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'It only takes one person': Advocate hopes movement against harassment continues to grow
A hashtag on Twitter is sparking conversations across the globe and here at home on sexual harassment and assault.
In mid-October, the words “Me Too” went viral, prompting many victims to share experiences of sexual harassment and assault, or share messages of solidarity.
It’s the kind of dialogue advocate and former RCMP officer Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk has long been encouraging.
“Having the conversation brings in the people who have suffered from before. They may never say anything, but at least they’re acknowledged,” Benson-Podolchuk said.
“And the people of today are acknowledged. And there will be people of tomorrow.”
Retiring from the force after 20 years, Benson-Podolchuk has spoken out about the sexual harassment and bullying she experienced for the majority of her career, even writing a book that chronicled her fight for better treatment in the workplace.
From the very beginning of her career coworkers degraded her with lewd nicknames, but Benson-Podolchuk said she was told to “enjoy the attention” when she tried to raise the matter with superiors.
Those nicknames followed her to different detachments, and there were also incidents that escalated to violence.
“This one particular day I came to work and they had loosened the screws on the bathroom door. So it fell on my face and gave me a concussion and knocked me out and split my forehead,” Benson-Podolchuk said.
“When I returned to work, someone had put dead prairie chickens in my gun locker.”
She eventually sued the RCMP, and settled out of court in 2009.
Now, Benson-Podolchuk spends her days working as a consultant, in hopes of making workplaces safer and healthier for employees and victims.
“It only takes one person to say ‘hey don’t say that, it’s not appropriate. If you say that again, you’re out of here,’” Benson-Podolchuk said.
Barbara Bowes, a human resources consultant with the Legacy Bowes Group, regularly investigates incidents in places of business, including sexual harassment complaints.
Bowes told CTV News that the spectrum of sexual harassment is broad.
“From jokes, innuendos, to physical behavior. And it’s perception on the individual’s part: ‘I have heard or seen; you came and touched me in such a way that it made me feel uncomfortable.’”
Be it a large business or small, Bowes said it’s crucial that companies and employers have written policies to deal with sexual harassment complaints.
“And you need to have a complaint process within that policy,” said Bowes.
“You need to train employees so that they know what their rights are within the organization, and you need to train managers so they know how to apply the policy.”
Documentation is another important step of the process; Bowes said those making complaints should ideally document the harassment and seek witnesses if possible.
If an employer fails to deal with a sexual harassment complaint, reports can also be filed with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Benson-Podolchuk told CTV News she hopes the conversations around sexual harassment will continue in all industries and professions.
“And with time that will change attitudes,” Benson-Podolchuk said.
“There will always be people who will think they have the right to call you things, to touch your body. But we can make it very uncomfortable for them. It only takes one person.”