Preventing Sexual Harassment: Austin’s Safe Alliance launches program for workplaces


Austin (KXAN) — The Austin nonprofit the SAFE Alliance has a new professional services division up and running, and chances are you’ve heard of some of the businesses they’re training in sexual harassment prevention.

This professional service is called SAFE Institute.

It’s a division within the SAFE Alliance which works directly with companies in teaching them how to address and stop sexual harassment.

Central Texans may be familiar with the SAFE Alliance’s work to end violence and abuse in the Austin area through shelters, legal assistance, and other resources. They help provide support to survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, sex trafficking, and sexual assault.

The SAFE Alliance is a merger of Austin’s Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, which collectively have 45 years of experience in the community dealing with issues like sexual and domestic violence. 

“We’re really taking this expertise that SAFE has had working in communities and we’re just bringing it to the new workplace,” said Katie Russell, the Demand Generation Manager for SAFE Institute.

Sexual harassment, she explained, can escalate into more intense forms of violence.

“This is really a way to get on the preventative side before things escalate and people have to come to our shelters, that’s how we view it,” Russell added.

This summer, the SAFE Institute launched a website. Additionally, a handful of businesses have now completed the training. All the proceeds go directly back to the SAFE Alliance’s work helping survivors and to the continuation of the sexual harassment prevention program.

Businesses that are clients of SAFE Institute so far include:

  • Alamo Drafthouse
  • Planet Fitness
  • Bumble
  • Anaconda, Inc.
  • BookPeople
  • The City of Austin
  • Wheatsville Food Co-op
  • Drink Well
  • Moonshine Grill
  • Society for American Archeology
  • Jones-Dilworth, Inc.
  • Texas Roller Derby
  • Texas Campaign for the Environment 

Their flagship training is called BASE (Building a SAFE Environment) which aims to identify and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, if their clients come across a workplace issue or crisis, SAFE Institute can offer support.

The team behind the SAFE Institute explained that each training is tailored to each business involved, depending on their size or whether they want a specific issue addressed.

Russell said that in the wake of the #MeToo movement, businesses and community members are reaching out to the SAFE Alliance, looking for guidance on sexual harassment, either wanting to get ahead of the issue or because they had faced an issue.

Plus, Russell noted, with Austin’s population growing, the SAFE Alliance will need to grow its shelter services and other programs.

SAFE Institute, she said, was born out of both the demand from the community and from the need for a sustainable funding source for the nonprofit.

“When companies are investing and bringing us in, all of the revenue they pour into our training goes back to serve and expand our services for survivors,” she said.

How SAFE Institute works

SAFE Institute aims to stand out from the average sexual harassment prevention training, the team members involved say most of their clients are familiar with quick, required online modules which simple “check the box” of having talked about sexual harassment.

The BASE training includes activities like role-playing scenarios (how would you react if you were a supervisor and an employee came forward with an allegation of sexual harassment?), videos, and topics of discussion.

“I think people stereotypically think of sexual harassment as someone touching someone’s lower back or propositioning them, asking them out on a date, but I think that’s something cool about what we do we talk about a lot of those grey areas, like flirting in the workplace what are those lines?” Russell said. “Dating in the workplace, how do people navigate that? How do managers navigate that?”

She explained that Austin’s young workforce means that many workplaces are interested in having conversations about the boundaries you should set up when someone who was your peer becomes your manager– are hugs ok?

“I think everyone knows the golden rule is to treat others the way you’d want to be treated, but a thing we really preach is to treat others the way they want to be treated, and that’s a huge thing we bring into workplaces,” Russell said.

Joell Beagle, a Training and Engagement Specialist with SAFE Institute, said she impresses that same concept upon the companies she works with in these trainings.

“We help people to understand really the nuances of sexual harassment, so some of the stuff that is very black and white, but also, the really grey areas and then moving from that we then say how do we talk about our boundaries and how do we create better communication,” she said.

Beagle said she works with employees to train them how to intervene when they see behavior that appears to be harassment and how to check in on colleagues who may have been victims of harassment.

Typically, trainings have about 35 people present, Beagle said, but it can depend on the size of the company. She added that in addition to BASE training, her team is also available to consult with companies or to go over things like the company code of conduct.

One of the companies she helped train was Planet Fitness, some members of the Austin franchises and the leadership teams there have completed the sexual harassment prevention training.

“It was actually very interactive, very engaging,” said Anthony Flores, Regional Manager for the South Austin Planet Fitness locations. “I think is really great, not only for the workplace, but just people in their every day lives.”

He knows front desk staff and management may encounter uncomfortable situations or allegations of harassment they didn’t see coming.

“I think these types of resources are great for opening our eyes and being more self-aware of just what we do day-to-day,” he said.

Flores believes this training will impact the way he interacts with co-workers and customers going forward. He hopes it can build on the “judgment-free zone” Planet Fitness is trying to create for anyone who walks in their doors.

“Going into anti-harassment training, it has that kind of stigma right? It’s like, ‘oh boy another couple of hours,’ but I think the way they made it so engaging, it went by really quickly,” Flores said. “If we can really translate that to me working with my team directly and growing through these role-playing situations, I think it’s just going to be able to have a great effect on all of our clubs as well.”

KXAN’s Alyssa Goard is working on an in-depth report on how the training works and what companies who’ve received the training are saying.

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