Archive for category Employee Safety

Women’s Personal Safety Tips: Avoiding The Unwanted Hug

Have you ever found yourself wrapped in a hug you didn’t want, but didn’t know what to do about it?

I certainly have, and it made me feel angry, resentful, and outraged.

Whether on campus, at work, or just socializing, unwanted hugging seems to affect almost all women and girls – and many men – at some point.  Although sometimes it is the result of a well-meaning person’s insensitivity, it is often used as a power play.

Yet, few of us know what to do in the moment, because for the most part, we are socialized to “be polite.”

Many women and girls are actually taught, explicitly or implicitly, to accept hugs without question – ignoring the fact that sometimes hugs are aggression posing as affection. That teaches us that we do not own our bodies, and leaves us more vulnerable to harassment and sexual assault. Therefore, our personal safety strategies are paramount.

You might say that unwanted hugging is a “gateway drug” to escalating physical contact. “Pick up artists” use hugging as a “compliance test” to determine how vulnerable a woman will be to his particular brand of manipulation.

The fact that unwanted hugs may or may not be done with ill intent, hiding under a veil of plausible deniability, and rely on you to “be polite” and we are literally put on the spot to make an instant judgement call can make us feel … oddly powerless.

Having a few strategies in mind to avoid any unwanted physical contact is a form of safety preparedness.  It provides a sense of power and peace of mind.

A Direct “NO” is A-OK.

You alone own your body, and you alone decide who gets hugs or not, according to how you feel in that moment.  You do not have to be “fair.”  You can change your mind without notice or reason.  You do not owe anyone explanations or apologies.  It’s perfectly ok to tell someone, “I don’t want a hug, thanks,” or “I’d prefer to shake hands,” or “Let’s just wave from here!”

It is the other person’s job, not yours, to manage how they feel about that.

If you’re met with objections or entreaties, calmly stand your ground with an answer that makes YOU feel the most comfortable, such as, “It’s just my preference.”  “I’m not a hugging sort of person.”  “I’m a germaphobe.” “I said, ‘No thanks.'” “I’d rather shake hands.”  “I would prefer not to.”

But if you don’t feel comfortable or safe giving a direct “No,” try this instead:

Stick out your arm for a hearty handshake.

Add a cheery “So nice to see (or meet) you!”

Take a half-step back and angle your body away from the person if you have room.

Most people will get the message and react accordingly.  However, if the hugger is tone deaf, but you need to let that person save face, due to, say, power differentials, try:

Handshake + Conversational Pivot

Your pivot may sound like this:  “Oh no, I’m still just getting over this cold / strep throat / ebola and I wouldn’t want to take a chance on accidentally infecting you!” “I’m all maxed out on hugs today – but tell me about your new project, it sounds so interesting!” or, “Hey, I’m all hugged out from my new puppy!  Do you want to see a photo?”  “Oh, sorry, my little nephew got all my hugs already. Speaking of which, what is a Pokemon?” The point is, always have a few rehearsed sound bites. Use whatever works for you and go with it like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Alternatively, go for an enthusiastic high five + conversational pivot.

“Can you believe that [sports event] last night?!” “It’s Friday, high five!”  “Good to see you!  Up top!”  “We really crushed it on [work project] so I was thinking our next step is ___.”  Adapt any of these phrases or techniques to suit your situation and your comfort level.  You are the expert on your situation and your relative safety.

These methods generally distract the other person and glosses over any uneasiness.

If someone drags you into a hug anyway, making you uncomfortable, your job is to make your discomfort clear, and redirect it back to the offender.

“HEY!  I said NO HUGS!”

“OW!  You’re pulling my hair!”

“OUCH! You’re hurting my neck!”  (because you have a little crick in it, of course)

“HEY!  You’re hurting my sunburn!”

You might *accidentally* step on his/her feet — because s/he pulled you off balance with the unwanted hug, right?

Some people will always ignore boundaries and go in for the hug in spite of your objections.  That is valuable information: Now you know this person is not to be trusted.

This is someone to avoid.  This is someone to keep a wary eye on, even if you’re acquainted or “friends” or related.  This is someone who will not take “No” for an answer.  This is someone to warn your friends about.

Never let social conventions or fear of feeling awkward get in the way of your bodily integrity and security. 

Your personal safety always come before someone else’s feelings.

– Jennifer Kaminer, 27 March 2017

Related: Your Daughter’s Campus Safety and Security: 3 Tips

Related: Women’s Personal Safety on Campus

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Social Workers, Home Healthcare and Other Lone Workers’ Personal Safety In and Around Vehicles

Security experts, law enforcement, and those in executive protection always remind us that our personal safety is compromised when we spend time in and around our parked vehicles. We are far safer in even a slow-moving vehicle with the doors locked and windows up.

