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Why I refuse to accept sexual harassment as an occupational hazard

Last Updated Jan 23, 2020 at 5:08 pm EDT

A man yells a profanity at CityNews reporter Ginella Massa during a live report.

As a reporter, I’m used to having laser focus. It’s my job to drown out the distractions.

When the camera light goes on, it can be like moths to a flame – people waving into the lens, yelling “Hi, Mom!” hoping to get their 15 seconds of fame. It comes with the territory and it’s our job to drown out the distractions and report the news.

So when a man yelled a profanity behind me during my live hit at Yonge-Dundas Square on Wednesday, I didn’t bat an eye, staring straight down the camera, continuing my report. But inside, I was fuming.

“Suck my d—!” he had yelled.

I was upset. Not only because he had disrupted my work, but also because he was a shining example of exactly the problem I happened to be reporting on in the moment.

My story that day was about alleged sexual assaults on the TTC. A viral social media post had led some to identify the male suspect as a part-time instructor at York University, connecting him to more alleged incidents.

The allegations prompted the school to pull him from classes and Toronto police launched an investigation.

In that moment, all I could think about was the young woman in my story who had described how paralyzed she had felt when she said a man intentionally touched her breast while sitting next to her on a subway car.

A man had brazenly violated her (and other women, according to allegations) in the middle of the afternoon, in a public space, and she, in turn, was stunned into silence.

Unable to react, she left the disturbing incident feeling guilty and ashamed, even though she had done nothing wrong. It’s the most common response, according to experts. Men who perpetrate sexual violence count on women being too embarrassed to speak up and call it out.

A strange man had the audacity to direct a sexually-charged comment in my direction, in a public space, on live television.

It was purely for his entertainment, and meant to make me feel uncomfortable.

But the last thing I wanted to be was a silent victim to his disgusting behaviour. It took everything in me not to turn around and read him the riot act.

Instead, I maintained my composure and finished my report because I had an important story to tell. But make no mistake, I firmly believe what he did was not a joke to be brushed off – it was sexual harassment, and it needed to be called out.

When my live hit was over, I turned around in the hopes of getting my chance to tell him off, but he was long gone. So instead, I posted the clip to Twitter. It wasn’t about trying to get him identified so he would lose his job, but rather to say this is not the kind of behaviour I should just accept as an occupational hazard.

The reactions have been overwhelmingly supportive, with men and women alike condemning his actions. I’m glad to say that we’re finally starting to make less excuses for misogynistic behaviour. For every incident of sexual misconduct that happens in public, I can only imagine how many more have happened behind closed doors.

I’m fortunate enough to have a platform when I can speak openly about my experiences and be heard. Many women aren’t so lucky.

I sincerely hope we can continue toward creating more space for women to speak up when it happens to them.

 

If you are a victim/survivor of sexual assault or harassment, Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital offers resources for those looking for help.