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General News · 20th October 2017
Ashley Zarbatany
Sexual harassment is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in our community. It happens to women all the time and it is unfair that the women suffering from this harassment are often forced to do so with little support from their employers or others around them.

While sexual harassment happens everywhere, it is especially prevalent on Cortes Island and women here feel the consequences more acutely because they face a lack of options for work. A lot of women end up leaving Cortes because they feel unsupported and unsafe. This pattern is detrimental to our community because it ends up leaving us with a deficit of competent women and a surplus of sexist, dangerous men.

When women are being harassed by men, bystanders have a responsibility to step in and stop that harassment. Or at the very least they should be willing to give their testimony as a witness to the crime. It is repulsive that instead of supporting a woman suffering from harassment, some people will bad mouth her and claim she is lying about the harassment she has suffered. This is especially astounding in cases when there are many witnesses to the crime but those witnesses seem to treat the sexual harassment as normal or acceptable. It takes a certain kind of coward to witness such a crime yet refuse to do anything about it. It takes another type of person to witness it but then outright deny that it happened. Yet these types of people proliferate our community and add to the systemic problem of male violence that women face every day.

It is not acceptable to ignore sexual harassment. If you do so then you are complicit with it. And if you are a business, you are legally required to address what is taking place and take measures to ensure you provide a safe working environment for your staff. Just because we are on Cortes Island does not mean we are not subject to the BC Human Rights Code or Worksafe BC regulations. Every responsible employer should have an anti-harassment policy in place and the ones that don’t are opening themselves up for lawsuits.

The other day I mentioned to a male that there was no anti-harassment policy in place at some Cortes Island businesses and he declared that he liked that. Of course he did. He doesn't have to worry about being sexually harassed by aggressive and delusional men in the workplace. He doesn't have to worry about being stalked by his delusional male co-workers who leave threatening letters on his truck. He doesn't need to worry about being cornered when he's working alone and being verbally assaulted by an aggressive and irrational man who is twice his size and yelling inches from his face, because he feels entitled to his body.

There are things that employers can do to ensure safer working conditions for female employees. First of all, they could listen to their female employees and take them seriously when they complain about harassment they are receiving from co-workers or customers. They can take steps to ensure that harassers are not allowed on the business’s property. If the harasser is their employee they can take disciplinary steps, or if it seems like he is a threat to the safety of the female employee they can fire him and ban him from the property. They could cooperate with the police and give their witness testimony if they have it in the case that a complaint is filed. They can take preventative measures too, like they do in most urban areas, by ensuring that their female employees are never closing at night alone.

It is not like there isn’t a ton of information available to employers on how to manage human resources and ensure that they are following the law. It just takes a little bit of effort. Or maybe it takes a lot of effort to overcome internalized misogyny, but it’s not rocket science. Stop believing that women are inferior sex objects and start treating us like equal human beings. We’re not here to serve men and we have desires of our own. Believe us when we say we don’t want to be harassed, stalked, assaulted, raped, murdered and try exercising some empathy by imagining the fear that we have to live with simply because we are female. Fear that we have become so accustomed to that we don’t even notice anymore when we are clutching our keys on our way to the car in the dark. Or when we have weapons under our pillow in case our crazy ex tries to burn our house down. Or when there is a creepy man who keeps coming to our place of work to hang around and stare at us. Or when a man comes up and compliments us for looking like a teenager and then gawks at us at the beach… Just a little bit of empathy, that’s all. An exercise in imagination.

Recently a friend of mine left the island because she does not feel safe here. She is yet another woman gone, lost, and we are all the less for it. Instead of sharing the wonderful presence of my friend, a woman with an amazing ability to always look on the bright side and who has an incredible optimism and thirst for life, we are instead left with the sexist and dangerous men in our community who forced her out. Misogynists who go around bragging that they would like to rape women.

Great. What a trade. As a mother of two daughters, this brings me so much hope.

…..

Dear women,

If you have experienced sexual harassment or male violence and you would like to talk about it, I would like to start a confidential support group on the island. Please get in touch with me if you're interested in joining.
Thank you - Taking Action
Comment by Mercedes Grant on 12th November 2017
Much gratitude to Ashley for having the courage to address this issue, publicly, and to everyone who has contributed their stories. I am incredibly sorry to all of the women and those who identify as women, that have been survivors of sexual harassment on this island, and anywhere.

Days before this post appeared, I was hitchhiking across the island, when I found myself in a car with a man, where I was meant to feel very unsafe. Methods of intimidation, manipulation, aggression and violence were used to make sure that I knew who held the power in that dynamic. I now feel unsafe hitchhiking, and when I do, I am in a state of hyper-vigilance, which is stressful and draining.

