variety of sources, including things like CDC, World Health Organization and the Department of Justice. It’s much higher than a lot of people anticipate. Whenever I talk about that number, sometimes I get pushed back and people are like, “That’s too high. That can’t be accurate.” The context I always try and provide is when we talk about sexual violence, it is that umbrella term.
It can mean everything from sexual assault to rape and sexual harassment, whether physically or verbally. It can be someone sending an unsolicited nude photo or video or taking a nude photo or video without permission. It can be online harassment, in-person stalking, domestic violence or dating violence. I always try and help people understand that it does encompass this variety of behaviors while still making the point that none of them should be occurring and happening because every one of them causes harm.
It’s a huge number. Sadly, a lot of men don’t report these types of issues because it’s seen as being somehow not manly enough. I would like to first invite you to tell your story and share what made you decide that it was time to come forward and share that with the world.
My story began when I was 22 years old. At the time, I was working in my first real job. I finished up my Master’s degree and I started to receive anonymous letters to my place of work. Initially, the letters were derogatory. They were talking about things that had happened in college and experiences. They were personally demeaning. I knew the person who was sending them knew who I was and I had no clue who they were. Eventually, after about a few months of that, it escalated to the point where I received a letter containing photographs of me being sexually assaulted.
Based on the fact that I have tattoos, I know beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s me in the photos. Based on how I looked in the photos, I was unconscious and had no memory of this. Up until that moment, I didn’t have any recollection of what had occurred. I was confronting and dealing with the fact that this had occurred. We could tell that it was around the ages of 19 to 20. That’s when I was in college. That very much changed my world, the way I perceived things, the way I looked at relationships and trust with a lot of people because I never found out who did it.
All of a sudden, it called into question all these relationships I’ve had and who they could have been. Processing it was difficult. I remember because I was coming to my place at work, I called the police and had to tell my then boss what was happening. His reaction was derogatory, negative and shameful. That was harmful to me. The police were not helpful. The way they treated it was with questions like, “Do you fear for your life? Do you think this person is going to actively hurt you?” I was essentially told they could do nothing. I was sitting on top of months of letters and I had these photographs.
Essentially, I cut myself off and closed myself off to the world. I turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. I was angry and isolated. Finally, my mom convinced me to try and talk to someone because she could see how much harm it was causing to me and she was worried for me. I did see a therapist and she got me in connection with a survivor support group of other survivors. That was powerful. As time went on, I started to heal. Eventually, I had a number of interactions with people where they would either make derogatory comments.
One of the inciting incidences is I was out with friends and one of the people that I considered a friend at the time made a rape joke. I remember challenging him on it and him getting defensive and the other two guys we were with getting defensive. They didn’t care. No matter what we said or talked about, they were defensive, “It’s a joke. It’s not a big deal.” That’s when I finally publicly came out about my story and started talking about what I went through and the impact I had.
Part of it was also, to be honest, retaking some of that control. I knew that the person who had done this to me had to use my social media channels and online interactions as a way of showing me, “I’m still watching you. I still know who you are. You don’t know who I am.” What I figured is, if I talk about this openly, no one can hurt me with this information because the person who did this to me has no power over me. It allows me to start to open up without feeling that shame because I’m the one controlling what occurred.
I can only imagine what that must have been like. There are some statistics that I read over that made me question how true they could be. You see something close to 40% of men and double that for women. It’s my belief that being human, we run into some harassment throughout our lives in the ways that you’ve defined it. The number of people who have been raped is much smaller than that.
Even in my community, I feel like I’m hard-pressed to come across another woman that I’m close with that hasn’t been assaulted in some way, physically or sexually. Perhaps not raped but something that could have led there if they didn’t have the right situation where someone was there to protect them or if they weren’t able to escape, if they had passed out or something along those lines. There’s so much victim blaming and victim shaming that can go on. How do you see us being able to navigate out of that and getting to a space where the victim can feel more comfortable coming forward and it’s less of a feat of Herculean will?
A large part of it comes down to how we’re educating and talking around this topic. To your point of many of those statistics seem so outstanding and sometimes almost fantastical, it’s helping people internalize, “This is true. This is happening. Here are all the ways this can look like.” To your point, so many times when people hear those numbers, they get that defensiveness of, “This isn’t the reality we’re facing.” They always want to contextualize in regards to, “It’s not the worst-case scenario.” They always want to defend some of those behaviors.
