#MeToo: Women in the newsroom and the community share their stories

 

#MeToo is more than a hashtag.

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The social media campaign unifying victims of sexual abuse and harassment is the beginning of a longer conversation. It’s a movement, a call for action, an opportunity to speak up, to stand up to harassment, to change behaviour.

On Sunday night, in the wake of the revelations about Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein, American actor Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”

It was her way of shining a light on the magnitude of the problem.

Since then, millions of women and men have shared their stories online and relived painful personal traumas. Some simply posted the words #MeToo.

The stories revealed that the perpetrators of the abuse were boyfriends, friends, family members, colleagues and peers.

Celebrities are not the only ones experiencing the problem. Sexual abuse, harassment and unwanted physical attention happen every day in our community to people we know and love.

Today, the Times Colonist starts to explore this issue, with stories from women in our newsroom and in the community at large. Their stories are below.

Warning: Some of their stories contain explicit language, reflecting the seriousness of the issue.

Over the next few days, we would like to publish stories from our readers.

If you have experienced sexual abuse or harassment, and are willing to write about it, please let us know.

Submissions can be up to 200 words and can be anonymous — let us know if you don’t want your name published. However, please include your name and contact information for verification.

Send your stories by email to localnews@timescolonist.com, and include the words “Me Too” in the subject line.

 

Lisa Helps

It was the summer after Grade 8. That summer, my friends and I had taken to setting up a tent in my backyard and camping out there. Kind of a suburban kids’ adventure right at home. I also had

a boyfriend that summer. A bit of a rough- and-tumble guy, but I liked him.

One night, when three of us were camped out in the backyard, he came by in the middle of the night. We were still awake talking, of course — we were teenage girls. He came into the tent and my two friends quickly acted like they were asleep.

We began kissing and that felt nice — it’s as far as we’d gone, as far as I’d gone with anyone. I was only 14, after all. Then all of a sudden he had his hand down my pants and his fingers inside of me.

I said: “Stop, that hurts.”

He didn’t.

Then very shortly after I said: “I have to pee.”

That worked.

I went inside, used the washroom, and tied the drawstring of my pyjama pants as tightly as I could, asserting my “no” as physically as possible.

Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria

 

Judith Sayers

From the time I began my career in law, business and politics, I have been one of

a few women in a world of men. That is

an ideal setting for sexual harassment.

Many incidents have occurred throughout my career. I worked hard to avoid situations I did not have to be in, such as events with alcohol that can fuel male violence. I also regularly had to ask friends and colleagues to save me from unwanted sexual advances.

I remember starting any relationship with a warning: If you ever hit me, we are through. I would wonder why it was that had to be said — was this normal?

As I look back over the years, I have blocked many of those incidents from my mind as a way to cope and forget so I can continue my work in a world where the majority is still men. It has been a form of survival.

#MeToo is a reality for me and many other women and girls. That must change.

Kekinusuqs, Judith Sayers, is the former elected chief of the Hupacsath First Nation and an adjunct professor of business at the University of Victoria

 

Pat Carney

I have spent my entire career working in a “man’s world,” usually as the only woman. As a business journalist in the 1960s, I travelled the B.C. coast and high Arctic islands, reporting on forestry and the northern oil and gas play in an all-male world without fear of sexual harassment.

But as a businesswoman running an economic consulting company, it was a different story. The client with five children who suggested I join him in bed. The senior official who chased me around his hotel suite. And the Ottawa bureaucrat who suggested I become his Yellowknife mistress.

I learned coping skills. In the future, my male partner dealt with the client.

I avoided meetings in hotel suites.

I declined the bureaucrat’s offer by explaining I would have to tell his wife; later, when all three of us attended the same Ottawa function, he was clearly terrified I would.

I developed rules: Don’t drink or party with the boys. If you feel that spark of attraction, don’t talk, don’t touch. And if you must meet the client in a hotel room, make sure your chair is between the bed and the door.

Take responsibility for your actions. Some women feel they shouldn’t have to. But respecting your colleagues works both ways.

Pat Carney is a former journalist, businesswoman and federal politician

 

Michelle Stilwell

Over the span of four decades, I am ashamed, scared, angry, apprehensive, disheartened — but also empowered — to say I have been subjected to sexual abuse, unwanted advances, and sexual harassment in all aspects of my life. It started in childhood and happened in high school and throughout my sports career. I still “deal” with it in my political career, never mind in everyday life.

