Hardly enough time to fully get out of bed in the morning, under the recommended amount of time for brushing one's teeth. Yet, every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every 9 minutes, that victim is a child (RAINN, 2021).
2 million people become victims of workplace violence annually (Dobrilova, 2022).
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reported 463,634 rape and sexual assault victims annually (12 and older). 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime (NSVRC, 2018). Yet, despite the prevalence of assault and harassment, only 2 of every 3 crimes are reported; of these perpetrators, only 2.5% will be charged, leaving 97.5% to walk free (RAINN, 2021).
Women report around 30,000 sexual assaults on the job (Dobrilova, 2022).
Attackers mainly aim for the upper portion of the body, leading to 35% of workplace violence incidents involving head injuries (Dobrilova, 2022). This is the tip of the iceberg for the statistical information published on sexual and physical crimes in the United States. Yet, shocking as they might be, these surveys and studies are after a 50% fall in sexual assault and harassment cases within the last 20 years (RAINN,2021).
The wedding and event industry is often glossed over when workplace assault and harassment are brought up. However, regardless of what industry you work in, the threat of harassment and assault is a reality. Yet, the glitz and glamor, the perfect lines, organized order-think JLo in the Wedding Planner- is often all that is seen by those outside the industry. Whatever the reason for overlooking this sector of life event planning, the topic needs discussing. Most, if not all, wedding and event industry workers are the giving type. We strive to go above and beyond for our clients, often to our detriment. Despite long work hours, minor breaks, and aching feet, seeing a client's vision come to life is worth it. But creating a real-life-dream on a tight timeline can lead to blatant disregard for personal safety. There just isn't enough time to consider the danger surrounding a middle of nowhere field or downtown city district. The main priorities are the client's desires, a well-planned timeline, and all crises avoided. The chaos we love blinds us from our surroundings and otherwise unsavory behavior from others. These descriptions may surprise and trigger empathy from those not in the wedding and event industry. Still, some might question: "Why not pay better attention to your surroundings or become better prepared?"
Summer of 2021, the wedding industry was feeling the mid-season rush. Thousands of couples across the United States rushed to hire vendors and host their weddings before the pandemic inevitably spiked again. Unfortunately, after a year of isolation, the festivities led to many late-night weddings. Celebrations starting with light refreshments ended with problematic alcohol and even illicit drugs.
Despite having previous encounters with violence and harassment, we went into a specific wedding with the same excitement and hope as we always do. However, this one wedding sparked our understanding that no matter how much we prepare and are aware of what is happening around us, there is always a possibility.
The venue was large, and the sky was completely black. Despite this, our team slowly split up as the night progressed. There was too much square footage to work in the group that night.
As the party raged on, the whole team felt themselves begin to give way to their exhaustion, resulting in an injured coordinator who took a fall going down a dark and steep pathway.
Having just finished packing up the cocktail area, I needed to return to the car and grab a few items to help finish up the packing. As I began the long walk to my vehicle, I felt the sensation that someone was watching.
The groomsmen at this particular wedding had been, for the most part, were, polite and generous. That is for all but one. From the beginning, he was cracking jokes about the way we looked, if we were married, and disregarding any sense of personal space. As the sun went down and the alcohol and drug substances increased, the groomsmen became belligerent in their attempts to sexualize and harass the team.
Using my flashlight, I shone it around to see if I could find the source; sure enough, there the groomsmen stood, steps behind me. Picking up the pace, he continued to follow me towards the cars. When he finally managed to catch up to me, he leaned against me.
His speech was slurred, and I spoke authoritatively that he needed to go back to the party. Instead of considering my plight, he placed his body weight onto me. "We should go look at my car," he kept saying.
No matter how many times I told him "NO," he continued to ask and follow me. Eventually, we entered the parking lot. I began to panic and used the only item I had, a flashlight, to start flashing it around into cars and the lot.
Just then, the coordinator who had earlier fallen limped out of the vehicle and loudly asked, "hey Audrey, need help pulling that?" I could hear in her voice that she understood what was happening.
