Sexual Harassment Awareness Week

Have you experienced any of the following types of gender based harassment or violence at work or at OSSTF/FEESO activities or events?

  • Insulting, offensive or degrading words or remarks about your gender or sexual orientation
  • Comments or gestures about your body or physical characteristics based on your gender
  • Someone trying to draw you into a discussion of sexual matters even though you didn’t want to participate
  • Hitting, physical assault or being forced to commit a sexual act
  • Pictures, cartoons, videos or graffiti with sexual content you considered embarrassing or upsetting
  • The spreading of lies, rumours or gossip of a sexual nature about you, or threats to do so, using social media or other methods
  • Attempts to establish physical intimacy or a sexual relationship despite your efforts to discourage it
  • Unwanted proposals for a date, drink or dinner despite your efforts to discourage it

Unfortunately, some of our members have experienced these types of gender-based harassment. It is never okay. We must all work to understand what constitutes harassment and how we can make our workplaces and union environments safer for all our members.

Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, June 1—7, provides us all with a reminder and an opportunity to continue to work towards creating a work and union environment where people feel safe and supported. It serves to spark conversation that helps us understand harassment is harmful and what we can do to help put a stop to it. Sexual harassment includes many behaviours which, in the past, were often considered normal within our culture. Thankfully, our understanding of normal has evolved and changed. Our Federation recently adopted a policy stating that OSSTF/FEESO supports a culture of consent.

In accordance with the 2017—2018 Annual Action Plan, a membership poll examining workplace sexual violence, assault and harassment was conducted. This consisted of an invitational online survey of a random sample of members, conducted between May 8 to June 15, 2018. The response was greater than it had been in similar studies conducted by OSSTF/FEESO in the past, and the survey results do not vary by more than 2.26 percentage points in either direction from results that would have been obtained by interviewing all OSSTF/FEESO members. The survey found that 19% of OSSTF/FEESO members reported being the target of harassment over the twelve months leading up to the survey. Out of 66,734 Federation members, this statistic represents 12, 679 people.

Members reported that most of the gender-based harassment or violence they experienced occurred in the workplace and not at Federation events or activities, and that the most common types of harassment were verbal or language-based offences. Women were twice as likely as men to experience and report these kinds of gender violence, although transgender, intersexed or other gender members experienced twice as much violence as women and three times as much as men. Members who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or two-spirited are almost twice as likely as straight members to experience harassment. Members report that men commit most of the offences and co-workers are the main offenders.

Sadly, the most common type of harassment cited, verbal or language based abuse, was reported the least often and many instances were not reported at all. The survey showed that members were more likely to report the serious types of harassment. The main reason members gave for not reporting is the fear of reprisals or punishment. This is quite concerning because, as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says, “rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks…scowling, sneering or using abusive language” can be warning signs that “a person may be becoming violent.”

Lastly, it is important to note that the survey results clearly show that reporting incidents gets results. Members said that steps were taken and problems were resolved when they spoke out. As members, we need to speak up if we witness sexual harassment. At AMPA 2018, The Status of Women Committee was successful in moving a motion asking OSSTF/FEESO to create a Bystander Intervention workshop to help members learn how to intervene in these situations. Bystander intervention is key to preventing sexual harassment.

There is hope. Despite the harassment reported by members in the survey, only one in seven members thinks that sexual harassment is a serious problem in their workplace. These survey results help us to better understand the nature of the harassment that occurs, where it happens, and who is most affected. With this understanding, we can continue to work together to make our workplaces and our union events safer for everyone.

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