#MeToo at work: B.C. women share horrifyingly common sexual assaults

#MeToo at work: B.C. women share horrifyingly common sexual assaults

It happens to more people than you might think and impacts women inside and outside of the workplace

Intro Part 1
Speaking out
Part 2
How to report
Part 3
After the trauma
Commentary

It was only days into her brief time working for a man who, many years later, would become a Pitt Meadows city councillor.

“Jane” was 13 or 14. Her memory, thankfully, is blurry – but not blurry enough.

It was the fall of 1992. The then-teenager, her identity protected by a publication ban, was working for David Murray, who was in his his late 30s at the time.

One morning, Murray asked her to come into work early. Eager to please her new boss, she did. They were alone.

Sitting in the witness box at Murray’s sexual assault trial in Port Coquitlam this fall, her voice shook and her eyes watered as she described what happened next.

READ MORE: Pitt Meadows councillor convicted of sex assault from 25 years ago

READ MORE: Murray resigns from Pitt Meadows council after sexual assault conviction

Murray told her to lie down, and before she could react he was kneeling beside her, moving his hands up her leg, under her shorts, and onto her genitals.

She lay there, frozen.

“His hands were fumbling under my shorts and under my panties….” she trailed off, before squaring her shoulders and describing her assault in blunt, graphic terms.

David Murray will officially resign as Pitt Meadows councillor in January. (Submitted)

“It felt like his body was kind of moving. I assumed he was touching himself while he touched me.

“It was awkward… he seemed nervous.

“I turned my head and closed my eyes and waited for it to stop.”

Crown asked her to recall how she had felt at the time. The judge leaned in to better make out her words.

“I was feeling like it was my fault and that I got myself into shitty situations. That I knew the attention he was giving me was inappropriate but I allowed it to continue.”

Jane’s story is horrifying. But it is hardly unique.

While it doesn’t always involve the extremes that ultimately led to the conviction of David Murray, workplace-related sexual assault — and its insidious cousin sexual harassment — happens to women across the province and around the globe on a scale of which “Me Too” has only begun to scratch the surface.

Loosely defined, workplace sexual harassment involves sexually-charged behaviour that either makes someone feel humiliated, or concerned about their job. Sexual assault is similar, but involves physical force or threat.

In a federal government report released this fall, close to one-third of the 1,349 Canadians surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those, 94 per cent were women.

A more-recent Insights West poll of 451 Canadian working women, released Dec. 6, found 50 per cent experienced a “significant“ (five per cent), “moderate” (12 per cent) or “small” (33 per cent) amount of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Meghan Kinnarny is slight, with short, blond hair. As she talks, her shoulders noticeably tighten, although her voice stays soft and her hands gentle on her coffee cup. She’s 26, a masters student in UBC’s library sciences program.

She’s also a model, with an Instagram feed filled with photos from sweet to erotic.

Kinnarny’s experiences modelling have also fallen along a spectrum. Some have been amazing. Others, less so.

“I find it that as a model there’s this authority thing with older male photographers,” she said.

“There’s a group of them that think that just because they have a camera they have the authority to ask for anything they want. I know that there are older male photographers who prey on younger-looking models.

They think they’re naive enough that [the photographers] can get away with what they’re looking for. And it’s gross.”

She has felt harassed by the behaviour of photographers during personal shoots and has heard plenty of similar anecdotes from friends and acquaintances.

She recalls one man who shot out a bunch of emails saying “oh, I want you to come to this home studio in Surrey and shoot with me.”

READ MORE: Only one in 10 substantiated sex assaults result in conviction, StatCan says

READ MORE: #MeToo doesn’t go far enough: Langley transition shelter

Kinnarny said the photographer played up the exclusivity of the shoot and the value of it to the girls’ careers. He also asked them to come alone, or at least without any boyfriends, as not “ruin the mood.”

“I’m sitting here thinking ‘oh my God.’ He’s doing mass emails so he can cast out this net and get all these young naive models to do whatever.”

Kinnarny replied by email, blowing him off. She didn’t, however, warn the other models and felt intensely guilty after two of her friends went for it.