We have to help people understand the harm that is being caused by any of them and stop normalizing many of them. I think about catcalling all the time because that’s certainly included in that 80% number and 40% number. A lot of times, when I talk with populations, they’re like, “Is that as horrible as rape?” I’m like, “I’m not saying necessarily that someone being catcalled is as harmful as experiencing physical rape but it’s still harmed and it still shouldn’t be normalized.” Why should someone go through that? Why should we violate someone’s safety, comfort and autonomy?
Why should we make that okay regardless of the group or organization we’re a part of? Sometimes when we can better define how this is looking and what this looks like, we can try and come to a better understanding of all of these are bad and none of these should be normalized and are okay. We can’t accept and make excuses for any of them. We need to deal with all of them. From there, it is also talking about what many survivors go through from a trauma-based perspective. A lot of times, people don’t realize how intense it is to be a survivor and what it’s like to retell your story or to do that.
Sexual assault changes the way you look at relationships and trust with people.
A lot of times, we have an over-reliance on the legal system and adjudication processes. That is certainly part of the picture of changing the way the legal systems handle this because most legal systems fail. They fail survivors and people who have experiences. That’s what adds to that victim-blaming narrative. For a lot of people, if you haven’t experienced this or you don’t know someone who has experienced this, there’s that response of, “Why not go to the police?” The answer is because the police do a terrible job at this. Many of them are not trained in how to deal with it sensitively.
Situations can be complex and aren’t always as cut and dry as we think. If you do go to the police, you’re still not going to receive justice. In many people’s minds, there’s this idea of, “If you experienced this, there’s a way to deal with it and you should deal with it immediately.” That’s discounting the fact that the systems are not designed to help you if you experience it. Also, you’re not processing it. Complex trauma, which oftentimes emerges any time we experience physical violence extremely, betrayal or any of these things, can change the way your brain functions.
It changes the way you view the world. Sometimes that takes months or years to process and move through. This idea of, “Speak up,” is nowhere near as easy as people think. We have to challenge that, show them why and create that sense of empathy because where it lacks, that’s where we engage in those behaviors of, “Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Were they involved in it somehow? Did they regret something?” Those myths are going to continue when we still lack this empathy for survivors.
There’s a lot of disbelief when it comes to somebody coming forward, especially if it’s someone that your community knows. It could be a family member or a close friend in a group, “They’re not that way. You must have read the situation wrong.” All of that prevents people from wanting to speak out specifically and especially in the cases of date rape. There are even situations where we see things like people getting roofied in bars.
They wake up the next day and they’re not sure what happened. They don’t quite remember and everything is a little fuzzy. They’re not quite clear on even the circumstances that they were in. As a woman, they might feel like something is not right. As a man, you might not even have some leftover physical feeling to tell you something was up. It’s such a sensitive issue, especially when it has gone to the extreme.
Even when it’s more minor like in the workplace, you might have somebody more senior to you or even not senior to you. Maybe everybody in the company looks up to them and now you’re coming forward as a whistleblower to say they acted inappropriately and here’s how. There’s fear of retribution and fear of what might happen with your job and livelihood, especially when we have an economic system that’s somewhat uncertain in times of COVID and things like this. I wonder, when you’re talking to these corporations, going on these tours and speaking to companies about these issues, how are you addressing that?
With companies, one of the first things is challenging the way we often look at the policies around sexual harassment. It’s certainly more than policy but to begin with, most policies fail. For the majority of companies, they are relying on the EOC educational thought or the EOC policy around what this looks like. For sexual harassment, under that policy, you have to prove legally that it was so severe or frequent that it stopped your ability to do your job. If that’s your baseline policy, the problem becomes it’s normalizing all these behaviors that lead up to the point of being so severe or frequent. Any degree of toxicity and harm is toxicity and harm.
The way I always try and talk with companies about it is it’s not enough to say, “We don’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment,” because that oftentimes leaves this gap of your employees wondering, “What does that mean?” If they google sexual harassment policies, the first thing that’s going to pull up is the EOC policy. That’s telling them frequent or severe. In many sexual harassment survivors’ minds, “This isn’t frequent or severe. It was a one-time inappropriate touch or comment. I can’t report that.” For many companies, the baseline is we need to change the policies. Sometimes they’re afraid of that, “Are we going to hear more reports and have more people come forward?”
