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Guelph Regional Guide

Download the full Regional Guide for Guelph or download each chapter individually. Keep these guides available for when they’re needed.

Consent and Pleasure

Consent and pleasure are concepts that go hand-in-hand and are key to engaging in a satisfying sexual experience for both parties. Often, consent is framed and taught as a check box during sexual education courses. While consent is a mandatory aspect of any sexual experience, it is important to recognize that pleasure should also be equally emphasized.

The core principle behind consent is that it’s present when you can clearly see that your partner is enjoying themselves, their desires are met, and they are excited to engage. In our current societal views, a woman’s pleasure is viewed as unpredictable and less common during sexual experiences. However, this must be re-evaluated as different aspects of pleasure should be discussed in formal or informal education sessions. Formal education would entail discussions in school. This starts with teaching youth and younger children to challenge hetero-normative ideas of what pleasure is and to recognize that pleasure is not one sided; both parties must be satisfied. Too often, we are taught that most sexual activities revolve around cisgender men and their desires. However, the sexual experiences of the 2SLGBTQ+ community are often not discussed, and their ideas of pleasure are disregarded. We must do more to educate youth on what pleasure means for different people and different bodies. After consent is discussed, it’s important to have open and honest conversations regarding what feels good and how you can work with one another to ensure desires are met. Not only does it ensure that we feel confident in communicating our thoughts regarding sex, but it also builds our confidence in understanding what our bodies need. Informal education entails having conversations at home regarding pleasure, consent and sex. It means being able to speak to someone or family members regarding these topics.

Another problematic approach in society regarding sexual pleasure is derived from the porn industry. Many individuals who watch pornography sometimes think of aggressiveness and dominance as equivalent to pleasure for all parties. Not only does this perpetuate acts of violence, it also attempts to convince viewers that folks find pleasure in that. While some individuals may genuinely prefer different levels of aggression, there are others who would like to be asked what they want and what they like. Many youths turn to the porn industry in order to understand what to do as they grow into their sexual experiences. This becomes their source of knowledge as pleasure is not really taught in school curricula and as previous blog posts have discussed, pleasure and consent are not discussed in some homes either. The reliance on porn for understanding people’s bodies becomes problematic as it sets unrealistic and inaccurate depictions of what pleasure entails. In reality, what must be done is honest communication with partners and discussions of comfort. In my next blog, I will discuss how certain types of pornography can perpetuate sexual violence and what that means for survivors.

Written by: Shreeya Devnani

Sources:
https://www.farrahkhan.ca/blog/2021/12/15/why-consent-and-pleasure-go-hand-in-hand
https://www.coloradoyouthmatter.org/publications/blog/item/pleasure-and-consent/
https://thevigilantmind.com/2021/07/01/6-reasons-you-need-to-stop-watching-porn/

Importance of Consent Awareness Week

Does it surprise anyone that only about 28% of Canadians fully understand what it means to give consent? (Canadian Women’s Foundation 2018 Survey) Further, more than half the women between the ages of 18-34 have felt pressured to consent in certain social situations. That is a strikingly high number of individuals who are unaware of what consent is and as a consequence may not understand the importance of being educated on it. Addressing and adopting healthier practices of consent start with awareness, education, and accountability. Consent awareness week runs from September 19-23 of this year and is a crucial to spread knowledge on what consent is, how it is obtained and how to recognize verbal and non-verbal cues of it.

Consent awareness week invites people to engage in meaningful conversations regarding rejection, sexual boundaries, body autonomy and listening. This week also enables individuals to share their stories, thoughts and opinions on consent actively on social media to spread awareness. When consent is not understood or fully recognized, rates of sexual violence and assault increase. There are multiple ways people can become involved and play their part during this week. Below, I outline some methods and options.

