Breaking the silence on sexual harassment

Josh Pennell
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A crowd of voices came together at the City Hall steps in St. John’s Saturday to speak out on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The gathering was organized by the feminist collective SPAAT (Smash the Patriarchy: An Action Team) although several people from various groups and backgrounds gave short talks to the 50 or so people who gathered.



Spaniard's Bay in dire straits following mass resignation

Spaniard's Bay council meets with Municipal Affairs

“This is not a small-town issue and it’s not a Newfoundland issue,” SPAAT member Carmella Gray-Cosgrove said speaking to media afterwards.

Although an ever-present issue, this particular rally against sexual harassment in the workplace was sparked by complaints of behaviour that Spaniard’s Bay firefighter Brenda Seymour brought to the public eye recently. Seymour’s experiences were really just a conduit to draw attention to the larger problem that speakers at the gathering said exists across the country in all types of environments.

Renee Sharpe spoke to the group of her own exposure to harassment. A welder, Sharpe told how she was subjected to such behaviour while in school and on the job. She said part of the reason it’s still happening to so many people is because of  those experiencing it are shot down and shut up. That creates the silence barrier.

“We’re really shot down. We’re squished down. We’re really encouraged to not speak about our experience because people don’t want to change their behaviour,” said Sharpe.

We’re really shot down. We’re squished down. We’re really encouraged to not speak about our experience because people don’t want to change their behaviour. Renee Sharpe

“It definitely did shut me up. It definitely did push me out in some ways.”

Break the silence and you break the pattern of tolerance for such behaviour was one message spoken loud and clear at the rally. There’s also the belief that somebody going through such an ordeal won’t feel alone when it is an open topic for conversation.

“It’s like an unspoken permission when government (or) when companies and corporations aren’t speaking out against this,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe found support and went on to finish her welding education and training and she works in the field today.

While she says she has seen improvements in groups and companies who won’t tolerate such behaviour, sexual harassment is still prevalent.

Another SPAAT representative, Nicole Boggan, pointed out that part of what can make it so difficult to address or approach people about is it’s not a comic strip, with good guys on one side and bad on the other. People who act inappropriately towards someone in the workplace or in another environment can be people who have otherwise won our affection.

“We really need to face the reality that (sometimes) these are people we love,” Boggan said.

Separating the parts of such deep-rooted cultural behaviour is a daunting task, but several people pointed out that Seymour managed to bring national attention to the topic.

Every incident that gets talked about adds a voice to breaking the silence, they say.



Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • roy206
    February 01, 2016 - 08:23

    Hey folks....This is not a 35 year program of sexual abuse at Mount Cashel...It is a joke gone bad.....

    • AB
      February 01, 2016 - 10:43

      The fact that 35 years of abuse went by and yet harassment is STILL an issue shows that this is a much greater problem than just a "joke gone bad."

  • Randy
    February 01, 2016 - 07:15

    Because the allegations took place out in Spaniard’s Bay, it only makes sense to have a protest in St. John's? Only in Newfoundland

    • je
      February 01, 2016 - 08:29

      The article describes it as a rally, not a protest, and it wasn't just about Spaniards Bay.

    • AB
      February 01, 2016 - 10:41

      There's a photo front and center of a sign saying "Not just Spaniard's Bay. Harassment happens every day." Get a clue b'y, nothing wrong with showing support to a whole province/country/planet ripe with harassment.

    • Debbie
      February 01, 2016 - 10:45

      Support rallies can take place anywhere there are people who want to rally & support, and this happens all the time, everywhere.

  • That Group
    January 31, 2016 - 22:29

    That group IS sexist. Smash the patriarchy assumes that only women can be victims of sexual harassment. That's sexist and a complete lie.

    • Yeah no
      February 01, 2016 - 08:15

      Read the article again and tell me where any member of the group says only women can be victims of sexual harassment. Show me an instance in this article where they even reference women as opposed to people in general as victims. But even so, that doesn't mean the patriarchy doesn't exist. It does.

    • spi
      February 01, 2016 - 08:34

      I don't see them saying that anywhere.

    • Debbie
      February 01, 2016 - 10:42

      The patriarchy hurts both men and women, which is why they want to smash it. From their FB page: "We use art & activism to create a safer space for those who feel harassed, exploited, or ignored in St. John’s because of their race, genders, sexualities, & bodies." It says nothing about it being only about women. That was your assumption.

    • AB
      February 01, 2016 - 10:45

      Nowhere is that implied. However, the group is made up of women fighting for women's rights. That doesn't mean they disregard sexual harassment against males, just that their primary focus is women, because let's be honest, they're the victim of the vast majority of harassment cases. If you're so worried about male victims, start your own group.

    • Wut?
      February 01, 2016 - 10:52

      Haha, seeing as there are plenty of men who are members of SPAAT..... Not even going to start to discuss how systemic forms of oppression such as sexism or racism can't actually be perpetrated against dominant groups, because obv you don't get it.