The recent stories on sexual harassment have provided
reasons for reflection by many people. It caused those in influential positions to think
twice about 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 speak out when being sexually violated and gain basic human rights.
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
Although it has been many months since the revelations
that came in daily with 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 women who have 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.
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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 bodily 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 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 violence come from those who believe that sexual violence 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 a prime factor to recent talk about sexual violence because
with more people talking about the problem, we can hope that society is heading
to a “new normal.” So instead of supporting attorneys 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 a thorough process of change requires strength, resolution
and understanding, that we’re all not the most perfect 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.