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Pam Frampton: #MeToo, and you and you

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Sexual harassment happens more often than you might think

So maybe it happens like this: you’re at a company party when the boss approaches your table. He’s married and so are you. He sets a glass of wine in front of you and crouches by your chair, putting his arm around you. He says flirtatiously, in a voice loud enough to be heard over the music, “Now I know you’ll save a dance for me.” He winks and walks away. Your face reddens in mortification as eyebrows are raised around the table.

You’ve never given him any indication of being interested, and you aren’t. But you are loath to make a scene.

Instead, you slip out early and spend the following days at work trying to avoid him, feeling sick at the thought he might try something again. Any complaint to human resources will wind up as a he said/she said, and he has all the power.

He’s not worried about witnesses; he knows no one will say a word.


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Or perhaps it went like this: you are at a reception in a big hotel, with multiple functions sharing a common bar in the lobby. A stranger strikes up an interesting conversation about current events as you both wait to be served. “What was that?” he says. “I couldn’t hear you over all the noise. Come over here, where it’s quieter.” You acquiesce out of politeness, moving a few feet away from the bar, and repeat your comment. But suddenly he pushes you behind a pillar and tries to kiss you, forcefully. You shove him away and hurry to the washroom. You don’t know his name or which function he was attending, and you don’t want to track him down and have a public confrontation.

•••

Or maybe you’re a high school student who’s missed the bus and one of your teachers offers to give you a lift home. In the car, he reaches across the expanse of seat and touches your breast. “I’ve been wanting to do that for some time,” he says. Horrified, you squirm out of his reach, press yourself tight against the passenger door and stare out the window, your heart beating like a panicked rabbit. Finally he stops at your house and chuckles as you bolt from the car.

You worry that if you report the incident the next day, the principal will make you repeat the details in the teacher’s presence, you will be ridiculed and word will spread around school. You know it’s not your fault, but the teacher is popular and you fear people will think it was you who made the unwanted advance.

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These scenarios are based on real people’s experiences. In all three cases, the unwanted attention and touching were not reported, and the victims used avoidance to try and cope with the situation. It’s a common response, often mingled with feelings of confusion, fear and misplaced shame.

It’s the kind of behaviour that can occur discreetly or in full view; in many cases the aggressor knows he can count on victims’ — and witnesses’ — sense of shock or embarrassment to keep them from speaking up.

Sometimes it’s easier to look away than to be confrontational, particularly in the workplace where an imbalance of power can tip the scales in favour of the other person.

And that can put pressure on the victim, rather than squarely on the perpetrator, where it belongs.

He’s not worried about witnesses; he knows no one will say a word.

Talk to any woman you know and she’ll have several people in her circle who have been on the receiving end of inappropriate sexual comments, groping, molestation, even rape.

It’s a disturbing reality for many women and girls.

But there’s a glimmer of hope for change now that so many people are speaking out in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment/assault levelled at Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This past weekend, on social media with the #MeToo Twitter conversation, and in mainstream media, we heard from many women — and some men — who experienced unwanted sexual advances in a range of settings, from remote northern work camps to cruise ships to hospitals, schools and social venues.

Given the news coverage of the Weinstein scandal and the amount of discussion it’s prompting, men might feel like they’re all being painted as lascivious predators, but we all know decent men who would never behave that way or want their loved ones to be on the receiving end of such behaviour.

Boys and men can be victims, too. They also need to educate themselves on lines that should not be crossed.

Just as flames feed on oxygen, sexual violence thrives on secrecy.

So I’m glad if the cone of silence protecting predators is finally being shattered.

Let’s keep hearing from victims able to share their experiences about how prevalent this is — with the understanding that not everyone wants to talk about something so painful. And let’s hear from others who find this behaviour abhorrent.

Sexual predation and coercion are socially unacceptable, and the only people who should feel any shame about it are the people carrying it out.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

 

 

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