  1. Share consent resources other communities can use. This means using your social media platforms to share brochures, discussing outlets to report violence, accessing shelters, and other information you may have or know regarding consent. Additionally, as students, there are options within school to discuss consent and have conversations about appropriate sexual behaviour. Sharing resources within the school and to the broader community is also an extremely effective method of spreading awareness on consent.
  2. Join communities and organize consent awareness events. Now that our world has firmly entered the digital era, hosting online events and zoom meetings are an excellent way to open a forum for a discussion on consent. For example, inviting key-note speakers to talk about consent, what it looks like and how to have age-appropriate conversations on it are important ways to take action and increase knowledge on the topic.
  3. Promote Consent in all Interactions. Many people think that consent is limited to interactions between partners. However, educating students and the public about the nature of consent in all relationships including with family and friends is also an excellent way to demonstrate what yes and no look like. For example, teaching young kids (Kindergarden-Gr1-2) about asking before hugging people or holding hands with their friends is an excellent method to engrave this idea of asking permission at a young age.
  4. Awareness in Schools. One of the most prominent and effective methods of spreading awareness of consent is in schools. I remember during my high school and elementary years, there used to be assemblies where principals or teachers would discuss important topics, such as Remembrance Day. This was a mandatory meeting that all grades had to attend. Similarly, schools should continue to do this with Consent Awareness Week or implement this system if it hasn’t been done so already. An important point to mention is that when it comes to discussing consent, schools must be careful not to victim blame, rather place their emphasis on recognizing signs of consent and prevention.

Everyone deserves to feel safe and included in their social environments. Discussing consent nationally and globally puts us in the right direction of ensuring all folks feel comfortable expressing themselves at all times.

Written by: Shreeya Devnani

Sources:
https://canadianwomen.org/survey-finds-drop-in-canadians-understanding-of-consent/
https://www.couragetoact.ca/consent-awareness-week
https://www.couragetoact.ca/blog/high-school-too-needs-you
https://www.mbfpreventioneducation.org/preventing-sexual-assault-understanding-consent/

Talking to Your Kids About Sexual Assault and Campus Safety

So you’re sending your kid off to their first year of college. Maybe this is the first time, or maybe you’ve already been through this process with their older siblings. Nonetheless, it’s a monumental time for them, and also for you.

They might be heading to a local college, or they might be going overseas. Either way, this might be their first time experiencing total independence on a day-to-day basis. You’re probably both running through lists of what to pack and prepare. As busy as you are, before they head off to the festivities of their freshman year, it’s important to have a conversation about campus safety and, more specifically, sexual assault.

At this point in their life, it’s likely that they’ve already learned about the various forms of assault. They might know someone who has experienced an assault, or they may have been through some trauma themselves. This conversation could be a reiteration of one you’ve already had, and that’s completely fine. All that’s important is that they know how to recognize an assault, and, should something happen, where or who they can turn to for support.

It’s also crucial to note that although statistics show that women more likely than men to experience unwanted sexualized behaviours in the post-secondary setting (source: Statistics Canada), youth of all genders should be educated on sexual assault and campus safety. According to RAINN, 13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

Being Aware of Consent

Consent is actively and verbally expressing that you are interested in a sexual activity with someone. You cannot give consent while you are sleeping, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and you do not need to explain why.

There are 7 must-haves that make up sexual consent. It must be freely given, enthusiastic, well-informed (i.e. both partners are aware of each other’s STI status and the method of birth control being used), an ongoing conversation (as in it’s not a one-time question and answer), reversible, and, most importantly, it’s always needed. You can read more about consent in our blog post here.

In an ideal world, knowing about consent and how to stay safe would be enough to prevent an assault from occurring. Sometimes, just being informed and cautious is all that it takes. But there are things that happen that are completely out of their control. In this case, if they can instantly recognize that what happened was not consensual and does constitute sexual assault, they’ll have the wherewithal to start the coping process early on. Also remember that if you’re the one who had this conversation with them early on, you have an opportunity to instill a sense of trust, should something bad happen to them.

You might want to say something like:

I’m happy that we had this discussion, and just know that I love you and trust you completely, and know that you can talk to me about anything. If something happens to you, I will always be on your side, and I’ll always be here to help you in any way that you need it.”

Prepare, Protect, Prevent

There are steps that students can and should take to help maintain their safety and prevent a crime from occurring when they’re out and about. This doesn’t just pertain to sexual violence, but also violence of any kind, theft, or abduction. Some of these steps may seem obvious, but they’re important to reiterate. We also want to make clear that sexual violence is never their fault.

It may sound cliche, but the most important thing that students should do is just to be smart and aware of what behaviours are okay and what behaviours are not. College is a significant benchmark in any person’s life. They’ll make life-changing moments, but also some life-changing decisions. This isn’t about scaring them or you – it’s about knowing the potential dangers that can occur and how to prevent them, and how to protect their selves and others. By having this conversation, you’re also building a sense of trust between yourself and your soon-to-be self-reliant kid. No matter what happens, you’ll be there for them, and there are always resources available to both of you.