My personal experiences are simply a mirror to the vast majority of women who deal with this abuse EVERY DAY. As a survivor of sexual assault, it has taken me years to be able to even properly identify what happened to me, never mind to speak publicly about my experiences, because women have been made to feel power-less, “crazy”, “dramatic”, “over-reactionary” and unsupported when they come forward, even and often especially by, the police and so-called justice system.

We must also do the uncomfortable work of identifying our own biases and complicities. I have been complicit, I have been afraid, I have not wanted to “ruffle feathers”. In the constant wake of a crumbling patriarchy and the battle cries of generations of sisters before us and all around us, I find myself unable to stay quiet any longer. We must all dive deep into our own darkness, into the space that makes us want to run and hide, to create space to have these difficult conversations – particularly on an isolated island where we have limited resources.

I am aiming to take action to begin a dialogue about these difficult issues; to begin to educate, train and empower each other to address and manage conflict of this nature on the island. I have reached out to women from many backgrounds, to provide names of facilitators, educators, counsellors and skilled-practitioners who manage conflict, with particular focus on oppression and patriarchy. I envision a number of accessible workshops/sessions where we come together to learn, cry, laugh, heal, empower.

This work is within my skill-set: facilitating workshops, organizing events, community engagement and fund-raising. If you have skills to contribute to this, please connect with me at mgbadassana,,,gmail.com. Please note that my personal capacity is currently limited, and I am dedicating energy to this at a pace that works for me. If you do not hear back from me right away, please be patient.

Thank you. I’m sorry. I believe you. You are not alone.

With Gratitude,

M. Grant

Women United
Comment by Lu Schanfarber on 23rd October 2017
Women united in our communities will help to stop sexual harassment.

Stanford University's Sexual Harassment web page states:

WHAT NOT TO DO
1.) Do not blame yourself. Sexual harassment is not something one brings on oneself.
2.) Do not delay. Waiting to act in cases of sexual harassment only increases the probability that the harassing behavior will continue.
3.) Don't wait to seek help. Being quiet about sexual harassment enables it to continue. Chances are very good that you are not the only one who has been harassed. Speaking up may prevent others from being harmed.

See more here:
https://harass.stanford.edu/take-action/what-you-can-do-stop-sexual-harassment

Thank you, Ashley for bringing this into focus!
So True!
Comment by Bianca Lee on 21st October 2017
Thank you Ashley for your excellent article! As someone who has worked in public service for 20 years, I have endured so many creepy comments and unwanted attention from men, without ever feeling like I was in a position to tell the truth.

We need to work together to change the culture on Cortes so that women will feel empowered to speak up when someone crosses the line.
....how to create positive change?
Comment by Catriona Vega on 21st October 2017
First of all, I want to thank the many men that do support and treat women and others with respect and loving kindness. Thank-you to the men who stand up for those being mistreated or disrespected.
It is very unfortunate that women have to deal with inappropriate comments and actions from men that make it unsafe or downright uncomfortable. This attitude needs to be addressed. It seems like the laws need to change so that we don't have to wait until something terrible happens before inappropriate attitudes and actions can be reproached. What action can be taken to change the work place stigmas and social situations that are perpetuating misogynistic attitudes and xenophobia. How do we model for each other and younger generations how to treat women, men, children, LGBTQ+ and so on, so that our communities are safe for all? Lastly, how do we go from discussing and writing into real change?
Who?
Comment by Patricia L on 20th October 2017
Why don't you just say who these men are and publicly shame them. Speak up, press charges. Take action.
Thank You
Comment by Jessica on 20th October 2017
Thank you Ashley and Julia for sharing your insight and experiences. I hope this dialogue will be a catalyst to see some positive change in the community.
A long long overdue issue to face
Comment by Julia on 20th October 2017
Absolutely true & accurate.

It is long, long overdue that men of this island stop getting away with making women feel unsafe &/Or causing discomfort.

As a female living here for the past 6+ years, I have many days where I yearn to live in a more progressive community, you know the kind where you don't have men telling you to smile. A place where men don't called you sweetheart. A place where both men and women don't regularly comment on your appearance and clothes when you are checking their groceries out as their way of 'chatting'. Where you aren't called a 'cafe girl!'. Where you aren't told to smile by men while you are sweeping the floor! The list goes on...Luckily mine isn't as serious, dangerous and a crime. Luckily so far I have not been one of the women driven off the island.... but I still have done everything to stop working night shifts and stop hitchhiking.

Endless Thankyou's to Ashley for this very eloquently written article and initiating a support group.
I hope it has left other women of Cortes as motivated, wonderfully enraged and empowered as I feel to attacking this issue, for us and for our babies and children.