One of my roles as an external investigator is to create a sense of safety for witnesses so that they're able to talk freely with me. As with any interview, both the interviewer and the interviewee benefit most when the person being interviewed is free to 'be themselves'.
With alleged victims of sexual harassment however, this is not as straightforward as it might seem.
And this can apply to any witness, in fact, not just complainants. Respondents and other types of witnesses all come to me with a history that I will often know nothing about.
I never know who might have previously been exposed to trauma, bullying, harassment, assault, discrimination or other type of violation.
That's why I am so grateful for the experience I've gained in the field of safeguarding and child protection, as well as some of the work I've done with vulnerable adults.
Although I'm a barrister with over two decades of experience, the management, policy and voluntary service roles I've played over the years have enabled me to have a wider understanding of people that's made me perfectly suited for what I do now as Special Investigation Counsel.
...being physically, mentally and emotionaly in a place where they feel in control...
Many people who've experienced trauma, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or who've otherwise been placed in a harmful situation in which they felt out of control, can often need the comfort of a safe space.
By that I mean being physically, mentally and emotionally in a place where they feel in control when they interact with me.
For example, I know that some witnesses want to meet face to face - sometimes, this is to establish whether they can trust me.
Some witnesses would rather meet in a public place so that they feel free to leave via any number of exits if they begin to feel triggered by their discussion with me.
Others prefer the formality of a room with a desk and a table in it in order to compartmentalise what might have happened to them and separate the emotion of it from their disclosures to me.
There are those who establish their safe space by sending me a list of questions or statements setting out the terms upon which they'll speak to me.
Sometimes, at the start of an interview, a witness might probe me to find out my credentials or try to figure out whether I am biased.
...trust is very important in the job that I do...
Whilst there is a certain protocol to what I do and a method of conducting an investigation to preserve the integrity of it, I also use my experience and training to afford some accommodation to witnesses. I can often see beyond what they are doing to recognise that they are simply trying to establish whether or not they can trust me.
And trust is very important in the job that I do.
Being liked, not so much. But being respected for my capabilities is important.
I will do the right thing
As is being trusted with confidential information and with the knowledge that I will do the right thing with the disclosures they make to me - that is key.
Every witness is different
Every witness is different.
That's why, as Special Investigation Counsel I adapt to their needs so that I'm able to get to the truth.
I enjoy the challenge of using my skills and experience to work successfully with each one.
And, based on the feedback I've had from both witnesses and commissioning clients alike, I'm succeeding in that.
If you'd like to find out more about how I can help your organisation to deal with issues such as sexual harassment, bullying, inequality, discrimination, diversity and inclusion, please contact me on 0191 500 9762 (Newcastle) or 020 8989 9111 (London) for an initial discussion.
We can conduct external investigations, provide training, update your policies and perform audits to ensure that you are doing what you should be doing when it comes to the regulatory compliance of your organisation.
For free sources of help if you have been subjected to sexual or other impropriety in your workplace, then do take a look at our website: https://www.greycoatlaw.co.uk/sex-abuse-claims-claimants
Note that this article provides general information only. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice for any individual case. If you want tailored legal guidance on your situation, you should contact a specialist lawyer. The law, as we've described it, is correct - according to the laws of England and Wales - as at the date this article was first published.
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