My response is, “Maybe, but don’t you want that? If your people are feeling unsafe and this is occurring in your workplace, don’t you want to address that immediately? Why do you want to wait until it becomes this life devastating thing before you deal with it?” With that policy change, I also recommend for companies it’s okay to say, “The way we’re going to adjudicate these situations is different.” We know that there’s a difference between someone who made a comment that was inappropriate and we can try and discern maybe that wasn’t their intention, versus someone who is abusing their power, making comments that are inappropriate and trying to do that.
The way we’re going to handle that is different. The resources and tools we’re going to provide in those situations can be different. We get that. Nuance can be applied. From there, it’s looking at reporting channels. In what ways do you have it so that employees can come forward? What are those reporting channels comprised of? What do they look like? A lot of times, there’s this mindset of, “We have an open-door policy with our managers. If you have any experiences, come forward and talk to us.” If you have social dynamics at play, that’s not as easy as it sounds.
That policy is nice but what happens when you are a seasonal employee who has only been there for three months and the person who is doing the harassment is a popular full-time employee who is in a position of power and is well-liked? Think of some of those nuances of how we can overcome and undercut that. The last big piece is let’s try and redefine how we’re defining toxicity, how we’re challenging toxic behaviors and when we’re intervening and stepping in. Teach people skills to say, “We’re not going to let it get to this place.” If someone’s going through something, it’s not their responsibility to bring it forward because that’s going to be difficult. It’s everyone’s responsibility to call it out, address it and talk about it.
One thing I talk about a ton in my work is boundaries and the idea that every one of us has different boundaries. It’s important to recognize and respect those. Some people have boundaries. We have communal ones. Some people’s boundaries might be as simple as, “I don’t like talking about my family or dating life at the workplace.” Some people would say, “That’s fine with me. I don’t care to a point.” We can try and accept that we should do it in a professional way. It’s good to know that because when we can know boundaries much earlier, it gives us an opportunity to respect those before a sense of violation emerges.
You have me thinking about a couple of things here and one is a podcast that I listened to. That was one of Tim Ferriss’ show. He interviewed Eric Schmidt, who is the former CEO of Google. He helped them rise to the size that they are now. He wrote a book called Trillion Dollar Coach, which he’s doing the media tour on. It’s where he features the story of Bill Campbell who is considered one of the most valuable coaches of all time and who did the work that he performed at no cost for leaders of Apple and Google. That’s one example because he had already earned all the money he needed to. His personal style involved being quite touchy. He would hug everybody.
The reason I bring that up is that sometimes we make excuses for people. We say, “That’s the way they are. They don’t mean anything by it.” You can have somebody who for them, hugging is crossing a threshold. It could be something that is even somewhat traumatic for them because they don’t like that touch from someone that they’re not close with. I wondered how you deal with it when you have that response when you hear from the people you’re talking to, guiding, coaching or presenting to, “This boundary seems a little silly to me. They don’t mean anything by it.”
In my work, I always try and get people to think of their own boundaries first and this line of, “What does it feel like for you when one of your boundaries is violated? What are the sensations that come up? What are those emotions? How do you respond and react? How would you wish to tell that to the person? How would you like to handle that?” To your point, sometimes boundaries might seem so niched or nuanced that someone is like, “Why do I have to do this? They certainly should be able to overcome my intentions and understand I’m not doing it from a bad place.”
Sometimes we need to take a step back and focus on what are our boundaries first. Let’s talk about what that reaction is because the other thing I get a lot quite frequently in sessions is, “I’m not that sensitive. This is coming from this new culture where you have to be careful of everything.” The thing I’ve had to challenge them on is, “That’s not true. Let’s focus on your boundaries.” Sometimes when I hear that from audiences, I find their boundaries and we talk about them.
Their boundary is, “I’m uncomfortable with technology because I’m afraid I’m going to have to be replaced. I’m not used to this,” or whatever it might be. I always try and focus first on, “What are your boundaries? How are those showing up? How are you asking people to respect them? What would happen if people don’t respect them?” Try to think from the perspective of, “What may be a minor boundary and what is a more serious one?” Try and create some of that empathy around, “We all know what it’s like to experience a boundary violation.”
