Media Release – September 24, 2012
Female RCMP officers not the only ones fearing backlash in reporting workplace harassment
Hamilton, ON – Monday, September 24, 2012 – Recent articles in the media have reported that female RCMP officers fear backlash over reporting harassment. According to a study published in the September issue of the Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, they are not the only ones. The study also acknowledges harassment occurs more frequently in traditionally male-dominated work environment such as the uniformed services.
Author Susan Hart (Memorial University) analyzed 26 Canadian arbitration cases decided from January 1992 to June 2008 where men had allegedly harassed a female coworker in the same union. The research showed that in the few cases where unions had filed a grievance on behalf of the women, their arguments aimed at protecting her rights to a harassment-free workplace, and were successfully upheld. However, most of the grievances studied were filed on behalf of men disciplined by the employer for harassment. In these cases, unions appeared to go out of their way to aggressively protect the rights of the male perpetrator, displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual harassment in their arguments.
That is consistent with an RCMP internal report featured in multiple news stories. The report states that “female members do not trust the force’s system to deal with harassment complaints and frequently avoid reporting instances of perceived wrongdoing,” according to the Globe and Mail (September 17, 2012).
Dr. Hart also found a prevalent theme of victim blaming in her study and a tendency to see the women complainants as the problem. Defense strategies offered by the unions included denying the women’s credibility, stating that the workplace cultures tolerated sexualized behaviour and questioning why the victim did not confront the harasser or report the harassment to management. Many of these strategies reflected stereotypical and outdated images of women.
“Today’s arbitral process – highly adversarial and legalistic – likely works together with a current law court pattern of very aggressive cross examinations to pressure sexual assault complainants to drop charges, and a parallel danger of slipping more easily into victim blaming” Dr. Hart explains. “However,” she continues, “in the last decade, the labour movement has paid increasing attention to the need for more effective sexual harassment policies at work and in union activities, and I hope that this increased awareness will translate into a reduction in these aggressive and gender-biased defence strategies in the future”.
The study concludes that women who are considering filing a formal harassment complaint, such as the female RCMP officers, are likely to be deterred by the arbitral process, and calls for unions and their counsel to be more aware of the potential for re-victimization of a female complainant, in order to protect the rights of all women at work.
The Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, based out of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, is an ISI-listed, multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed, international quarterly that publishes manuscripts with a strong theoretical foundation.
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Managing Editor, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences
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