It’s been a crazy week, starting with Bill Cosby being sentenced for sexual assault and ending with the hearings on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Watching Christine Blasey Ford testify at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, it seems like we are still trying to figure out when to believe women when they share their stories.
As #MeToo makes way for #WhyIDidn’tReport on social media, women continue to recount the indifference they face when reporting sexual assault and harassing behavior. With the deluge of articles coming out attempting to explain why so much inappropriate behavior goes unchecked, it seemed like as good a time as ever to share about Infinite Body Piercing’s new sexual harassment policy, one that we adopted several months ago.
We work hard to create a safe space for our clients. The services we offer can be (literally) transformative. People come to us to make themselves into something they weren’t before, and we insist on an environment where our clients feel safe to explore themselves and their identity—wherever it may take them.
This extends to the work environment for employees as well. Each of the staff members at the studio has been through this transformation. They know how powerful it can be, and how harshly they have been—especially the women—judged for taking control of their bodies. We have a space where they feel free to be themselves—and this, in turn, helps them to welcome clients into a space that is safe and free of judgement.
One of the main motivations for opening the studio was to create an environment that I would want to work in. We have a zero tolerance for any sort of harassment from coworkers, and we also work to shield the staff from harassment from clients as well.
I was recently inspired by this article, written by a chef and owner of a restaurant in Oakland, California who realized she had a problem with clients taking liberties with the waitstaff and wanted to do something about it. What she found most distressing was not the harassment, but that there was a disconnect between the front-of-house servers (mostly female) and the management (mostly male) on the severity each issue, and this resulted in problems with quickly and effectively dealing with problematic clients. To help with this, she developed a shorthand for her staff to alert management that something was going on:
“We decided on a color-coded system in which different types of customer behavior are categorized as yellow, orange or red. Yellow refers to a creepy vibe or unsavory look. Orange means comments with sexual undertones, such as certain compliments on a worker’s appearance. Red signals overtly sexual comments or touching, or repeated incidents in the orange category after being told the comments were unwelcome.
“When a staff member has a harassment problem, they report the color—“I have an orange at table five”—and the manager is required to take a specific action. If red is reported, the customer is ejected from the restaurant. Orange means the manager takes over the table. With a yellow, the manager must take over the table if the staff member chooses. In all cases, the manager’s response is automatic, no questions asked.”
We have a wonderfully diverse staff at Infinite. Of the dozen employees currently employed here, over half are women. But we do have a similar situation that the restaurant reported: our front-end counterstaff is mostly women, and our piercing staff skews toward being more men. With this, I felt our studio would benefit from a policy similar to what was outlined in the article.
To be clear: the overwhelming majority of our clients are wonderful. We wouldn’t do what we do if we didn’t get to interact with amazing people all day, and help many of them on what is an amazing journey of self-discovery. But unfortunately, our space is not free from harassing behavior. If you haven’t worked in a piercing studio, you may not have had the pleasure of the question, “What do you have pierced?” followed by the full-body gaze that attempts to undress you. Many tattooed women know the experience of having someone grab your arm to get a “closer look” at your tattoos, or even start to lift your shirt to get an “innocent” peak. And this experience is not limited to the women out front; all of our staff across all genders (myself included) have found themselves in a room with a client when their behavior becomes decidedly inappropriate. The problem is not that women get the brunt of the harassment—which they most certainly do—but that they are usually more hesitant to take action to call out harassing behavior because of a lack of support from those around them.
With this in mind, we introduced our own color-coded system, aimed at what the Infinite staff experiences:
This means staff are getting a creepy vibe or unsavory look. A “code yellow” alerts coworkers that they may be dealing with a difficult client. Counterstaff may choose to continue to work with the customer, or may pass them off to another employee.
A code orange is when an employee is on the receiving end of comments with sexual undertones, such as certain compliments about appearance or inappropriate questions. Staff is encouraged to tell a coworker (preferably a piercer, if possible) and then should pass off the client to another staff member. If the customer is getting a service, piercers should then be alerted that they may be dealing with a problematic client.
A code red is when a client continues with overtly sexual comments or touching, or repeated incidents in the orange category after being told the comments were unwelcome. In a code-red situation, the staff member is encouraged to remove themselves from the situation after turning over the client to a piercer. This may include a break in the office, or a walk outside while the client is being dealt with.
When we first announced this policy at a staff meeting, it was enthusiastically received, and the meeting ended with much of the staff recounting numerous incidents where they were on the receiving end of harassing behavior. And that was really the point: to create a space where people feel safe to share their stories, among coworkers who believe them.
While we may feel helpless at how things are playing out on a national level, with the quintessential ‘80s sitcom dad now in jail for sexual assault, an admitted sexual harasser in the White House, and a supreme court justice on the verge of being successfully appointed despite a history of sexual assault allegations. We’re starting where we work, working hard to create a safe space for not only our clients but for our own staff as well.