Every one of us has gone through that at some point in life in some way or capacity. Let’s take those feelings and transpose them on someone else. Let’s think about what it might feel like for someone else to go through those same things and let’s recognize that the thing we’re oftentimes being asked to do is not an intense thing or an impossible feat. The simplicity of asking someone’s boundaries is a quick step. There are many ways to do it. Sometimes when we hear and talk about boundaries, there’s this idea of, “It’s going to cost so much. It’s going to take me so much to do this.”
The way I try and challenge it is like, “From this empathetic standpoint, how much better is your program, culture, organization or team going to be if you spend that five minutes understanding and learning those boundaries?” For the Bill Campbell example, he’s a successful coach and it’s challenging but the thing I would say to him is, “Imagine how much more comfortable people are going to be if before you gave a hug, you asked that question?”
As an educator, I know that if I call someone to check out one of my sessions, it might be the thing that causes them to have a bad experience the entire time. That’s the last thing I want. It’s trying to create that bridge of empathy for even someone like Bill, “I know you’re touchy.” How much would it suck for you to end a session and have someone approach you and say, “I was wanting to pay attention to you? I’ve heard these amazing things about you. My day was ruined because you didn’t ask me before you gave me a hug.”
The legal systems fail the survivors. These systems were not designed to help you.
There’s a part of you that could get defensive and say, “That’s awful,” but there’s another part of you that could take a step back and realize, “The solution to this boundary is to simply ask.” We can then start incorporating that and bringing that in. That’s certainly applicable across organizations. It’s everything from, “How do you prefer feedback and communication? How do we deal with conflict? Do you like to be touched? Are you okay with that? What does that look like? What does that mean?” The more we can know this, the easier it becomes.
The other piece about boundaries is knowing that there are going to be times where we negotiate them. Sometimes managers are like, “I oversee 100 employees. If you ask all the time, it might be hard.” I’m like, “Absolutely.” If you have an employee that comes to you and says, “I prefer to receive feedback in this way,” there might be a time where you can’t give it to them that way. If you know that and they know that, at least you can have that conversation beforehand.
All it is, is an extra line in the email that says, “I know you prefer feedback in person. We’re on a deadline. We’re working from home. I need to shoot this to you in the email. I’m sorry.” That shows that other person, “They care about me and respect me. They care about my dignity and my worth. I feel so much better. I trust you more. I feel more engaged with you. I know this is going to change in the future.” That stuff are the things that matter. It’s the reason people stay, engage and care because it’s that simple act of, “Your boundaries are not about me. They’re about you.” That’s where that empathy comes in.
Those are all good points. Part of what has got me thinking more about this is that I’m a rather touchy-feely person. I like to give handshakes and hugs. In this time of COVID, we don’t do that the same way as much anymore. It feels like a rarity and I’ve missed it. I’ve heard the reverse response from some of the people I’m connected to like, “This COVID thing is nice. I don’t have people invading my space anymore. It always felt like I was being crowded out or made to feel smaller by close talkers or people who would invade my personal space.”
They do see it as an invasion. It’s not something that they enjoy, so it does make them feel smaller or disrespected. Even thinking about that a little bit differently in this world and in the climate that we’re in is helpful because it shows people that you care about their experience and perspective. I’m a close talker myself. As someone who enjoys hugging, what would be the advice you would give that person as they confront somebody who is a little bit more introverted and doesn’t enjoy that close proximal experience as much?
One of the best things you can do is to always ask. That sounds simple and it is but we also have to factor in power dynamics, think about some of those types of things and be aware of that. Think about when you’re asking, where you’re asking, what the situation looks like and how much time in advance do you have? The thing I always try to mention is if I ask you a question, I have essentially forced you into a response. If I ask you a question, you have to have some response. You could hang up the interview and be done but that’s still a response. We have to be aware of that when we’re in a situation.