To learn more about campus safety, here are some recommended sites:

Sources:
https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200914/dq200914a-eng.htm
https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence

Perpetuation of Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity has been prevalent in many cultures from time immemorial. Many different cultures groom young men and boys to act aggressively and embed values of control and dominance in them. In fact, when these boys display the smallest/slightest signs of emotional vulnerability, they are told to stop “crying like girls” and to not show any signs of weakness. Time after time, they are told to maintain control of every situation. This leads many men to remain frigid, cold and unresponsive under various circumstances. Further, it prevents them from sharing their emotions and thoughts with their family members and friends. Not only does this contribute to mental health issues later on in their lives, but it also reinforces the idea of needing to remain in control of their feelings.

These patriarchal stereotypes force men to act tough and any signs of vulnerabilities are stigmatized. One of the longer-term consequences of these stigmas include the prevention of male sexual assault survivors from coming forward and discussing their experiences. They may be afraid to do so as it leads to the assumption by society that they are weak and to blame. These harmful stereotypes and expectations from men prohibit them from addressing these concepts of toxic masculinity and as a result many of them suffer in silence. When men are assaulted (cisgender + those from LGBTQ+ communities), they too experience a similar format of victim blaming that some women go through. They are told that it is their fault, that they were not strong enough and perhaps maybe they deserved what happened. All of these reactions from loved ones discourage male survivors from coming forward. For instance, the movie industry is just one example that perpetuate aggression and violence as important traits in men.

Male characters are less likely than female characters to show emotions, including empathy (22.5% compared with 30.6%) [and] happiness (68.3% compared with 75.2%)

If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. (n.d.).

Many mainstream films reinforce that men should be dominant, strong, and able to protect themselves from any harm. Therefore, when some men do experience assault or harmful behaviours, they are told to suppress those experiences and the feelings that come with those times. Not only does this perpetuate internal shame amongst men but it also forces them to feel as if it is their fault. Challenging these mindsets only lead to them being deemed weak, unwanted or laughed at.

“Performativity” was a concept I learned in my undergraduate studies that I believe is extremely relevant in these situations. Coined by Judith Butler, this theory explains how people construct their identities throughout their lives. She argues that gender is socially constructed, and it is done so through speech and certain acts. This concept entails viewing actions, behaviours, and gestures as “the result of an individual’s identity.” All of these combined are what contribute to the formation of one’s identity. Throughout their lives, men are asked to “perform” a certain way and behave in a manner that aligns with how “regular” men are to behave. As discussed above, that means being strong and in control of their feelings. The ideal model of manhood promotes someone who engages in fights, who is eager to display dominance and does not display empathy or compassion. All of these toxic performative mechanisms prevent survivors from recognizing they have been assaulted and coming forward. Furthermore, even if men were to confide in their other male friends about their experiences, displaying compassion is not something they are taught to do and this lack of support from close friends also contributes to self-harming behaviours. As a society, we must do more to educate elder generations that displaying emotions as men is healthy and we must also teach them to be comfortable discussing their sexual experiences.  

Written by: Shreeya Devnani

Sources:
https://reclamationmagazine.com/2018/10/26/toxic-masculinity-a-plague-across-south-asia/#:~:text=Toxic%20masculinity%20has%20always%20been,signs%20of%20weakness%20or%20emotion.
https://www.dayahouston.org/post/how-toxic-masculinity-harms-men
https://seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/if-he-can-see-it-will-he-be-it
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/indias-culture-of-toxic-masculinity/article29262252.ece

Healthy Sex Talk: Discussing Consent With Your Children

The #MeToo era has forced us to reevaluate many social norms that have for so long contributed to rape culture. A particularly important takeaway from these movements involves the skewed understanding of consent and what consent entails.

Consent in its most simplistic form means agreeing to do something or agreeing with what is happening. Consent must be freely given, ongoing, informed, unimpaired, explicit, and enthusiastic. There should be an enthusiastic ‘yes’ both verbally and physically. Consent requires respect and communication. It also involves understanding that everyone has their own particular boundaries, and we must be careful not to overstep. Verbal consent is what should always be identified and anything less clear or short of a ‘yes’ cannot be considered consent. Non-verbal consent is tricky to identify and should never be used as an excuse to justify harmful actions and behaviours. Reading body language and non-verbal cues is where this becomes important to understand. Ensuring that the other individual is comfortable even if they haven’t explicitly said so is where things can take a drastic turn, which makes it twice as important to help children understand what comfortable body language looks like.