Flashing her taser at the groomsman, he quickly backed away, insisting he was just making sure I got to my car safe. But, of course, that is was no big deal. We were simply overreacting.
As quickly as he had followed behind me, he was gone.
I knew something was off that night. The panic set in when I realized I had no idea where Audrey was. Quickly, I took off to the last areas I knew her to be located. Eventually, we met back up simultaneously near the main hall. One look at her face, and I knew exactly what had occurred.
So why do we tell you this story? Because there is no way to control the guests or the atmosphere. What we can do, as wedding vendors, is take action and know the facts.
Though there is NO EXCUSE for committing an act of sexual or physical violence or harassment, approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have consumed alcohol (Abbeyet al., 2001).
Perpetrators also target individuals who are less likely to report their assault or more minor alleged to be believed (such as someone being paid to provide a service) (PANO, 2009)
Subsequently, this means that perpetrators often go after people who lack "power." Examples include women, people with disabilities, elders, teens, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, and individuals who speak English as a second language (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 2009).
Combine these, and you are looking at why the wedding industry often finds itself in the middle of sexual and physical crimes.
When other vendors in the industry commit sexual or physical assault and harassment, it forces the survivor to choose between their careers and speaking out. In my own story (see below), I reported what had happened to management only after my coworker shared the situation with our manager. Despite the constant remarks to his "creepiness" and "flirtatiousness, my submission deemed narrow results." I was told to be quiet about the subject, as the vendor had close ties to the owner.
Similarly, David from Orion Entertainment had a similar problem with the event faculty not believing his concerns for his safety (read part 1 of his story below).
3 years ago, I showed up for what would be an uneventful Sunday afternoon wedding. The guest list was minimal, and the alcohol light; everything was set for an easy and quick shift.
He showed up a little late, though his entrance was anything but subtle. It was well known that he did his own thing and had little regard for others in the industry. Rolling my eyes, I continued with the tasks ahead. My coworkers found themselves called to other parts of the venue, all of us focused on individual tasks.
It was the quiet that alerted me. I looked up from the design plan to see I was not the only one in front of the large wooden mirror in front of the bar. I attempted to make some small talk. His responses never registered in my mind; he smiled and moved a little closer.
I could feel the front of his button-up shirt against my back. I smiled politely and moved to the side, creating space between us. One of the other coordinators walked into the main hall and discussed a few timeline details with him.
And then it was quiet again. And again, I was not alone in front of the mirror. I knew then that this was not a good situation to be in. "I should go see if there is anything else that needs done at the ceremony area." I moved closer to the bar in front of the mirror, seeking a reprieve from his slow movements closer.
I wish I could remember exactly what was said after that point, but I don't. The words blended as I felt his right hand clasp around my shoulder. His chest was directly against my back now. I laughed at whatever nonsensical comment was spouted off; my focus remained on creating space though there was none to make.
Hands slid down my shoulders to my waist, and I froze. Having experienced sexual abuse and assault as a child and young adult, I felt fear, and all flight instincts left.
"We should go out to my car for a bit." His tone was light and almost comedic. But there was nothing funny about the comment. I knew what was happening, yet my body wouldn't move. Again, I heard myself laugh in an airy and almost inaudible way.
"Hey, do you want…" the person coming around the corner jolted me back into consciousness, and his arms returned to his sides as I managed to skirt around him. I stayed frozen until he left to finish setting up his equipment.
One of my coworkers came around the corner, and I felt myself shaking, working to regain composure. Finally, I heard myself mutter the words, "he touched me."
David's Truth pt. 1
The first time was by a fellow vendor. He was upset that my inflatable Photobooth backdrop had a fan that made a humming noise when it was turned on. I explained to him that it had to stay plugged in, in order to stay inflated. He started to get visibly upset but I held firm, my booth and his were back to back and it in no way impeded his ability to have conversations with potential clients. I knew that because I had to deal with the same ambient sound and it didn’t make it hard to have a conversation at all. He began sabotaging my booth, jamming the curtain in between our booths into the fan intake so that it would start to deflate. It was obvious he was doing it so I told him to stop and he denied it. Finally, when I went back to remove his obstruction he came behind the curtain pushed me down, and called me a “fucking pussy." I went to the owner of the show and told him what happened but he didn’t believe me. I went to the police who were in attendance and had them tell him that if he spoke to me the rest of the show I would have him arrested. That put an end to my being mistreated. Still wish I’d had him dragged out in handcuffs. He should never work on another wedding again.
