It’s never okay: So what can you do?

How many times have you overheard or made a joke with misogynist undertones, watched a colleague fail to respect someone else’s physical boundaries, or observed a student wearing an offensive t-shirt? Have you ever felt uncomfortable with the behaviour of a colleague or superior, or even a friend? These kinds of incidents may seem small in isolation, but can be seen as part of a spectrum of indignities, from catcalls to rape, that make up sexual violence.

In this year’s Annual Action Plan, adopted at AMPA 2017, as part of an ongoing focus on workplace violence, OSSTF/FEESO identified the need to survey our members to understand the extent of sexual violence, assault, and harassment they face. Data from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) indicates that workplace sexual violence is experienced by many union members, and anecdotal evidence shared with members of the OSSTF/FEESO Status of Women Committee suggests that even our own events may not be immune from sexual violence, assault, and harassment. If we want to work to make our Federation events safer for everyone, we need to understand the nature of the sexual violence and harassment faced by members, in order to inform our practices moving forward.

Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, June 1–7, was first observed by the government of Ontario in 2007, and provides an opportunity for educators, leaders and employers to shift the conversation around sexual harassment, to create environments where people feel safe and supported, to build an understanding of why harassment is harmful, and to start a meaningful dialogue about what we can do to stop it. In light of “It’s Never Okay,” the Ontario government’s plan to address sexual violence and harassment, and because of the increasing public attention to sexual harassment in the form of some high-profile cases, we think now is the time to have these challenging conversations.

Bystander intervention is the only way that sexual harassment can be stopped when and where it happens. Those who benefit from the safety of privilege in any given situation must use this safety to help make our spaces safe for everyone. So: call out the inappropriate joke, stand between the colleague and the target of their attention, or speak with students about making wise clothing choices. Role-playing with students is just one way that we can all learn to be more comfortable with making things uncomfortable when it comes to witnessing sexual harassment. It is never okay, and it’s up to us to call it out and make it awkward, for the safety of our students and colleagues.

/Lauren Simmons is the chair of Provincial Status of Women Committee.

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