Educating children and discussing topics of sexual health and consent can start as early as grade 1 and continue into college years. Although comfort is a critical aspect that prevents many parents from discussing these “taboo” topics, it is important to recognize that the greater the delay, the more harmful the effects can be. Particularly, in South Asian and Middle Eastern households, topics regarding sex and consent are not openly discussed because of how they are perceived by men and women. Often in these cultures, women are provided fragmented information on what consent entails and that typically men hold the power in the house. They are taught to listen and always agree with what they are being told. This concept of consent can perpetuate sexual assault and harassment. This is primarily why it is important to discuss consent with children at early ages and evolve those ideas as they grow. Below, I have outlined some topics of consent to discuss according to age.

Children Ages 5-8

  1. Always teach your children to ask before they touch someone, even if it is hugging a friend. 
  2. Teach your children to always ask if they want to borrow something from someone. This allows them to recognize that asking questions and permission for minute tasks is important and they will  translate this into their relationships.
  3. Words such as “no” should be respected. They should not push or argue when someone tells them they do not want to do something. Hearing yes should be just as common as hearing the word no. If someone has initially said yes and then changes their mind to no, that’s okay and they should never get angry at that. 
  4. Ask children to read facial expressions and other body language cues. Teach them what it means to look scared or confused. 
  5. Make it a safe space at home and with family to speak about their body and parts. They should not feel ashamed or afraid to speak about their bodies or what they feel

Children Ages 8-12

  1. Ask your kids to discuss what are good feelings and bad feelings with respect to their body
  2. Teach them the importance of checking in with the people they are with. Checking in reminds them that individuals are allowed to change their mind and consent is fluid. 
  3. Teach kids to help others when they see consent is not being followed. What they should do, how to react, how to help, etc.
  4. One of the most important forms of consent involves teaching kids concepts of safe words. This means helping them understand when an activity becomes uncomfortable or they no longer want to participate in the activity.

While these are critical years to speak to kids about consent and “good” vs bad” touch, talking about consent over an individual’s lifetime is crucial. Particularly, as the child is entering their high school and college years and they become exposed to the party lifestyle, where drugs and alcohol become more prevalent. Discussing consent where one/both parties are intoxicated is perhaps one of the most important conversations to have with your children. This allows them to have healthy relationships with drinking and recognize how their actions and behaviours impact those around them.

Written by: Shreeya Devnani

Sources:
https://childmind.org/article/how-talk-kids-sex-consent-boundaries/
https://www.familyplanning.org.nz/advice/parents-and-carers/how-to-talk-with-your-children-about-consent
https://www.talkwithyourkids.org/lets-talk-about/healthy-sex-talk-teaching-kids-consent-ages-1-21.html
https://teachingsexualhealth.ca/parents/information-by-topic/understanding-consent/#:~:text=Practice%20with%20your%20child%20what,to%20respect%20’no’%20messages

Healing Rooms

As a part of our curated resource library, our individually-themed Healing Rooms are designed to provide online mental health and healing resources through an interactive digital painting. Whether it be sourced videos, blogs, articles, tutorials, games, brainteasers and more, this is where online resources and creativity are brought together.

With each Healing Room, we’ve carefully chosen links that match a certain theme, such as art therapy, music, or self-care. The purpose of these rooms is to whittle down our list of resources to specific interests that provoke healing in their own ways. Whether you’re looking to relieve tension, seek mental health advice, stimulate your mind, or even discover a new pastime, we have a room suited to your needs.

If you’re interested in our healing rooms, and you have any ideas or artwork to contribute, please contact us here.

Enjoy exploring!

What to Do if Intimate Videos and Images of You Are Leaked

The breaking of your trust and having intimate videos or images of you shared online can be a terrifying and traumatic experience. Perhaps, this was someone you once trusted or an angry partner who sought vengeance by leaking revenge porn. Regardless, in this scenario, no one has the right to share these private parts of yourself online. In fact, it’s completely illegal, and we can assure you that you will get through this.