The perpetrators do not act alone in this rising problem; the individuals who choose to ignore the aid of the report in the continual abuse and silencing culture. The silencing David and I experienced occurs every day to victims within the industry and those outside it. In a career where networking and positive reviews mean business and success, speaking out against another in the industry is risky. Will they turn others against me? What if they sue for defacement? What will others think of me?
The long-term effects of Sexual and Physical violence are many. Three of the most common are Depression, Flashbacks, and Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (read part 2 of David's story below).
David's Truth: pt.2
I was working a wedding and we were already 20 minutes past the contracted end time; the group was heavily intoxicated and very demanding the entire night.
We did everything they’d ask and then some, people were dancing all night and by all accounts it was a successful night and a great party. I announced the last song and informed everyone that it was time to shut things down.
After the end of the last song one of the grooms best friends asked me if I could play one more song. I told him unfortunately we had to wrap things up but he began to escalate. He started to take an aggressive tone and started calling me names, I told him it was unfortunate that after a wonderful evening he had decided to end it this way.
I instructed him that the conversation we were having was over and that if he had anything else to say to me that it would have to come from my clients. He said “I’m gonna beat the living shit out of you” to which I foolishly responded “I dare you” or something like that.
He lunged over the dj booth and started punching me in the head. I took off in the opposite direction and made a break for a storage closet to put separation between us. I was screaming for security, but there was none on the premises. I made it to the closet door, but it did not open.
He grabbed me from behind and started choking me until I couldn’t breathe. He threw me up against the bar and the venue staff had to rip him off of Me. He broke hundreds of glasses in the process. Chaos ensued and the guests forcibly removed him from the premises.
I had to go to the hospital the next day and fortunately while I had some prolonged neck pain I was not seriously injured. The clients begged me not to press charges, and I decided not to. I regret that. They didn’t care about me, only about covering their own asses and protecting their friend. In hindsight I really didn’t get any justice and I hate that.
I still get apprehensive at the end of events, especially with really drunk crowds. I always look for exits and have to be situationally aware. I regret not fighting back. I remember thinking if I just don’t throw a punch I can’t be in the wrong. But when questioned by police I later found out that the client claimed that I “gave it as good as I got” which was not true. I thought video evidence would prove that I did nothing to provoke, but although the incident happened in the view of the cameras at the venue, they were not turned on at the time.
I have flashbacks at events since it happened and it was hard to feel good about doing my favorite thing in the world for a while. He almost took away my ability to make a living and I think that I was lenient because of the fact that I wasn’t seriously injured - but I so easily could have been.
Regardless I wish I had him arrested that night too so that maybe he would think twice about attacking people in the future. I worry sometimes that he will do it to someone else. Everything that night happened so fast and I just wanted to pack up and go home. It’s easy to look back and wish I had responded differently but I was in a complete state of shock, anger and sadness.
I know it wasn’t my fault and that egging him or not probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But now I am even more careful to be extra polite when I am in similar situations.
Many survivors have feelings of sadness, unhappiness, and hopelessness, especially right after the incident. If, however, these feelings persist, it may be an indicator of depression. Depression can lead to a loss of interest and difficulty functioning, which can significantly impact a small business owner.
It is important to remember that depression is not a sign of weakness. A person experiencing depression can not simply turn off the feelings and usually benefits from the help of a professional (RAINN, 2021).
When memories of a past trauma suddenly feel as though they are happening in the present time, a survivor often has a flashback. This means that a survivor may feel as though the sexual or physical attack is happening again and causes them to relive the emotions. During a flashback, it can be challenging to connect with reality. It may even feel like the perpetrator is physically present (RAINN, 2021).