I see myself as a strong, independent woman with a great career that I have worked hard for. I am a decorated Canadian athlete who proudly represented her country; a wife, mother, sister and daughter. But that hasn’t stopped me from being harassed and assaulted in cars or cabs, bars, elevators, and even via text messages. Using a wheelchair I believe makes me more vulnerable because I’m seen as smaller, weaker.

Maybe it’s the perception of the “victims” of sexual abuse and harassment that prevents us from speaking out. Who would want to be labelled with that stereotype of weakness, suggesting in some way it must be our fault: What did we do wrong to cause it, how can we prevent it from happening, why didn’t we say anything?

Something needs to change.

Michelle Stilwell is MLA for Parksville-Qualicum and a former Paralympic athlete

 

Yvonne Raymond

I thought it was endearing the other day, when #MeToo was ramping up, and my husband turned to me and said: “Geez, I really hope this doesn’t happen to you.”

I laughed, immediately exclaiming: “Of course it does!”

There’s the time I was sitting, waiting for a bus home from university, when a man walked up to me and stood there with his penis exposed, level with my face. I felt dirty. Humiliated. Ashamed.

I knew I wasn’t the problem, but I couldn’t help wondering the whole way home what I did to deserve that.

That’s the easiest one to confess.

The times that hurt me the most involved words.

I don’t consider my experiences unusual. They aren’t.

And that’s a problem.

Yvonne Raymond is a journalist with CTV Vancouver Island

 

Carla Wilson

“I want sex.”

My editor yelled this from his bedroom.

I huddled in my bed in the spare room in the dark, scared and wondering what this man might do.

I was hundreds of kilometres from home, in a place I’d never been to before. The bedroom was a temporary place to stay until I found a place to rent for the summer.

Looking back today, the night-time hollering was farcical.

The editor turned out to be physically harmless. He eventually fell asleep that night, but throughout that summer he told detailed stories about his sexual prowess.

Mondays were especially bad because he would catch us up on his weekend.

I didn’t complain. Standing up to men like this took a few more years.

This wasn’t my first time being harassed. That happened when I was a little girl. Every week I went to a beautiful house down the road for a piano lesson. Every lesson started with the teacher insisting I sit on his lap and hug him. Finally I told my mother. I never went back.

No one talked about it after that. In those days, it didn’t occur to anyone to go to the police. The take-away to a child: Keep quiet. You are complicit.

Carla Wilson is a reporter with the Times Colonist

 

Katie DeRosa

“Are you a virgin? But you still give blowjobs, right?” These were some of the questions male colleagues would ask me when I worked as a server in restaurants, an industry where sexual harassment is not only tolerated, but normalized.

I would laugh and play coy, desperate to be liked.

I was reluctant to rebuff unwanted touching and sexual comments by male customers for fear of losing tips, money

I needed to avoid going into debt during university. I once remarked to a fellow female server that waitressing sometimes felt like stripping: We do things we normally wouldn’t because of the cash.

I was too young and naïve to recognize this behaviour as harassment and brushed off sexually charged comments as dirty jokes. These comments made me feel embarrassed and ashamed and have stayed with me, even years after leaving the hospitality industry.

As a journalist, I’ve often had men remark that I’m a “smart cookie,” which is a patronizing way of saying “you’re smart — for a girl.” These are remarks that many women brush off, not wanting to make a fuss, but the cumulative effect is the feeling that women are lesser than, valued based only on their appearance. We are more than that.

Katie DeRosa is a reporter with the Times Colonist

 

Angela Mangiacasale

What saved me from a lech of a boss was telling one colleague I trusted. I was a teenager, the lone young woman working part time in a newsroom in Ontario. The boss, a volatile, larger-than-life character, liked to scream and shout. I found it scary; others ignored him.

He often hugged me too tight, put his hands where they shouldn’t have been and put his tongue in my mouth as he tried to kiss me. He managed to do it when others weren’t around or in ways they didn’t notice.

I liked the job, but had little experience in the workplace, so didn’t know what to do.

After one unpleasant encounter in the boss’s office, one colleague I was close to noticed that I looked upset as I worked at my desk. So, I told him how the boss was treating me.

That one guy made a point of being around, saying subtle but pointed things to the boss, supporting me, encouraging me to just tell the guy to leave me “the fuck alone” (and getting others to do the same).

It helped. A lot. If you can make a difference, do it. Regrets are more often about what we didn’t do than what we did.

Angela Mangiacasale is a former Times Colonist associate city editor

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