Less than a week after The New York Times published a scathing expose, revealing stories of alleged sexual assault at the hands of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the allegations continue to mount. But for one Toronto woman, the story was all too familiar and she decided to share her experience of workplace sexual harassment on Twitter.
“Seeing the familiarity, the parallels, the abuse of power, using his body to trap you, is not only a sad and unfortunate parallel, but translates to every sexism as well,” Anne T. Donahue told CityNews in a phone interview Wednesday about why she shared her story.
The online reaction was instant, with thousands of women tweeting Donahue their stories of sexual harassment.
“Things like workplace verbal harassment, casual sexism, there’s been full on sexual assault stories,” she says. “To me, the takeaway is: if we can continue to create space where people feel comfortable sharing and feel supported, there’s power in numbers.”
Deepa Mathoo, with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which serves women who experience various forms of violence, says it’s not uncommon for victims to feel afraid of reporting sexual violence in the workplace.
“It can feel very daunting and intimidating to speak up against superiors because you know it can have an adversarial impact on your income and that sometimes is the life source for people,” she says, explaining that that is often what perpetrators hope for. “Power and control definitely breeds the right kind of situation for people to abuse their power, and control people who are vulnerable.”
That’s why Mathoo says it’s important for colleagues to be good bystanders and support women who may be on the receiving end of sexual harassment.
“You could have anyone and anyone in the workplace be a bystander and play a role,” she says. “It could be right from Human Resources, to a supervisor, to a colleague or someone who works with you who has seen it.”
Humberto Carolo with White Ribbon, an organization that works with men to end violence against women, says part of being a good ally is calling the behaviour out when it’s happening.
“Ask them, ‘what do you mean by that comment?’ Or, ‘I don’t understand that joke, can you explain that to me?'”
“You can say, ‘that’s not cool, that’s disrespectful.’ And if you’re a manager you can say, ‘That’s not welcome in the workplace.'”
Humberto says some often feel it’s not their place to intervene in personal relationships, or may fear for their safety in a dangerous situation, but he says there is never a reason to be silent.
“You can speak with the person who has experienced the incident and say, ‘are you OK, you didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and is there anything I can do to support you?'”