But first, keep in mind that the leakage of these images or videos is not your fault. Whether you sent them to this person or had them taken without consent, your intentions were never to have them shared. You had faith that the perpetrator would value and honour your trust, and that is never something you should blame yourself for. Being in this situation, you may feel overwhelmed and highly stressed about what to do next. Take a few deep breaths, and hug yourself (yes, this has calming effects!) Know that you will get through this, and we are here to help guide you through this every step of the way. 

Below are a few steps you can take when someone shares intimate videos and images of you: 


Getting the Photo Removed

Depending on where the image or video is posted, it would be advised to report the content and contact the site’s webmaster to have it taken down immediately. They have full power to have the whole page removed, as technically, the site’s ownership is under their name. You can also ask Google to remove the sensitive content, as they have policies against posting ‘revenge porn’ and other private pieces of information. There is also a way to have any footprints of these images or videos removed from all search engines. For a more in-depth guide on how to do this, we’ve provided the instructions listed on Google below.

Instructions: Remove an Image From Google

Contact the Police 

Leaking pornographic images is a serious crime, and if you were 18 or under when the image was taken, it is considered child abuse. However, certain laws make it so those under 18 can be seen as guilty even if the image is of themselves, and was taken consensually. This, of course, makes it a rather slippery slope, leaving many young people to be unsure how to seek justice, as they don’t want to be victim-blamed. It would be advised to examine the laws around your province concerning this area and decide from there if you feel comfortable involving the police. Thankfully, you can still have your images removed and if you want to get the police involved but are underage, perhaps consulting with a lawyer would be a good first step. Collect all pieces of evidence, including text messages showing threats of leaking the intimate material and possible signs of domestic or emotional abuse (i.e.messages expressing verbal abuse, coercing of sending the images, screenshots of the site your image or video is on, etc.)

Protect Your Online Identity 

It’s always important to keep your online identity safe. This can range from changing your passwords to updating your privacy settings and blocking the perpetrator who did this to you. If you’re in an abusive relationship and experiencing digital abuse, check out this article on how to protect yourself. 

Seek Support 

The mental health effects of revenge porn or intimate images can be serious. If you are having upsetting thoughts, depression, anxiety, or stress-related symptoms, please don’t feel guilty to reach out for support. There is no shame in talking to a professional and quite frankly, it may be easier than confiding in your family members or friends, as they should be an unbiased source. 

Resources:
https://www.teenvogue.com/story/revenge-porn-what-to-do

How To Talk To Your Kids About Sexual Assault

It’s important that parents talk to their children about what sexual assault is and how they can protect themselves. Being educated around this particular area can save lives and stop cases of abuse early on. Of course, this can be an awkward topic to discuss, and parents often avoid it due to its sensitive nature. Thankfully, talking about sexual assault doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable conversation. It should be looked at as a way to ultimately ensure the safety of children, giving them life-saving skills.

Teach Them The Correct Terminology & Be Honest

 If children ask questions about their body parts and topics concerning sexual behaviours, give them an honest and accurate answer. Creating fake names for private areas on the body can, in-turn, make children believe that they are wrong and shouldn’t be discussed. They should be educated on the correct terminology to know that it’s okay to express concerns regarding that area and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Privacy & Boundaries Should Implemented

Privacy and boundaries should also be explained at a young age. Children should understand what the word “no” means and be encouraged to use it when feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. They should also understand that if one of their peers says “no”, they should respect and honor their answer. Children need to be aware that their body is their property and no one else’s. They should be empowered to protect it and never guilty when fulfilling boundaries. Parents should make this known to their children and re-iterate this message as many times as they like. If someone crosses a line and puts their privacy and safety at risk, parents should make it known to their children that they can always tell them. 

A Safe Secret Versus A Harmful One

It is also essential that parents teach their children the difference between a safe secret versus a harmful one. It’s okay to share light-hearted secrets with friends. But, if an adult has touched a child inappropriately and has said to keep it a secret, children need to know that they should always tell someone even if threats were made. As explained in an article on the Child Mind Institute, you could call these “body secrets” and say to your children that they should always tell mom, dad, or trusted guardian if someone tried to keep a “body secret” with them. It’s advised that parents never shame or punish their children for sharing a body secret. If children notice strict tones and body language, that suggests they will be reprimanded and will be less inclined to share what took place. 

How Can Children Protect Themselves?