For that idea of, “I like to hug people,” if you are in someone’s face, 2 feet from hugging them and you’re like, “Can I hug you?” and your arms are already outstretched, someone might feel discomfort saying no because you have made your intentions already clear that you want to hug them versus when you see them across the room. That might be a little different. The language you use is powerful as well. One thing I always recommend people avoid is the term, “Are you okay with?” When I ask the question, “Are you okay with?” I have subconsciously prompted you with the answer I want to hear.
By putting in the feeling in the question, I’m telling you, “I want you to be okay with this,” versus, “How do you feel about?” It gives you the power to define your own emotion. “Are you okay with?” tells you, “I want you to be okay,” versus, “How do you feel?” You provide me with the emotional idea, your comfort level and some of those areas. Other times it’s good to model our boundaries, show people it’s okay, and that we know what we’re doing.
I’ve used the term boundaries a lot and it doesn’t have to be that. If you meet someone or you’re seeing them for the first time after a long time away because of COVID, you don’t need to be like, “My boundary is this. I prefer to stay distant from people because of health concerns. Is there anything that you prefer? Is there any desire that you have in regards to physical touch or things like that?” Sometimes by sharing that boundary and modeling the way of giving them your boundary gives them the opportunity to provide boundaries as well.
I was at She Podcasts LIVE in Arizona for an event. They had color-coded lanyards to help communicate that. You wear a red lanyard if you were wanting to remain socially distant from people and more concerned with COVID or for any reason. You wear a yellow one if you were okay in certain situations and a green one if you were the extrovert hugger. There was color coding, which I thought was novel and genius.
I always appreciate when organizations take those steps because so much of this has to be on the organization and on a systemic level where there’s violence and harassment prevention and talking about creating safe cultures. I always try and help organizations realize this is their job. Many training and seminars around violence prevention, harassment and all these things focused on, “Let’s teach our employees individual skills that they can deploy.” My reaction is, “If you’re not creating an environment, culture and the systems in place to change this, then this is something that’s going to lack.”
I finished up a series of studies and I interviewed 83 managers and 379 of their direct employees. The questions were about boundaries, “What does that look like? How are we setting them? Does our organization offer tools for these?” What I found time and time again is that managers consistently have a more profound view of how boundaries were being discussed, shared, talked about and negotiated with their organization than their employees did.
Managers oftentimes have this perception that, “We’re talking about it. My employees are comfortable sharing this with me. We give them tools to do this.” An overwhelming majority of the responses from employees were, “We don’t feel like we know how to talk about this.” Even more so, it was like, “We feel comfortable sharing this with our peers but not our leaders because we’re afraid they’re going to use it against us in compensation, employment, or whatever it is.”
There’s that gap and disconnect sometimes when we look at the organizational level of, “If you are running the company, organization, or event, you should think about these things.” Think about that podcast convention you were at. It would have been easy for them to say, “It’s a time of COVID. Every attendee, make sure to tell each other what comfort level you have with physical contact.” Someone is introverted. They may be new to the community. They don’t have as much power.
If it’s the star podcaster who everyone saw speak on stage that comes up to you, saying no is hard versus, “We’re going to give you a tool. We’re going to know that this is an important boundary we have. We’re going to bring this into the lanyard system. It’s already there. It’s taken care of. We’re going to give you this language to use and this tool to define this, so you don’t have to worry about doing that as much.”
I appreciated that too. I wore a green lanyard and when I saw another one, I was like, “Are we going to hug?” Here’s a question for you as we bring this into the personal space and professional at the same time, which relates to dating. A lot of companies have gotten restrictive on what they will allow. You have to sign a waiver if you’re going to date somebody in your community. A lot of people spend the majority of their lives at work while they’re awake.
They get to meet and know people at work. They become attracted and intimate. There’s this navigation that we all have to walk through in that space. I personally shied from dating anyone I worked with for this reason because it was like, “What do you do? What if it doesn’t work out?” That’s not always an option for people. How do you advise people who are going into that dating realm and also considering this issue of consent?
Dating in the workplace is certainly complex because there’s the policy side. Anytime we talk about consent, there’s this legal side and the human nature side where sometimes people say, “Policy be damned. This is what I feel for this person. My emotions are there. They feel for me. This is what we’re going to do.” That’s why from an organizational perspective, you should make sure that your policies are clearly communicated, relevant, tangible, enforceable and are realistic to what’s going on. Sometimes a hard no in any policy is going to fail.
