Weinsteins, Polanskis and Berlusconis Are Everywhere – Workplace Sexual Harassment


I wasn’t born when Anita Hill sat before an American Senate panel to accuse her former employer and detail the lurid sexual harassment charges that would transfix a nation and resonate in women around the world. 26 years later, I’m sitting here, listening to Anita’s testimony for the first time and it feels as though we’ve been going in circles. Listening to her testimony (almost three decades old now), I feel the same way I did while listening to one of my friends, who lived a similar situation just a few months ago.

“I was used to how the guys act…” she begins. And I can already feel my stomach churn.

“But I would have never imagined going through that kind of situations, to that extent, and in the workplace.” She describes how she was sexually harassed, months ago, when her manager at the time asked for a one on one meeting in his office. He had promised to “help her advance her career” because she was doing such a good job on a project.

“He instantly complimented me on my outfit as I walked the door and quickly began turning the professional conversation into a more personal discussion,” she says. She tried to change the topic of their discussion when he suggested that they meet after work hours. She explains that she told him she preferred not to date a colleague or a supervisor. But he persisted.

At some point, he came from across his desk, sat beside her and put his hand on her leg. “I didn’t want to show him that I was petrified. I said I had to go to the bathroom. He deflected and told me how pleasant it was for a man to see a beautiful girl blush.”

“You’d think I would have jumped on my feet, pushed him and slammed the door but all I could do was awkwardly smiling, staring at my feet,” she goes on, almost mad at herself.

“It took all my courage – but I reported it,” she says.

After she reported the dreaded incident, the Human Resources office called in the manager. They gave him a warning. They gave her a raise. “I resigned after two weeks. He’s still working there,” she relates.

Facing the Facts

In 2014 Canada, people were just as likely to be sexually assaulted as they were in 2004 and just as unlikely to report the incident to police, according to a report from Statistics Canada on self-reported sexual assaults. Are we, indeed, going around in circles?

In fact, sexism in the workplace is a complicated, subtle and tenacious evil. Most companies have sexual harassment policies but most of the time, incidents go unreported or are poorly handled. Sexism interferes with the employees’ ability to get work done and jeopardizes their mental health.

When inappropriate behaviour is noticed, colleagues (men or women) have a responsibility to raise the issue. Bear in mind that sexual harassment ranges from verbal to physical. It’s proof of discrimination and violence and should be treated for what it is: an unacceptable and unlawful behaviour.

“It has been 26 years since a public conversation on sexual harassment began following my testimony,” Anita Hills recently commented. “Despite a generation growing up hearing that sexual harassment is unacceptable, it clearly remains a plague.”

So, as everyone is talking about the Harvey Weinstein outrage, we need to step back and speak about it for what it is: not a Hollywood scandal but another report of workplace sexual harassment and assault.

Why? Because over a quarter of Canadians are sexually harassed in the workplace (men and women). Yet, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes. Because recognizing it for what it is, a societal problem, and not another Hollywood scandal, is saying that you don’t need to be a Gwyneth Paltrow or a Rosanna Arquette to speak up, take action and make behaviours change.