Professional Conduct

In our ongoing series on quality and risk management issues we try provide information that can minimise the risks to divers and make diving as safe as possible. Safety includes not just physical safety but also emotional and mental safety. One such risk of emotional and physical harm is that of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Sadly in all industries there are some people that will take advantage of the situation to assault or harass others. Indeed there are some well-published recent cases of sexual harassment and assault involving well-known sports stars, business people, politicians, and actors.

PADI professionals are widely known for their empathy, commitment to diver safety and high degree of professionalism. The diving industry, however, is not immune to these issues. Though these behaviours are thankfully rare, they can occur. It is a responsibility of all members within the industry to do whatever we can to prevent this behaviour and if we witness it to take appropriate action.

It is every PADI member’s responsibility to ensure a safe environment for diving. PADI standards also require that we:

“Treat student divers and all those involved in dive activities with respect, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, disability or sexual orientation” Page 11 Commitment to excellence.

The PADI Training Bulletin from the fourth quarter 2015 addressed this area of concern in respect of customers and student divers. The bulletin offers excellent guidance for PADI members about professional behaviour, responsibilities, physical contact, respectful communication and harassment policies. The article also addresses the store’s responsibility and way to have good policies in place to both prevent and respond to these problems.

What is sexual harassment?

One definition is behaviour characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation

This behaviour can range from inappropriate sexually themed comments, ‘jokes’, asking people personal information and persistent unsolicited advances. 

What is sexual assault?

 “Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour including physical contact and threats”

While it is rare that a complaint is made it only takes a quick search on line to find stories of both divers and dive professionals being harassed. Survivors of this type of behaviour comment that they were shocked and extremely scared because they felt their lives at risk. Some felt unable to take assertive action because being underwater they felt their personal safety was at risk.

Sometimes sexual assault occurs when divers are underwater in a vulnerable position. When this occurs underwater the person subjected to the behaviour can feel powerless and fearful. This can result in panicked ascents, breath hold ascents and serious physical injury not to mention the emotional impact of the event.

Responding to complaints:

  • Investigate, take the complaints seriously and do not minimise the event.
  • Seek advice (including legal advice) if you are unsure of how to handle the complaint.
  • Report it to PADI Quality Management at qa@padi.com.au.
  • Reporting an assault to the police or other relevant authorities is a way to try to prevent the behaviour from continuing. In many cases complainants choose not to report what happened to them for fear of repercussion and retaliation.
  • Call the behaviour out – Let colleagues and staff know that the behaviour is not OK

How to prevent the behaviour from occurring:

One way to prevent harassment is to create a culture in which everyone is treated equally. By minimising the sexism (intentional or not) in a dive operation we can create an environment in which everyone thrives.

Positive steps you could take:

  • Have policies that address how you will respond to complaints.
  • Be mindful of how you introduce your colleagues – use their name and don’t objectify them.
  • Don’t make comments on people’s bodies, how they look, or their personal life.
  • Provide privacy when people are getting changed.
  • When addressing each other use names – rather than descriptions “young lady” “big guy”.
  • Role model the right behaviours at the workplace.
  • Treat staff equally and with respect.
  • Support women diving – Have a PADI Women’s Dive Day event – what better way to show customers and staff that you support women diving.
  • Take down the posters of scantily clad women and men. Objectifying people in advertising does not support a fair and equal workplace.

By taking these steps you will encourage your staff and customers into a positive environment in which everyone is respected. Let’s keep diving safe for all divers!

You can learn more about this topic through the many resources available in your community. If you or someone you know has been the subject of unwanted sexual contact or harassment reach out to support services in your region. If you wish to report such behaviour to PADI please contact the Quality Management department at qa@padi.com.au.

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