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Safe Passage talks appropriate workplace behavior, resources available

DeKALB – With the news of a longtime Sycamore business owner charged with biting and inappropriately touching a 15-year-old female employee, protests as a result of the charges and a trial expected in October, Safe Passage staff are speaking out to educate the community on the importance of workplace boundaries.

Shawn Thrower, 61, owner of Shawn’s Coffee Shop and Princess Alex Ice Cream in Sycamore is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery after police say he bit the girl on her neck, picked her up and smacked her buttocks, according to DeKalb County Court records. Thrower’s bench trial is set for Oct. 15. If convicted, he could face up to a year in jail, and fines up to $2,500. He plead not guilty on March 9. Protests outside his shop to advocate for victims began Friday, and the mother of the 15-year-old girl shared her story this week.

The mother described Thrower’s behavior to her daughter as “grooming,” a term often used when an adult treats a child or minor differently with actions or words to make them feel special, in order to prepare them for an abusive act, sometimes of a sexual nature.

Lynnea Erickson Laskowski, communications & prevention services director, said such behavior in the workplace is traumatizing, and survivors should know Safe Passage, Inc. — DeKalb County’s only domestic violence and abuse survivor advocacy center — is a resource readily available.

What is grooming?

LE: “When we think about grooming we think about that process of building trust. Very few abusers dive straight into abuse especially when its an adult and a child. There’s a lot of different ways that looks but when it’s in a workplace, a lot of times that does look like special favors or more intimate or friendly relationships, maybe blurring some of the boundaries between boss and employee. With adults and children, things like offering them special privileges, pushing some of those boundaries around being alone with then, physical touches, generally a slow process that build out into abuse.”

I’m afraid of saying anything, is that unusual?

“When that happens, younger people or a child with less power gets more confused about what’s going on because they trust and care that person, maybe they’re worried about losing their job, or that everyone else really seems to like this person.That’s something we see in almost every case of child abuse, or sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. It’s “This is my boss, they’re really well known in the community, everyone seems to like them, they’ve got this history in a community, whether they’re an athlete or business person. Am I just misinterpreting this or will anyone believe me if I come forward? They’re an adult, I’m a kid.”

So grooming really sows the sees of doubt.”

What to say to a young person who’s experienced this?

“The most important thing to say to young people is there are people who will believe you. It may not seem like it or may feel really threatening and scary but there are people who will believe you. Keep reaching out until you find that community, whether a parent, guardian, friend, Safe Passage. You’re going to be the best expert on who are the safe people in your life. It might feel like no one will believe you.”

What are the statistics around false reporting?

“Very few victims make this stuff up. The number of people who file false reports is 2-8% in sexual assault. If someone comes forward, you’re taking that step to come forward about sexual abuse in the media or court, they’re almost always telling the truth. We operate from that mindset at Safe Passage.”

How can we tell what behavior is acceptable or not in the workplace?

“What we as adults need to be doing is giving a frame of reference about what’s acceptable and what isn’t to kids at a much younger age. We can’t wait until they’re 18, 19 or 20 because they are working these jobs as 14, 15 or 16-year-olds, experiencing harassment in the workplace, and they don’t know what harassment is. We want to be talking to young kids about whats acceptable and whats not and giving them the tools to speak up about it if somethings wrong.”

How can I learn about workplace behavior?

“I feel like a lot of young people, your voice deserves to be heard. We want to do regular training in all workplaces on sexual harassment about that looks like. We really need to dive into what makes a workplace safe for everyone. We offer that training, mandated by the state, but we need to go go beyond a year training and really think about what are the dynamics in our workplace, who has power, who doesn’t, what are the options for someone at any stage of the business to report abuse, harassment, are we making it safe enough for people?”

What, in your opinion, is acceptable and not acceptable behavior in the workplace?

“It’s always easier to start with what’s not acceptable: it’s really just common decency, its civility. You want to treat people in a way where they feel safe or uncomfortable. If you’re questioning whether something you’re doing could make someone uncomfortable, you need to not do that in the workplace, just don;t do it, air on the side of caution. Is grabbing my employee around the waist going to make them incremental? Maybe or maybe not, but uncertainty is good enough to not do it. Beyond just physical harassment, you shouldn’t force someone to engage in any sexual behavior, physical touch, don’t make jokes that are inappropriate especially around young employees, don’t call people by cutesy or romantic nicknames, don’t talk about sexual scenarios at work, don’t make jokes about gender. Those are the kind of things that create a hostile work environment.”

How can Safe Passage help specifically in this community during this time?

“I think one of the things is knowing we’re a small community, with a case like this with potentially more people to want to reach out either for general individual counseling and support or for assistants going trough a legal process, knowing what their rights are, make sure they’re not going through that alone. It can be emotionally taxing, so we always want to make sure people know we’re here for counseling, free and confidential, but if they’re thinking about pressing charges, supporting victims, we have some amazing legal advocates who specialize in working with victims and sexual harassment and assault cases. Just so they have a point person on their side to explain the system.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, call or text the Safe Passage Crisis Hotline at 815-756-5228. Operators are standing by 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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