The recent stories about sexual harassment have provided reasons for reflection by many people. It has caused those in influential positions to reflect on how they treat others in the workplace. Most importantly, it has empowered many people, particularly women, to feel confident knowing they have the right to live free from harassment and speak out when being sexually violated. Recent studies conducted by Statistics Canada displayed that as much as one in three women are affected by sexual violence in Canada and it also confirms that 43% of women have been sexually harassed in their workplace (Canadian’s Women Foundation, n.d.).
Although it has been many months since the revelations that came in daily in wake of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood stars, they are still sparking conversations today. In addition, it may perhaps sparked a cultural shift regarding sexual violence and hopefully into Canadian workplaces as well. Women were more than twice as likely as men to say they had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at work (Canadian’s Women Foundation, n.d.). This new wave of action against dominant, predatory figures in Hollywood is a crucial step in addressing the prevalence of sexual assault. It’s good that dozens of female public figures are publicly coming out about Harvey Weinstein’s deliberate acts, but since most women who come forward about sexual assault are often discredited, blamed, socially ostracized, or faced with retaliation, resulting in frightened victims. In fact, only 5% of sexual assaults were reported to the police in 2014 (Canadian’s Women Foundation, n.d.). This is because most of the victims don’t have a million-dollar safety net to fall back on and that’s why a change is needed to the Canadian criminal justice system.
Workplace sexual harassment was defined by the Supreme Court of Canada as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of the harassment” (Lublin, 2017). This is a rather broad definition of workplace sexual harassment. Any unwanted sexual behaviour should be considered as sexual violence. A survivor could be severely affected by all forms of sexual violence, including unwanted fondling, rubbing, kissing, or other sexual acts. There are also many forms of sexual violence that involve no physical contact, such as stalking or distributing intimate visual recordings (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2017).
All of these acts are serious and can be damaging. In a Global/Ipsos Reid poll, the most common reason women provided for not reporting a sexual assault to the police was due to feeling young and powerless (56%) (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2016). Forty per cent of respondents said they stayed silent because of the shame they felt and 29% placed the blame on themselves for the assault (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2016). Others worried that reporting would bring dishonour to their families, feared retaliation from their attacker, or had no faith in the criminal justice system (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2016).
Society’s understanding of sexual violence can be influenced by misinterpretations and false beliefs. Thus separating myths from facts is also critical to stopping sexual violence. One of the most thought of myths of sexual assault come from those who believe that sexual assault is most often committed by strangers – but a recent study disproves that. The latest findings by Statistics Canada demonstrate that based on the majority of sexual assaults that were laid by the police; about 87% of victims knew their assailant most commonly as a casual acquaintance, a family member, or an intimate partner (Rotenberg, 2017).
The backlash on Harvey Weinstein rose men, and in addition to women, to speak up about sexual violence in their workplace. This is important because with more people talking about the problem, we can hope that society is heading to a “new normal.” So instead of supporting lawyers who work to silence victims, workplaces should try evolving the culture from a patriarchal system of entitlement to one where victims never have to be afraid. Although there are still people who disagree that sexual violence is occurring in their work place, we should not omit that real change requires strength, determination and understanding, that we’re all flawed individuals who must and can grow. Without that, the alternative is a toxic and divisive future.
To conclude this, it is advised you have conversations about sexual violence with your friends, family, and acquaintances. In order to have a net positive effect on our society, we need to change society’s perspective on sexual violence and continue conversations that lead to change.