Dear Corporate Governess
When I was a 22-year-old advertising intern, the company director sexually assaulted me. I left that job and industry, while he went on to a slew of awards. Decades later, I'm considering speaking out but have no proof it ever happened. What's your advice on joining #MeToo now?
—Suzanne P., Toronto
Just a few short years ago, it was difficult for a woman to even think about coming out about harassment, let alone assault, in the workplace. But 2018 is shaping up to be a very different kind of year. If we were talking about sexual harassment that was happening right now, I'd encourage you to go to HR. A recent change to Ontario labour law gives health and safety inspectors new powers to order a sexual harassment investigation, at the expense of the employer, by an impartial, qualified person.
But we're talking about assault, and just because this occurred years ago doesn't mean you can't still go to the police. In Canada there's no statute of limitations on sexual assault if you choose to pursue a criminal case (or, in Ontario, on civil claims). It takes courage to be the first. Know that the process will be hard as you'll have to tell your story over and over again, and your credibility will be called into question. You may not get a conviction—witness the Ghomeshi acquittal after an agonizing criminal trial—but it takes action to bring about change.
Simona Jellinek, a sexual assault lawyer at Jellinek Law in Toronto, explains that with a criminal prosecution, once you report it, what police do is out of your hands. "The civil system is a more balanced playing field," she says. "Lack of proof is pretty typical. If the victim has told her story to others and has been consistent, that lends credibility. If her story is even a little bit more credible than his, then a judge will likely find for her. Having other people come forward also makes a huge difference."
Jellinek also advises that if you're seeking compensation, you're better off suing an institution rather than a person, since an institution usually has insurance to cover it. Either way, talk to a lawyer so you can make an informed decision—which, in some cases, may be not to go forward at all. "Sometimes just knowing that you have the power to do something is enough for some victims to find closure," she says.