Social workers, home healthcare workers, occupational health providers, and salespeople are just a few examples of those who spend a lot of time traveling between destinations.

I have heard case managers often say that they will use some down time between visits sitting in their cars clearing voicemails, or replying to time-sensitive emails.

Others tell me that they will often sit in the parked car while programing their GPS for the next destination. Some return calls while parked – thinking correctly that it is better to not be on the phone while driving – but nonetheless leaving them very distracted as to their surroundings.

Police report that crimes such as robbery and carjacking are often opportunistic, with the victims regularly being someone “using the car as an office.”

Here is simple mantra to keep in mind: “Look. Lock. Leave.”

Look in, under, and around your car before you approach and get in.

Lock the door immediately upon getting in.

Start the vehicle and Leave immediately. The sooner you’re moving, the better.

Another tip: If you’re not parallel parking, always try and back in, making it easier drive away quickly if under duress. This also allows a tow truck to more readily help you out with a breakdown or recharging a dead battery!

Related: What is Situational Awareness?

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Women’s Personal Safety and Male-Encoded Language

STOPThe Department of Justice  – and common sense – tells us that gender-based violence and harassment is predominantly committed by men against women or non-binary persons.

Bearing in mind that every situation is different, the importance of using your best judgement in the moment, and keeping women’s personal safety at the forefront, learning to use “male-encoded language” can be a highly effective skill.

Broadly speaking, aggressive men best understand communication – verbal and non-verbal – when it reads as “male.”  Again, making a sweeping generalization that has some truth in it – aggressive men tend to receive what they interpret as “feminine” communication as irrelevant.

This is not to diminish the power and validity of communication styles that are traditionally “female.”  Rather, this is about knowing a few different helpful strategies in case of a confrontation between an aggressive man and a possibly intimidated or subordinate woman, female-presenting or gender non-conforming person.

Of course, the best way to avoid a confrontation is to … avoid it.  Leave the scene when you can. Women generally have an arsenal of “polite” exit strategies that allow the aggressive person to “save face.”  Unfortunately, there are times in life when that isn’t feasible or possible, so it’s best to have several different strategies at hand if confronted by an angry, aggressive, or otherwise inappropriate person.

When a woman is dealing with a confrontational man, the social contract tells us to be quiet, not make a scene, and try to the encounter end quickly.

We are told, implicitly and explicitly, that speaking up for ourselves makes things worse.

The truth is, being quiet and submissive was always a deeply flawed solution, and when faced with a non-resistant woman, many men will feel empowered to escalate the aggression or violence.

Politely asking an aggressor to stop being aggressive simply doesn’t work.

Although it goes against our collective cultural conditioning, oftentimes the best response to a confrontational or inappropriate male is to be loud and firm, in a tone that allows no room for negotiation or argument.

Even though there is nothing inherently male about speaking in this way, assertive speaking and body language is widely considered “male-encoded” – and therefore, more authoritative.

Consider the difference between a woman quietly saying, “Please stop doing that. You’re making me feel uncomfortable,” versus the same woman saying, “YOU!  CUT IT OUT!” while making a sharp jerking motion with her thumb.  It’s the difference between politely asking a waitress for a glass of water, and a drill sergeant issuing an order.

The assertive approach accomplishes two things: it puts the aggressor on notice that you are NOT an easy target and whatever he does to you will come with a consequence; and it alerts anyone nearby that you are in a precarious situation and they may need to step in or call for help.

Before you’re ever faced with a situation, think of assertive phrases practice saying them out loud in front of a mirror.  Practice until you’re comfortable saying these things firmly, authoritatively,  and are able to call them up instantly.

“YOU!  CUT IT OUT!”  “GET OUTTA HERE!”  “BACK OFF!”  “HEY YOU!  SHUT IT!” and “YOU BACK UP!” are some examples.  Drop your voice to a deeper register and deliver loud, firm COMMANDS, NOT REQUESTS, like a military commander – as if you EXPECT to be obeyed, and anything else is unthinkable.

Use male-encoded body language when you issue these commands.  Let your posture and facial expressions reinforce your words.Stand at attention – straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, head up, with a serious face.  Look fearless, resolved, and stern.  At the same time, maintain your personal space as much as possible, as staying out of reach is always important.

Don’t worry about being rude or making a scene.  Go on and MAKE A SCENE.  Remember, the other person already broke the social contract; it’s not up to you to maintain the pretense.