Flashbacks can be triggered by an experience that has similar sensory triggers. RAINN (2021) suggests that during a flashback:
Tell yourself that you are having a flashback;
Return to the present by using the five senses;
Recognize what would make you feel safer.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder resulting from a traumatic event, is not just found amongst military members. The disorder can apply to all survivors of trauma, including sexual violence. Common feelings during PTSD are extreme and include stress, fear, anxiety, and nervousness. People experiencing PTSD can feel as though they are constantly in danger. This makes it difficult to function in everyday life as one can imagine.
RAINN (2021) notes that PTSD symptoms include:
Re-experiencing: feeling like you are reliving the event through flashbacks, dreams, or intrusive thoughts
Avoidance: intentionally or subconsciously changing your behavior to avoid scenarios associated with the event or losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
Hyper-arousal: feeling on edge" all of the time, having difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, or prone to sudden outbursts
Audrey and I are not alone in these experiences.
Sexual and physical violence and harassment are not fun topics and are the last thing on a vendor's mind when meeting with others in the industry."We wanted to know who else has had similar experiences, however.
So we asked the event pros on IG: Have you ever felt in danger while working an event?
We received 140 responses."Of those 140, 71% said yes, they had felt in danger while working an event.
Below are a few short stories that were kindly shared with us about others' experiences.
The reality is that there is not always a way to prevent the instances from happening, but we can protect ourselves from instances of sexual and physical assault and harassment.
Know the facts:
The biggest weapon against any form of violence and abuse is knowledge. Vendors should know the facts, warning signs, resources, and escape routes.
Look into the venue and see if they will have security present- they can walk you to your car and be a resource if trouble breaks out.
If there is no security, form a buddy system with your coworkers.
Have a clause in your contract:
Should an occasion arise, having a clause in your contract regarding your employees' health, safety, and overall well-being will be handy.
The clause will protect you from legality issues should you need to leave or are unable to continue the remaining contract quickly.
Invest in a self-defense keychain/classes and walkie talkies:
Taking a self-defense class is not just for those involved in law and justice; several companies around the PNW offer day camps/multiple classes for companies looking to provide themselves with the techniques for defining one's self against predators.
*Side note-these make AWESOME team bonding experiences
Walkie-talkies are great investments for those in the wedding and event industry." Not only will it save your phone battery, but it is a means of communication in areas with little to no reception.
Self-defense keychains are not just another hot "Fashion" trend; they can save lives.
Cascadia reached out to @Protectedbynancy, aka Self Defense Bee, to purchase a self-defense keychain for each coordinator and intern on the team." The keychains contain pepper spray, 800watt Tazer, a panic alarm, bottle opener, pocket knife, and a cute pom-pom, all on a name-brand lanyard (pictures below).
Be an active bystander:
An active bystander works to interrupt a potentially harmful situation. They may not be directly involved but choose to speak up and intervene (RAINN, 2022).
You can do this by:
creating a distraction
Asking the person at risk if they need assistance
Gather up others who may be able to help
Support the survivor during the aftermath.
The statistics and stories mentioned here barely touch the surface of the sexual and physical harassment and violence within our industry. We implore you to continue this conversation, ask the hard and uncomfortable questions, and remain diligent in learning how to be active bystanders and prevent Harassment and sexual assault in Wedding Industry.
If you or someone you know needs help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
National Center for Victims of Crime
INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse
The Anti-Violence Project
Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN)
Men Stopping Violence
Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, M., & McAuslan, P. (2001). Alcohol and sexual assault. Encyclopedia of Human Relationships, (25), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412958479.n25
Dobrilova, T. (2022, January 4). 15 shocking workplace violence statistics you should know in 2022. TechJury. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://techjury.net/blog/workplace-violence-statistics/#gref
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. (2009). Substance use and sexual violence. Substance use and sexual violence | Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://pcar.org/substance-use-and-sexual-violence
RAINN. (2021). Post-traumatic stress disorder. RAINN. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.rainn.org/articles/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
RAINN. (2022). Depression. RAINN. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.rainn.org/articles/depression
RAINN. (2022). Flashbacks. RAINN. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.rainn.org/articles/flashbacks
RAINN. (2022). Statistics. RAINN. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics