Document, document, document!
Dates, times, places, who said what to whom, witnesses, any consequences and retribution, is it overt or covert bullying. Our memories fade with time, having documented evidence is worth its weight in gold in establishing your credibility. Check out the HR departments, internal grievance process, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Labour Laws. policies and procedures.
How do I survive sexual harassment?
That is the question I am asked almost everyday. The reason? Because victims are speaking up and people, society, global attention with the #MeToo, are finally listening and demanding accountability. The perpetrators are falling one by one! For victims they are no longer silenced. I understand completely the deep emotional pain, the internal bleeding from sexual harassment and assault. For the years of suffering when no one was listening or willing to enforce policies to protect victims. Today there is a tsunami of change which is empowering for victims who suffered when no one was listening or willing to help, where in many situations speaking up resulted in swift retribution, isolation and career ending.
Surviving sexual harassment and helping others is and continues to be important.
If no one says anything then nothing changes, doing nothing allows the violence to continue and creates more damaged victims. In 2015 I presented at TEDx Winnipeg on ‘tools to survive workplace bullying and sexual harassment’. It was important to help give you the tools you need to survive, to feel supported, to have hope and to learn to enjoy life again. Am I scarred from the sexual harassment? Absolutely, yet my scars remind me where I have been and do not define my future successes and happiness. Watch the talk and think about what works for you.
Feeling stuck ? Feeling unworthy? Feeling its your fault?
I can remember these exact feelings. As if I had done something wrong. Questions, self doubt racing in my mind, ‘did I wear something sexy? Did I say something to encourage this man? Did I not fight back enough? Did I not say ‘no’ loud enough? Did I drink too much? Why did I not see this danger? Why do I feel so damaged? Why do I feel dirty? Will I ever be able to find intimacy?
Yes I have been in those ‘victim blaming’ shoes. You see that is what the perpetrators want you to feel; that you can’t take a joke, that you have no sense of humor, that you can’t get along with your co-workers, that you don’t know how to play along with the boss and management. Keeping quiet is part of the workplace. Everyone else is okay with the sexual harassment what is wrong with you? NOTHING! Remember you did nothing wrong so please do not blame yourself. This self positive acknowledgment is the first step in finding your voice and taking back your power.
Tools to survive sexual harassment.
How to survive sexual harassment is as individual as a snowflake. What strategies work for me may not fit with who you are and what you may need today and for tomorrow. First thing I did was document the sexual harassment, dates, times places, and any witness. Seeking professional help and surrounding yourself with a positive support network. Remember just because someone loves you does not mean they know how to give support. Share your experiences in a safe place with people who you feel safe. Victims often keep silent because they feel shame, guilt, and blame themselves and that starts a spiral of negative thinking, self loathing and low self esteem. Which we know can create lifelong negative behavior patterns at home and work.
Some of the others tools and strategies are mentioned in the TEDx talk and most importantly involve creating positive things that make you feel happy, confident and strong. For example as I was learning to find my way back from that pit of despair the first thing being exercise as part of relieving stress and for many reasons. It helps with sleep, releases those ‘feel good’ hormones, boosts energy and gives a sense of well being. Watching movies that give you that feel good comfort sensation. Sometimes we like to watch a particular movie again and again. I like funny movies and again laughter releases those feel good hormones. Dividing your day up in to 15 min or hour segments and doing something to feel happy. Having hobbies that give you that emotional recharge. Developing boundaries with people on behaviors you accept and not accept. I do this with all my relationships , family, friends and at work. Focusing in the positive. It really works.
Tools to Finding your way…
Learning to be forgiving with ourselves on the journey and ‘it is okay’ to make mistakes as we find our way. This varies from person to person. It has been years and yet I still have memories and triggers. At first everyday there were triggers of the events. Certain people, places, smells, sounds, words, like sling shot back in time with memories of the trauma. The idea is to be aware of your own emotions, curious of what is happening in that moment in order to take control and seek the supports needed. Your voice counts, you are important, keep finding your voice to success and happiness. One minute, and day at a time moving forward.
There are times when I fall back into that ‘less than worthy’ feelings, old negative thought patterns emerge. This the time to look into the tool kit and do something positive and make the shift to empowerment.
Was speaking up about sexual harassment worth it? YES!! Never give up.
It cost in suffering, stress and PTSD. YET Remaining silent was not an option if I wanted to create change. Since retiring that is exactly what my days include, this blog, letters to Parliament, providing education to both employees and management and helping others learn to speak up, to survive and thrive. Next week I am recieving an award, the Canada 150 Medal from Senator Grant Mitchell in recognition of the years of speaking up about sexual harassment in the RCMP and the continued efforts to create cultural change for the organization. It was a humbling to be mentioned let alone receive this public acknowledgement. Accepting the journey of the trauma also includes accepting the successes. You can survive sexual harassment and find your voice to empowerment on the journey to happiness and success. Each day is a new day, focus on the positive and create a network of people, tools and strategies that work for you.