Sunday November 05, 2017

The 'Weinstein effect' alone won't help sexual assault victims

Women are speaking out, and men are paying the price. But sexual assault cases are still under-reported, and rarely result in convictions in court.

Women are speaking out, and men are paying the price. But sexual assault cases are still under-reported, and rarely result in convictions in court. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

Listen 35:19

It has been exactly one month since The New York Times reported that a number of women accused Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein of being a sexual predator.

Since then, a floodgate seems to have opened, not just with the emergence of further stories about Weinstein but about other prominent men who are alleged to have used their power to sexually harass or assault women. Some have either been fired or resigned from their jobs.

Constance Backhouse is not shocked by the number of women who are speaking out as never before, or by the details of their stories. In 1979, she co-authored a book (with the late Leah Cohen) called The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women. It was the first Canadian work on the subject, and only the second in the world. 

Backhouse is a professor in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa and holds the University Research Chair on Sexual Assault Legislation in Canada.

She hopes we have reached a turning point, when women who are victimized will no longer sit in silent shame, and when men will pay a price for their predatory behaviour. However, she is not yet convinced that the #MeToo trend we are seeing now is going to last.

Constance Backhouse

Constance Backhouse says we need a massive cultural shift in our attitudes about women. (Mélanie Provencher)

"Wherever you have power differential, you have a high risk of sexual coercion," Backhouse says. 

"One of the things we haven't talked about enough in sexual harassment is that women who are racialized, women with disabilities, lesbians, women in all-male, masculinized workplaces in working class jobs...they are at heightened risk for sexual harassment."

Backhouse says we need a massive cultural shift. 

"Why haven't we built a culture in which nobody wants to have sex except with somebody who wants to have sex with them? We could have a world like that. It's not unimaginable, and yet nobody's even talking about that."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.