“A couple of models decided to shoot with him, one-on-one. He tried to offer them drinks, to get them drunk. He constantly pulled at their clothing.”

Kinnarny notes the murky lines of what’s OK in modelling make it hard for young girls to say no to men they view as having complete control over their careers.

“What you’re seeing is a sense of authority where someone’s bigger and they have more power than you and they think they can do what they want,” she said.

As a model, Meghan Kinnarny faces constant sexual harassment. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

If you believe harassment is solely an issue for the very young like Jane, or those in the entertainment field like Kinnarny and the women involved in the Harvey Weinstein scandal, try to think of a workplace scenario that hasn’t been the setting of inappropriate behaviour, or abuse of power.

Take, for example, one our most venerable Canadian institutions.

This May, the RCMP — while not explicitly acknowledging wrongdoing — reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit launched by a pair of retired female officers who alleged a climate of gender-based harassment, bullying and discrimination permeated the force for decades. Under the settlement, as many as 20,000 women could be eligible for between $10,000 and $220,000.

For the past six months, a sexual assault trial against Tim Shields, a former high-profile spokesman for the B.C. RCMP, has been underway at provincial court in Vancouver.

There, the complainant, her name protected by a publication ban, described in visceral terms an alleged assault in a police headquarters bathroom.

“He went under my blouse, undid my blouse, touched my breasts,” she said. “He then unbuttoned my pants, [was] trying to unzip my pants. I pushed his hands away said ‘no let’s go.’”

The former Mountie painted the encounter as consensual, a natural culmination of a flirty relationship egged on by his accuser.

Shields’ trial has finished its closing arguments and a verdict is expected by the end of December. None of the accusations have been proven in court.

Prior to the criminal trial, one sexual harassment suit against Shields and the RCMP was settled out of court. It is covered by a confidentiality clause.

The women in the RCMP cases cited above decided to speak out about what happened to them. Many other women don’t.

A 2014 Angus Reid poll found that while 43 per cent of Canadian women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, only slightly more than one-fifth of those who felt harassed reported it to their employer.

When asked why, the reasons were plentiful: it was easier to deal with the situation on their own; the issue was too minor to report; they were embarrassed; or they feared not being believed or harming their careers.

This fall’s federal government report found that those who experienced sexual harassment had workplaces with a higher ratio of men in positions of power and authority than those who weren’t harassed.

High numbers of men in positions of power and a lack of clarity in how to report sexual harassment were highlighted as the top two risk factors.

Having no idea who to report to gave Kinnarny pause. To this day, she still has not reported her harassment.

Berlin Capalad wonders what it is that makes girls too scared to speak up or too scared to say ‘no.’

Berlin Capalad hopes to change how sexual assault and harassment is talked about in schools. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Capalad is studying to be a teacher at UBC. Next year, she’ll graduate and wants to teach high school students.

“It’s something I definitely want to address in the classroom,” she said. “Maybe something that we need to teach our students is to be able to say ‘no’ and to respect that ‘no.’”

Capalad also struggles with how to teach teenagers about sexism.

“They look at each other and think, ‘well I don’t treat my friend that’s a girl differently than my friend that’s a boy,’” she said. “We forget that it’s a systemic thing, that it’s a societal thing where females aren’t considered as powerful as males.”

Capalad hopes she can effect change.

Jane does as well. She reached out following her attacker’s trial, where Murray was found guilty on one count of sexual assault at the end of October and has since resigned from his seat on Pitt Meadows council and been let go from his job in the City of Port Coquitlam’s parks and recreation department.

“I just wanted to say thank you for writing such an honest piece around my trial. #metoo,” she wrote.

Kinnarny is less positive.

Having also dealt with sexual assault outside the workplace, she finds those experiences seeping into her work.

“I’ll be having a conversation with a guy and then my heartbeat will get really fast and I’ll start sweating and suddenly I’m in panic mode because my body associates men with violence.”

“How do you build a relationship, and it doesn’t have to be a romantic one, with another person when that’s what you expect?”

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