Monique has come into your office. She is desperate to find a new job because her boss keeps asking her out on dates and is touching her leg when no one else can see. Her boss has started to make sexual comments related to her race. Monique is a recent graduate in journalism and she really needs the experience in this field. This situation is devastating for Monique and brings back memories of past sexual trauma.
You just helped Malik get a new job in a warehouse. Malik has heard his co-workers making sexual comments about him and he has found sexual images in his locker. Malik told his manager that this is making him uncomfortable, but the manager told Malik that his evaluation is coming up and implied that he should remain silent. Malik is worried that if he loses his job he will never work again.
Career services professionals work with many clients who may report experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. You can help make workplaces safe by educating yourself on sexual harassment and with your knowledge of local resources available to your clients.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment can be emotionally and physically harmful for the target. It can intersect with power dynamics such as position at work, taking advantage of people with precarious immigration status or with low incomes who need their jobs, and many other systems of oppression. Sexual harassment includes sexualized actions and behaviours that are unwanted. This includes:
- Comments, jokes and rumours
- Asking for sexual favours
- Sharing images in the workplace
- Leering, standing in someone’s personal space
- Talking about people’s bodies or sex lives
- Reprisals for declining romantic advances
Sexual harassment may start off as “just inappropriate comments,” but it can escalate and escalate quickly to stalking, abuse or assault. You can take a positive role when supporting clients who report experiences of workplace sexual harassment by offering information and supports.
What should I say to support my client?
Many individuals who experience workplace sexual harassment are hesitant to call it sexual harassment; you can help by identifying that if the behaviour is sexualized and making someone uncomfortable, it may be sexual harassment.
- Validate that what they are telling you is sexual harassment and that the behaviour is not their fault.
- If you are not sure if what they are experiencing is sexual harassment, you can refer them to someone else who can help (see below for examples).
- Do not push for details; keep the conversation open-ended and let them tell you details when and if they are comfortable.
- Validate that sexual harassment can be emotionally difficult to experience.
- Identify when the harasser was engaging in manipulative behaviours or abusing their power.
- Let them know that their physical and emotional safety is important.
- You can ask the client if they would like help with accessing counselling.
- It is their choice if they want to report to human resources or pursue legal options but you can help them access information about this so that they can make an informed decision .
What resources can I refer to?
Workplace sexual harassment and assault may result in trauma and mental health injuries. One of the most important referrals that you can make is to a sexual assault or rape crisis centre. The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres offers a directory of local sexual assault centres across Canada.
Anyone experiencing sexual harassment can get legal advice so that they can make an informed decision about their legal options. An informed decision is an empowered decision. It is recommended that workers get legal advice as soon as possible to ensure that they do not miss any important deadlines. Across Canada, workers experiencing sexual harassment and assault can get free and confidential legal advice from programs funded by the Department of Justice.
- The Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Exchange Project of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (Province-wide)
- Services from local legal clinics (in some areas outside of the GTA, please contact your local clinic for more details)
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Individuals who experience workplace sexual harassment do not need to navigate the response options alone. Career service professionals can perform a supportive role by letting their clients know they can contact them for supports and service navigation if the workplace becomes unsafe and/or they need help to deal with workplace sexual harassment.
About the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Exchange (SHARE)
SHARE supports workers in Ontario who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. SHARE provides free and confidential legal advice on all available options so workers can make informed decision about which steps, if any, they would like to take. SHARE is a project of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre and is funded by the Department of Justice Canada.