Your personal safety always supersedes other people’s feelings.

Using assertive, male-encoded language should always be one of your strategies in maintaining your personal security.  Each one, teach one.

– Jennifer Kaminer, January 21, 2017

 

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Social Worker Personal Safety Tips and Situational Awareness: The Issue of Weapons

Social Worker Personal Safety and Situational Awareness: The Issue of WeaponsiStock_000000255677XSmall

From the title of this blog post, you might have thought this was going to be about which weapons a social worker should or should not carry for self-defense.  Not so!

This entry discusses what a social worker, case manager, or home health nurse should do regarding the presence of weapons during a house call.

Some companies dictate that all weapons are to be stowed away or secured before the visit. This is a good policy, and many members will do so before their provider arrives.

However, this is not a “one size fits all” solution. Attitudes towards weapons, especially firearms, vary greatly by region here in the United States.  For example, a .45 handgun lying on an end table might not bother a case worker in Tennessee or Texas, but somewhere else, would be cause for alarm.

Here’s a common scenario I hear from various providers:

“I was conducting a home visit with one of our members. He was cooperative and pleasant as usual. I was sitting at the table when I noticed I was actually sitting between him and a shotgun on the other side of the room, in a corner.  I thought about our company policy to ask him to secure it or put it away.

“This thought was overruled by my instincts, which said, ‘Our visit is going very well. Right now, I’m between him and the gun, and he’s not even thinking about it.  If I ask him to move it, that means his attention will be directed to the weapon, and he will pick it up.  Now, I’ve called attention to the gun and it’s in his hands, when a minute ago, he wasn’t even thinking about it.’”

So what to do? I think it all come back down to instincts, and making a judgement call based on the situation.

In the instance above, I would have done what the case worker did: continue the visit and not bring attention to the weapon.  Is this in keeping with company policy? Maybe not, but it sure is in keeping with common sense and a sound situational decision.

In New York State, managers and home health providers have said that due to very strict gun laws, a weapon could likely mean trouble, and perhaps illegal activity.  In that case, policy should be followed closely.  Politely shut down the meeting and leave.

It is also worth remembering that a volatile person in a work – or non-work related setting – can inflict great harm, even if a gun or knife, what we typically think of as “weapons,” are not present. Weapons of opportunity, such as a heavy vase, ashtray, or bedside lamp can be lethal, as can scissors or a letter opener left in plain view on the desk.

Just some food for thought with regard to your personal safety and situational awareness.

 

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Front Desk Professionals Personal Safety Awareness Training

security-camsHow many times have you heard, “I just cover the front desk at my job.”

Please stop describing yourselves this way.  You are professionals who have a lot more responsibilities and tasks than meet the eye.

In the hospitality industry, you are the name and face of the brand you represent. In business settings, you are the first point of contact tasked with making a desirable first impression, while being assertive, yet friendly, and maintaining control of your lobby.

You are expert multitaskers. While signing people in and printing visitor’s badges, you are keeping an eye on the front door, the hallway to the restrooms, buzzing in the mail delivery clerk and authenticating service providers. On top of that, you’re often also tasked with monitoring the CCTV security system!

Behind your welcoming professional smile, you have overwatch on access control and security.  You deal with difficult people, and are first in line with regard to situations and threats that most other people in your building aren’t even aware of.

Unfortunately, personal safety and situational awareness training for front desk professionals is often overlooked.  This may be due a lack of appreciation for the responsibilities front desk professionals attend to daily; it may be an oversight; it may be due to complacency or high staff turnover.

However, it is imperative that employers give the front desk staff the training they deserve and require.  Important things employers need to consider with regard to training include:

  • How will my front desk staff respond to a bomb threat? Will they evacuate immediately, or will they stay calm and ask for additional information that will be helpful to the police?
  • If violence erupts, will they attempt to intervene, or be a good witness and call police from a safe distance?
  • If a hostile intruder breaches the lobby, what is the game plan? Is there a Safe Room?
  • Domestic violence “spillover.” What is this, and how do you mitigate against it?
  • Someone attempts to “charm the front desk” into giving up private information. What does this look and sound like? What measures should your staff take?

These are just a few of the issues your front desk personnel must handle. Reminding them that they are, in fact, front desk professionals, and empowering them to take charge of their environment is fundamental.

These employees should always be trained and empowered to act confidently, professionally, and decisively.

Not only will your business run more smoothly, effectively, and safely – demonstrating respect and care for the safety of your front desk staff will almost always lead to a higher level of job satisfaction and less turnover at the position.

 

 

 

 

 

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