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Local 5 Investigates: Harassment in the workplace

Her story is more common than you might think.The victim of sexual harassment in the workplace -- she has asked that identity is concealed for her privacy. We'll call her Jane, but her experiences mirror those of women from every walk of life.

"It is a helpless feeling. It causes the work environment to feel unsafe, unstable," Jane said.  "It's hard to relate, sometimes, to people in the public eye and the entertainment industry or the political world and I know from first-hand experience that these occurrences are happening right here in our little area. I thought it was important to talk about that in a way that women in Northeast Wisconsin could more readily relate to."

Now retired, Jane says she experienced everything from derogatory comments to unwanted touches in the workplace. Often times when she reached out to supervisors for help she got an all too familiar response. 

"When I  spoke to his supervisor the response that I got was, 'Gosh, that would be terrible to have this allegation on his record moving forward,'" she said. 
 
    Things got worse later in her career when one instance of harassment crossed the line over to sexual assault. 

"It shouldn't be surprising to anyone considering the toxic climate that we've all been exposed to for decades and decades and decades - when one day it leads to the unthinkable happening behind closed doors. It snowballs," Jane said. 

Jane's perpetrator was someone she knew, a boss, and according to sexual assault advocates, this is not uncommon. 

"Over 90 percent [of sexual assault victims] know their perpetrator. So you're blurring some lines. Stranger danger happens, but it's much rarer than what people believe because that's what typically makes the headlines," Executive Director for the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Appleton Amy Flanders said. "So, it's somebody that you know - whether it's an acquaintance or a friend - perhaps it is somebody that you've been intimate with. Those lines get a little blurred."

High profile cases of sexual misconduct and assault have filled national headlines since October 2017, but sexual assault and harassment are more than issues that live in the headlines or on social media.

"It happens. It's real. It's happening around us every day," Flanders said. 

Shannon Kenevan heads the Voices of Men organization in the Fox Valley. It's a group dedicated to making men part of the solution to sexual violence. 

"We're trying to let folks know that this is a men's issue too. It's not just a women's issue and we all need to work together on it," Kenevan said. "Secondarily, more of an upstream approach, is we're looking to shift culture and raise our boys differently so that we can prevent abuse from happening in ten, 15, 20, 40 years from now."

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have started a national conversation on the subject like never before. Kenevan says he sees the impact from these social media impacts in Northeast Wisconsin as well. 

"I've never seen so many men talking about domestic violence and sexual assault as I have this past year and that's huge. Women have certainly been talking about it all along,  for decades, probably centuries, but now men are talking about it. That's really important to have a broader conversation in society," he said.  

Detective Cassie Packkala investigates sexual assault for the Green Bay Police Department and knows the reach of sexual violence in our community.

"It could be the ten-year-old boy sitting next to you on the school bus,  it could be the daycare provider, it could be an uncle, your aunt, your next door neighbor, it could be a teenage step brother or step sister. It could be anybody, anybody at all. It just doesn't matter anymore," Packkala said. 

The city of Green Bay saw 59 reported cases of forcible fondling, 48 cases forcible rape, and 12 reported cases of forcible sodomy in 2017, according to Packkala. 

In Appleton there were at least 30 reported cases of fondling, 20 reported rapes, 19 cases of forcible sodomy, and 3 cases of sexual assault with an object in 2017, according to Sargent David Lund with the Appleton Police department. Official numbers for the year are not yet complete. 

These numbers reflect only the cases that were reported to police. Many incidents of sexual violence are never reported to law enforcement, according to officials.  

Every 98 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted and here in Wisconsin it is estimated that two out of three sexual assaults go unreported," according to RAINN, that nations largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

"They're afraid they're going to be blamed, that there's going to be shame involved and that they're not going to be listened to and they're not going to be taken seriously," Flanders said. 

Detective Pakkala works specifically with children who are the victims of sexual violence and says prevention starts at a young age. She says it is never too early to start teaching your children about their bodies and concent. 

"Talk to your children about keeping their bodies safe. Talk to your teenagers about engaging in safe behavior with their bodies and online," Pakkala said. 

Whether from fear of not being believed, fear of reliving the assault in the courtroom or because of the continued stigma surrounding sexual assault many victims do not speak out and/or get help. But there are advocates in every corner of the state ready 24/7 to give victims the help they need. 

Advocates will meet victims at the hospital immediately after an assault, provide counseling through the legal process, and provide therapy to help victims move forward. 

Here are just some of the places victims can find these services and more in Northeast Wisconsin: 

  • Family Services: Sexual Assault Center 24-Hour crisis hotlines: 
    • Brown County
      300 Crooks St, Green Bay
      920-436-8899

    • Door County
      57 N 12th Ave, Ste 110, Sturgeon Bay
      920-746-8996

    • Oconto County
      512 Brazeau Ave, Oconto
      920-846-2111

    • Marinette County
      1907 Ella Ct, Marinette
      715-732-7300

  • Sexual Assault Crisis Center - Fox Cities
    • 17 Park Place
      Suite 400
      Appleton, WI 54914
      (920) 733-8119 or (800) 722-7797
      • info@sacc-foxcities.org  
         
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 800-656-HOPE (4673)  
  • WCASA  is a membership agency comprised of organizations and individuals working to end sexual violence in Wisconsin.
  • NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center) 

 

Jane wanted to share her story to show this is not just a problem in Hollywood or on Capitol Hill. It happens here at home. 

She hopes this will keep the conversation going and encourage local victims to get the help they need. 

"I think these movements that we're seeing now on a large scale - #MeToo and #Times up - they're going to be helpful in opening dialog and moving toward solutions," Jane said.  


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