Avoid saying the term, “are you okay with,” because you’re subconsciously prompting someone the answer you want to hear.
In the majority of times, we know that can oftentimes fail. It’s thinking about how big is the company? What’s your role in relation to that other person? What does that look like? Who needs to know? How is this going to impact your jobs? Have you had that conversation about how this is going to impact your jobs? Have you sought out feedback in some of those areas? Are you willing to accept the end result of what might happen? Sometimes it’s easy to say, “I care for this person. I want to be with them.”
You should be having that conversation with that potential partner of, “Here’s a potential repercussion. If our company says no and they find out about this, we could both lose our jobs. Are we ready for that? If we are ready for that, are we aware that this might completely change our relationship because now we’re no longer seeing each other? We would have to find a new job in a tough economy. All of a sudden, this is out the window.” It might be, “Our company policies say that this is okay but they might move us into different roles.” Are you ready for that response and what that looks like?
Have you talked about that with your potential partner? Are you having that honest conversation? Sometimes it’s also good when you’re looking at workplace dating to talk a little bit more about the long-term early. That might be frightening to people like, “We don’t want to rush into things.” I’m like, “Yeah, but the dynamics are different.” If you meet someone at a coffee shop and go on dates with them, you might have a little more leeway versus if you’re working together and you’ve known each other for a while, you have to think about how is this going to impact power dynamics.
What are the existing power dynamics? How is this going to impact promotion, employment and all those things? It’s that difference of, “We like each other now but we’re the same level. We’re in the same job.” What happens when you don’t disclose to the organization that you’re dating, and all of a sudden, it comes time for promotion? There are three candidates and both of you were two of those. They have to promote one of you and pick one partner over the other. Have you thought about that? Have you had that conversation? Have you talked about it? Have you primed yourself for what that looks like? Are you willing and ready to do that?
Some of that seems like, “I don’t know.” That’s okay. That might be an honest conversation you can have of, “I’m not sure. I’m not up to date on what this looks like because I haven’t experienced this yet.” The other thing is thinking about what are your coworkers’ boundaries? What are your boundaries as a couple? How can you be respectful of both of those? If you’re in a company that has a no-tolerance dating policy but the heart walks what heart wants and you decide to date a coworker so you feel like you can’t disclose to anybody, understand that.
How are you making sure that you’re going to protect each other, your peers, employees, coworkers, and everyone? If you’re in a situation where it is okay to date but you still have to figure that out, it’s those boundaries and being clear about them with your partner and peers, especially with your partner because things are going to come up like, “What about PDA, conflict, communication and how we give each other feedback?” All of those pieces have to be answered. There needs to be a little bit of a pause and discerning, “What are we getting into? Have we talked about that? Are we ready for both the repercussions as well as some of the challenges that come from it?”
I’ve seen it work out. Many people have. I’ve also seen it go bad and end in people feeling like they lost opportunity because of the relationship or something else. It’s a tough situation. What can you say, “Sex is complicated?”
Across the board, we always want to make it a clear-cut situation of, “This happens.” It’s so hard and difficult to know those things and figure them out. Whenever I teach consent, I always talk about, “We’re dealing with another being who has histories, identities, complexities, desires, wants and this multitude. That’s never going to be simple regardless of the extent of the relationship. It’s always going to be difficult.”
What sorts of resources do you direct people to when they have questions around these things like consent? I’m coming from a perspective here of a mom of two boys. They have already had to have the consent conversation with each of them as it relates to body autonomy and things like that. I want to set them up for success long-term and that may even mean asking questions like, “Is it okay if I hug you?” What would you advise or what resources would you put out there for my community and me?
I don’t necessarily always do a ton of work within high schools and younger-age students. The Boston Public Health Commission has the Start Strong program. They have a wealth of resources that have been both done within the Boston public school system as well. Some of them are online or at least the foundations of those resources are online. A lot of it focuses on some of those pieces of, “Here’s how you talk about consent. Here’s when you can start talking about it. Here’s bodily autonomy.” You can introduce that to a three-year-old, “If you don’t want to hug someone, you don’t have to hug someone. You don’t have to touch someone.” It’s things like that, “This is yours and that’s only yours.”