 Children are small, and you may assume that if put in a dangerous situation they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves. However, that is far from the truth, and there are many ways they can defend themselves if put in harm’s way. For starters, share with your children a few scenarios that are never okay. Go over the basics of never talking and taking rides from strangers, as well as entering the homes of someone’s house they don’t know (neighbours can also be included if there’s no relationship with them). Teach them how to label emotions, trust their gut feelings if uncomfortable, and never to feel pressured to stay somewhere that makes them feel threatened. There’s also always safety in numbers, so make sure that your child is never walking alone. Whether it be walking home from school (if they’re old enough to do that), on a field trip, or to the washroom, ensure that they know to always bring friend(s) with them. 

What Is The “No, Go, Yell, Tell” Strategy?

An easy trick to go over with kids is the “No, Go, Yell, Tell”  motto (informational video hyperlinked to show and teach children). Tell your child that if they ever feel at risk, use their words and say no, run as fast as they can away from their situation, yell or even scream as perpetrators don’t want to draw attention to themselves, and tell a trusted person as soon as possible. 

Good Touch Versus Bad Touch

Finally, going over what a “good touch” versus “bad touch” is critical in this teaching and can save children from any form of abuse. For example, they should know that hair pulling, hitting, pinching, pants pulled down (even as a joke is not okay), or touching private parts is not a good touch. Getting a high five or a consensual hug is a form of good touch. Tell children that they should always tell an adult if they experience a “bad touch.” 

We know this information can be overwhelming, but set some time aside and educate your child on protecting themselves. You can also make this a regular part of your home’s teaching, not just an awkward one-time discussion. Make yourself available and open to answering questions, as this can make all the difference. 

For more information and helpful videos that can also help guide your children through this process, we’ve created a list below.

Sexual Harassment at Work: What You Need to Know as A Worker in Ontario

The Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Exchange (SHARE) is a legal service that provides free, confidential legal advice about legal and non-legal options to all Ontario workers experiencing workplace sexual harassment, workplace-related sexual assault, and gender-based harassment in the workplace to help them make informed decisions about addressing their experience. Visit their website to learn more.

SHARE Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Exchange Logo

Workplace Sexual Harassment: What Does it Look Like?

Situation 1: A Black female senior manager at work overhears sexual and racial jokes made about her by junior employees, some of who she supervises.  

Situation 2: A transgender construction worker is uncomfortable with the sexist, demeaning sexual jokes and comments made by other workers at a job site. They’re not sure if they should talk to the supervisor at the job site about the verbal sexual harassment.

Situation 3: A 15-year-old sales associate receives repeated inappropriate sexual comments and requests for dates from an older customer at the store she works. She doesn’t know if she can complain to Human Resources.   

These workers are all experiencing some form of sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment is illegal in Ontario workplaces under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. You have the legal right to report workplace sexual harassment and gender-based harassment to your employer. Under these laws, your employer(s) must create a safe, secure work environment free from harassment, discrimination, and violence.

Defining Workplace Sexual Harassment: What are the definitions under Ontario laws?

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) are two provincial laws outlining your legal rights in the workplace.

Under OHSA, ‘sexual harassment’ is defined as:

Under the Code, workplace ‘sexual harassment’ is also defined as:

The legal definitions of workplace sexual harassment in OHSA and the Code overlap, with OHSA focusing on what workplaces must do to be safe while the Code describes the legal right to work free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur over many incidents or be one serious incident causing trauma and harm. Some examples of sexual harassment that can happen in the workplace include:

Under the Code and OHSA, your employer must create a safe, secure work environment free from harassment, discrimination, and violence. Under OHSA, all employers are required to investigate complaints of workplace sexual harassment. Employers with more than 6 employees are also legally required to have a written workplace sexual harassment policy in the workplace. The policy should include:

  1. The legal definition of workplace sexual harassment
  2. Details about reporting procedure (i.e. who to file a formal report to; what details to include, what safety measures workers can request etc.)
  3. Information about the investigation process (e.g. investigators, timelines, confidentiality measures, safety measures for the worker during the investigation)
  4. Possible results, like the sexual harassment that occurred, are identified in the workplace investigation.
  5. Possible outcomes, like training or termination for the harasser, that might be implemented after an investigation is complete.

