Reporting Sexual Harassment Almost Destroyed my Career
In response to our blog post last week regarding sexualized violence, we received this anonymous article. This writer wished to remain anonymous given the controversial nature of the subject matter, and the impact this incident had on his life. Nonetheless, we believe that it is important for all sides of the coin to be considered, so we are sharing his story.
Each day we read or hear about new allegations of sexual misconduct or assault by men in high places with power. Just yesterday allegations against PC Ontario Provincial Leader Patrick Brown lead to his very speedy exit from the Leadership chair and likely political career. The accusers remained anonymous to protect their identity and fear of reprisal. I’m writing this anonymously to do the same.
Some 10 years ago I was supervising a person who was working to be registered as a health care provider in the province. Think College of Physiotherapists or College of Chiropractors for example. I was supposed to monitor and make sure that this person had the skills and ethical practice to become an independent health care professional in the Province of Ontario.
When I discovered that this individual, in a position of authority was engaging in a sexual relationship with someone who was a subordinate and that threats had been made to those who knew, from reporting it to me, I terminated this person immediately and reported the behaviour to the regulatory body. I had not wanted to do so and knew there would be a push back, but I had no idea what my reporting this would do to the next 3 years of my life.
The perpetrator was immediately transferred to another practice where the receiving professional knew nothing of the behaviour at my office. I was told that I was unable to share any information with the receiving practice because the perpetrator had launched numerous complaints against my practice in retaliation to my reporting (some 14 or so of them). They included things like billing violations, staff being provided profit sharing (not sure what is wrong with that) and other ridiculous and unsubstantiated charges. The regulatory body went after me with a vengeance for 3 years. They examined thousands of patient files, threatened my staff and in one incident broke into my wife’s office where she ran her Real Estate Company. As far as the perpetrators behaviour-or investigation-it was quickly swept under the carpet and forgotten.
Here’s the thing. The perpetrator in this case a women created a storm of false allegations to punish myself and my colleagues for speaking out and reporting her. She knew how to work the system and did so with great skill. The leader of the regulatory body, also a woman, did not take my allegations seriously. After-all the victim in this case a man, wasn’t complaining, in fact began a “legitimate” relationship with the perpetrator which in some way proved that I was way off base in making the reporting. If the man was a victim why was he having a legitimate relationship after the fact?
Just as do some men, some women in positions of authority use their power to take sexual advantage of others. The reason I contend that the majority of people who witness these events or know of them, do not report the incidents is due to the backlash and attacks they know they will experience as did I.
In my case the vindictive, incompetent investigation proved nothing. It took away 3 years of my life, my family life as I had to fight for my economic and professional survival. In the end they told me that after I fired her I should have had her back to review her performance appraisal and that my wife’s real estate company should not have provided her with below market rent on a fully furnished apartment with no lease. Yes they went after my wife as well to punish me.
Reporting someone for sexual harassment in the workplace is a very difficult thing to do. If you make the reporting you have no assurance that you will be protected from reprisal. If the person receiving the report has no knowledge of how to investigate such issues competently, you will be accused perhaps of many things and they will blunder the investigation.
Here is what I think would help with the issue of the epidemic of sexual harassment that we are facing today:
Persons who report sexual harassment or sexual abuse (outside of the laws we have which requires mandated reporting for child sexual abuse) should be protected from reprisal or vindictive action by the suspects;
The individual perpetrator’s personal information should remain under seal of identification until that incident goes before the courts. Even in those instances the judge should be allowed to postpone naming of the accused until a guilty verdict is determined.
A perpetrator found not guilty today will have a difficult time reconstructing a career or life. Assistance should be provided for this.
Men who are victimized need to have the same considerations and options that we are working to provide women today. A subordinate to a person in power cannot freely consent to a sexual relationship with that supervisor. This is why the majority of Universities for example prohibit professors from engaging in intimate relationships with graduate students that they are supervising. We know it’s wrong and that subordinates need protection.
We need to define for young men and women what the actual rules are with regard to intimacy with a consenting partner. If engaging with someone and they say they wish to stop and feel uncomfortable and the person does, is that still later considered sexual misconduct?
Define for once and for all that when in a position of power and authority over someone, that person cannot consent to having a sexual relationship with the superior. If we believe that which most of us do, then make that a universal fact, protect those who report such incidents and provide care and help for those victims regardless.
In my case, I would do it again. I would report the sexual harassment because my fear would be that without a proper investigation this person would be allowed continual exposure to other victims and abuse hundreds if not thousands. It’s our duty to report. Unfortunately today, it could cost you your career.