There’s a lot of that curriculum that exists out there of, “Here’s how you talk about it at different ages. Here’s how you introduce these ideas.” One revolutionary thing that they have done is they have talked a lot about media and porn literacy. If you’re in your teenage years, we sometimes know the average age that children nowadays are accessing pornography is anywhere from 9 to 12. How do you have conversations around what that looks like and understanding what you’re seeing, what’s happening in those films and the difference between those and reality and all of those pieces? Some of those systems exist. With college students, it’s always trying to offer tools.
There are a number of nonprofits I always point to, like the Joyful Heart Foundation, 1in6, and RAINN, which is a national survivor support network. Many of those have resources and tools for many college students or college-aged students. Know Your IX is another tool that focuses on campus-based policy for both community colleges and colleges. They focus on what adjudication, rights and privileges look like when you’re there dealing with sexual violence. When you start to look a little older for companies, a good resource I recommend is EVERFI. They do a lot of research that I always respect and appreciate because they’re talking a lot about what it means to build and set cultures.
They try and take a more proactive stance on harassment prevention. Gallup does a lot of surveys and polling about what are our perceptions around these issues. What does this mean? How is this impacting us? What does that look like? For pure consent and sexual violence, this focuses a little bit on colleges but it’s illuminating. It’s a book called Sexual Citizens that came out of research that was done at Columbia by two researchers who did a longitudinal study that pulled from a lot of dialogues with how people were perceiving sexual violence, their reactions to it, what it looked like, and many of those pieces.
As we prepare to wrap up. I wonder if there’s any question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had? If there is, please ask and answer.
A good question to think about is how do you support someone if they come forward and tell you that they have experienced a form of sexual violence or harassment? That’s a huge thing that a lot of people have questions about. A lot of people were not trained on it. We don’t talk about it. We’re not always aware of it. That’s a good area that we could talk about. Whenever you’re dealing with supporting someone who has experienced any form of sexual violence like assault, rape, harassment or whatever it is, there’s the reaction of if it occurred in the immediate versus if you’re dealing with it after the fact.
If an incident of violence occurred in the immediate, you want to make sure to get that person away to a safe space away from where the incident occurred and remove them from the situation. If physical violence was involved, you could recommend that they get medical attention. The keyword I always say is recommended because generally, when you experience sexual violence, that’s a loss of power and control.
You don’t want to force them to do anything else because that’s further taking away power and control. If there was physical violence, you can recommend medical attention, help them find those resources and services, let them know what that process might look like and offer to go with them. Ultimately, it’s their choice. You can recommend that they document. Another recommendation is if you want to take some documentation around this if that’s possible, be careful that you’re not guiding that process.
Sometimes we might ask questions that we feel are being helpful or trying to keep information but it can be hard and traumatic for that person to talk about it at that moment. Help them think about, “If you do want to document this, know that you don’t have to press charges. You don’t have to use any legal resources and go through an organizational channel but if you choose to in the future, it might help.” Prompting them, think about the details of the event or what happened and write that down as much as you’re comfortable with.
I have a question that relates to this because it has to do with rape kits and backlogs. I’ve had people say to me, “What’s the point of getting the rape kit if they’ve got a five-year backlog in my local municipality?” What would you say to that person in that case? Do you know if there’s a way to speed something forward if they are interested in pursuing action?
Relationships are difficult. You’re dealing with another being who has complexities, desires, and wants. It’s never going to be simple.
It depends if they choose to go to the police and advance the case. That’s one of the things that can potentially move it forward at a faster rate. It’s depending on the evidence that is deemed by the police and the evidence they provide. If it is moving forward in that process, generally it might be fast-tracked a little. Sometimes the other thing is helping people understand that you can still get a rape kit done and you don’t have to press charges.
With storage now, it’s much better and tends to last longer. It can be helpful if you choose to press charges eventually. That’s the thing I oftentimes tell survivors of physical violence at the moment. Know that it’s your legal right that if you go to a hospital and get a rape kit done, the hospital may call the police but you don’t have to press charges at that moment. That is your right and prerogative. That’s something that’s for you.
It’s that idea of, “You don’t have to make that decision now. If you choose to in the future, it might help with the documentation of things, the collection of evidence and all of those pieces.” Understand some of that work that’s going on there because I certainly hear that. I know that there are horrifying stories out there about communities that have mismanaged their rape kits or did not store them properly so decades of DNA evidence was lost. I always talk about legal resources. I understand why so many survivors choose not to use them.
