The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Is Your Character Safe at Work? Violence in the Workplace 101 for Writers and Other Curious Folks

This information was obtained through my participation in Citizens Police Academy.

attribution: London MMB »095 15 Westferry Circus.jpg

If you're a writer, you're busily putting your heroine at risk. Perhaps the place where she feels comfortable and happy, at work, can turn out to be a nightmare.

Let's get a shared definition of what could be encompassed in workplace violence:

  • physical contact
    • beatings
    • stabbings
    • shooting
    • rape
  • threatening behavior
    • physical
    • sexual
  • verbal abuse
    • obscene phone calls
    • intimidation
    • foul or abusive language
In my book Open Secret my heroine is an editor who is facing verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and threats.

Here's an example from the book:

Adjusting the shoulder strap on her briefcase, Avery waited with the pool of convention-goers waiting for the next car going up. George stood right behind her back.
Now that the day was over, his cologne smelled sickly-sweet and stale, exciting her gag reflex. Avery moved away from him, trying to cover the move as a shift of balance. The bell dinged and the doors slid open.
George placed a possessive hand on her lower back as he shepherded her in.
Avery tensed at his touch.
They squeezed into the crowd and turned towards the closing door. George’s hot breath whispered in her ear. “You know, it’s kind of a shame we had to go through the pretense about booking two rooms.”
Avery shot a glance over her shoulder. “It’s not happening.”
He chuckled. “No?”
They moved to the side as people arrived at their floors. The pushing jumbled her into George’s arms as he steadied her. Avery let her breath hiss between her teeth. This was probably the longest elevator ride in the history of elevator rides.

What warning signs should your character be on the look out for or could you write into the evolving behaviors that she sees at work?

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sudden withdrawal from friends/ acquaintances
  • Problems with attendance or tardiness
  • Newly acquired poor personal hygiene
  • Sabotage or theft of property of employer or co-worker
  • New use of abusive language
  • Spreading rumors or gossip
  • Argumentative
  • Sees self as victimized by management and/or co-workers
  • Makes harassing phone calls or leaves intimidating notes
  • tends to be a "loner" (differentiate this from someone who is an introvert
  • Talks about suicide
  • Fascinated with weapons or news of violent acts
Now that you have a character with issues in the workplace, what can your other characters do or try to do? There are lots of ways to use this information in foreshadowing and in making your heroine worried and stressed when her concerns are not addressed. Or maybe she doesn't want to make waves or get herself targeted by the violent person. Maybe there's a threat that is dangling there -- "If you tell anyone I'm sexually harassing you, I'll X, Y, and then I'll Z!"

But here are some proactive steps in case they're helpful for her:
  • Review the workplace violence policy statement
  • A physical security assessment. 
    • Do all of the doors open? 
    • Are they locked to keep people out? 
    • Do the alarms work?
  • Following procedures for addressing threats
  • Was there management and employee training, could she request that they do a refresher?
  • Is there an incident response team she could turn to for help?
  • There are always crisis response measures, like calling 9-1-1.

I hope your heroine is documenting everything and possibly sharing her documents with a friend contemporaneously. (Uh-oh does this then endanger her friend?) 

She should check in her state to figure out what is allowed with filming and recording. You don't want her to get in trouble while she's trying to protect herself. Or maybe you do, maybe that's yet another way that you're going to twist your plot!

There are lots of ways to make your heroine's workplace a hostile environment which is either the plot or adds distress to your plot.

Happy writing!

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