This new course addresses the elephant in the room

Dr. Roberta Attanasio, a biology professor at Georgia State, will teach the career seminars on sexual harassment in the workplace. Photo by Hannah Greco | The Signal

In light of the past months’ high profile sexual harassment accusations, Georgia State is offering a new career seminar on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The course will be taught by biology professor Dr. Roberta Attanasio, who is also part of Georgia State’s Women LEAD program, a group of courses designed to help women succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields like tech start-ups and corporate offices.

The aim of the seminar is to exercise students’ emotional intelligence, the ability for people to empathize with others in various situations. Developing emotional intelligence is a practice shown to help reduce bullying and harassment. It will be discussion-based to create a safe environment for students to speak about concerns and ways they can prevent harassment and address it appropriately when it does occur. The discussion is not aimed at either potential victims nor potential perpetrators. Rather, the purpose is to foster a mutual respect between colleagues and inform students what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace.

Dr. Sarah Cook, a national expert on violence against women and Associate Dean of the Georgia State Honors College, spoke to The Signal about her research and why awareness and prevention of sexual harassment is important.

“Harassment can escalate into assault, and there a lot of examples we’ve seen in the media recently,” Cook said. “That kind of behavior happens in lots of different settings.”

Studies estimate that 25 percent to 85 percent of women experience sexual harassment. By the most conservative predictions, that’s one in four women impacted. Industries that are male dominated, service-based, and low-wage tend to be more rife with harassment than others.

Cook discussed “DARVO,” a method of denial men use when accused of harassment or assault. “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender” is a protocol wherein perpetrators essentially deflect blame by portraying themselves as a victim of false accusation. If the perpetrators deny allegations successfully, women may be disparaged or face retaliation for complaining, and end up in a worse position financially or reputation-wise than to begin with.

“HR departments don’t exist for the people that work for the company—they exist for the company,” Cook said. “We really need to envision some entity that exists outside of the organization where someone can make a complaint to it and it would make the investigation. [It should be] a body that would not have any financial interest in whether or not they find that someone has been harassing someone.”

Currently, many companies and schools require employees and students to complete sexual harassment training (Georgia State has HAVEN for freshmen). However, research suggests that this training is highly ineffective, particularly when participants don’t believe their complaints will effect change.

Cook suggested the best way to prevent sexual harassment and assault is redefining what it means to be masculine: rather than defining masculine sexuality as dominating someone, defining it in a way that erodes the power barrier between men and women.