There are also cases where they end up being incredibly useful in finding serial rapists. The DNA is out there and when they do get to it, it can result in catching a violent criminal who would otherwise have gotten off.
The system is broken but it works occasionally. It can work and provide benefit in both your case and to other individuals as well. If you’re dealing with an incident that occurred in the past like if someone is telling you about something that happened a few days ago, weeks ago, months ago or years ago, that idea of creating that safe environment for them is good.
Sometimes it’s saying, “I appreciate you sharing this with me. Thank you. I’m so sorry this happened. I appreciate you trusting me. Is this the best place to talk? Is there somewhere else that is better for you? Do you feel safe and comfortable here?” Focus on the powerful question of, “How can I help you? What do you need from me at this moment?” It’s not our job to fix someone else and that’s rarely what they’re asking for.
The last thing we need to do is try and provide the resources, tools or support that they’re not needing. I work with a lot of survivors and sometimes they want resources. Sometimes they want to tell their story, talk about something or ask a question. That’s why I always think that phrasing of, “How can I help you? What do you need from this conversation? What do you need from me?” are great places to ground it because everyone is going to need something different and it focuses on them.
Be careful with the questions you’re asking. You do not want to retraumatize them or ask a question that goes too far. If they ask for resources, figure out what those resources look like, how involved you can be in that process, and what help they need there. One of the last things I say is always to try and set some boundaries of, “What does this look like going forward?”
Sometimes people may tell you something and they want to talk about it in the future. Other times they might tell you something and that’s it. That question of, “What do you need from me moving forward?” as well is helpful because you want to be clear. Someone might say, “I don’t ever want to talk about this again.” That’s a good thing to know.
If you’re worried about their behaviors, changes in behavior, and things like that, you might try and figure out a way to bring it up to them. Otherwise, try to focus on what do they need and set that boundary, so you know, “Bring this up to me but be careful about who you bring it up in front of. I prefer you not to text me about this because who knows who might see my phone? I only want to talk about this in person.”
Some of that information can be good. Watch out for people in the long-term in both scenarios. If you see changes in behavior, try and be honest about it. You never want to assign intentions to someone of saying, “You’re doing this because you went through this,” but saying, “I noticed this and I was wondering what might be going on. Is there help I can provide?”
I want to offer you the opportunity to sum up what you would like our audience to leave this conversation with. I imagine it will be something about boundaries since we have talked so much about that. You have the floor.
Preventing sexual violence and harassment and creating safe cultures is a lot of times much smaller than we think. The egregious behaviors, we need to call them out, stop them, and prevent them from occurring. Often, this is a daily conversation. It’s that empathetic curiosity of, “What do the people around me need? How am I treating them? How am I giving them the opportunity to tell me what that is?” The more curious we can be, then the more we can bring empathy to that conversation.
Think about, “Here’s how I like to be treated. I know people around me have those same desires. Let me focus on them, listening to them, hearing them and giving them the time and space to do that.” If we can get better at that, we can do a much better job at creating relationships, communities and cultures where people are feeling safe because they know that they’re cared for and that people care about listening to them.
Thank you so much, Tim. Where can people go to find you?
The best place is my website, TimMousseau.com. I have all my contact information on there. I publish blogs, research and all that stuff there as well.
I’ve seen some speaking engagements there, some quick resources and even some YouTube videos that you’ve created. Thank you so much. This has been a joy, even as difficult as a subject it is for me as I imagine it is for many reading too, I believe that you’ve helped to boil it down to the core essentials to support the journey of people in the workplace and their personal life as well. Thank you for that.
Thank you again, Corinna, for the time and the ability to talk about this.
It’s time for that simple ask. I would love it if you would also share this episode and our website CareMoreBeBetter.com with your friends. Subscribe to this podcast. You can even do that for them. Download an episode or two, grab their phone, and click subscribe. It’s through discussions like these in-depth conversations that we have with people like Tim Mousseau that we can create a more caring community around the globe. We can grow and even resolve trauma. Thank you readers now and always, for being a part of this show and community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, be better and even create a safer society and regenerate Earth. Thank you.