Your employer is legally required to investigate all complaints of workplace sexual harassment regardless of whether the complaint is in writing. Suppose your employer refuses to investigate complaints or threatens to fire you for making a complaint. In that case, you can make a report to Ontario’s Ministry of Labour about the employer not meeting their duty to investigate under OHSA. The Ministry has the power to penalize, order your employer to investigate or hire a third-party investigator. Despite these legal rights and options, you or other workers may not report sexual violence at work because of power imbalances and barriers to reporting.

Power and Control at Work: How do power imbalances and barriers impact reporting?

Sexual harassment at work is about power and control. Anyone can experience sexual harassment at work regardless of their position. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others because of power imbalances and dynamics. These two factors can impact your decision to respond or report sexual harassment to an employer.  Power dynamics dictate who has more authority and power in professional relationships and settings. While power imbalances go beyond authority and can include interconnecting social factors that you and other workers may not have any control over, such as:

Power dynamics at work are often combined with discriminatory behaviours and stereotyping connected to protected characteristics under the Code such as race, sex, social assistance, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, place of origin, and age. Many of these discriminatory actions and behaviours are hard to recognize in situations of sexual harassment at work because they might be indirect or unintentional. In the above example of the Black female senior manager, racist stereotypes depicting Black women as angry, bossy, or hyper-sexual can influence the Black female manager’s experience of sexual harassment at work, even from junior employees.

Power imbalances can overlap differently for you and other workers, creating unique barriers to reporting. Power and control in workplace relationships mean you may not feel safe or supported enough to report workplace sexual harassment and violence without negative consequences. In the above example of the 15-year-old sales associate, she may not know that she can report due to her lack of job experience and age. These barriers are different from the one impacting the trans construction worker, who may not want to report fearing further ostracization from their colleagues due to difficulties finding positions that hire trans workers. Barriers to reporting sexual harassment at work include any reason you may not want to speak about your experience. Barriers include:

Power dynamics and imbalances can become barriers that make it difficult for you to respond and talk about your experience of workplace sexual harassment with an employer or with people you trust. Despite these barriers, you have reasons that can motivate you to report. Motivators to report workplace sexual harassment are:

You are not alone. Support is available to help you understand your options to address your unique situation of sexual harassment at work.

What Documentation Tips Should You Remember Before Reporting?  

Reporting workplace sexual harassment to employers is a job-protected legal right in Ontario. However, reporting is not mandatory. You can choose to file a formal report to your employer only if you feel safe doing so. You do not need to file a formal report if you are unsafe or unsupported in your workplace. Speak to a lawyer for reporting options outside of the workplace. Regardless of how you choose to report, it is important to document the sexual harassment and attempts to report to have evidence is necessary for a formal report. Check out SHARE’s workplace reporting tip sheet for tips while you think about reporting.  

Here are five tips to remember when documenting proof of sexual harassment:

  1. Write notes in a journal or a mobile device immediately after every single incident. Focus on the 4W’s (who, what, where, and when) and the effects of the incident on you and your work.
  2. Save all digital evidence. Your harasser may sexually harass you over text messages, emails and social media. You will want to include digital evidence in your report. Screenshot messages, record names and timestamps.
  3. Follow-up on all in-person, telephone or video conference meetings and verbal conversations about your complaint with an email summary of everything discussed in the meeting. This also becomes evidence.
  4. Back up all the evidence you have collected in a personal email, USB, external hard drive, or cloud storage that you have access to outside the workplace.
  5. An up-to-date record of all experiences of sexual harassment, even if it is only one incident, will help you report to your employer, consider other legal options, or access income supports. You do not need evidence to get help from sexual violence supports available throughout Ontario.

What Supports Can Help Workers Experiencing Workplace Sexual Harassment?

It is never your fault for experiencing sexual harassment at work. It is your workplace’s responsibility is to create a safe and secure work environment free from harassment, discrimination, and violence at work as defined under the OHSA and the Code. Your employer must investigate all complaints—informal and formal—and provide support while completing investigations. Support during an investigation can include:

1. Modifying your work environment to reduce contact with the harasser.

2. Taking time off work while the investigation continues.

3. Asking for a support person like a professional or family or friend during interviews

4. Paying for an interpreter so that there are no language barriers.

5. Keeping the investigation private and confidential.

You are not alone; help is available. Contact the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource Exchange (SHARE) to learn more about legal and non-legal options to address your experience of workplace sexual harassment.