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Albertans pessimistic about #MeToo movement: Report

New poll shows Albertans are less optimistic than the rest of Canadians that recent conversations about sexual misconduct will create lasting change

People carry signs addressing the issue of sexual harassment at a #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on Dec. 9, 2017 in New York City.

Stephanie Keith / Getty Images North America

People carry signs addressing the issue of sexual harassment at a #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on Dec. 9, 2017 in New York City.

Albertans are less optimistic than the rest of Canada that the #MeToo movement will create lasting change, according to a new survey.

The NRG Research poll, released Tuesday, shows 44 per cent of Albertans – more than in any other province – said #MeToo will fade over time and having no lasting impact.

Just 29 per cent of Albertans believe the campaign and recent high-profile sexual misconduct allegations will change attitudes and behaviours for the better, compared to 40 per cent nationally.

“This survey certainly demonstrates to me that we have a lot more work to do,” said Mary Jane James, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

When asked how effective #MeToo has been at raising awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence, Albertans were three times more likely than the rest of Canadians (nine per cent, compared to three) to say it’s been “very ineffective.”

Eighteen per cent of Albertans – twice the national average – said recent high-profile allegations will have no impact on reducing sexual harassment in the workplace.

“When this situation has been going on for so many years, in so many environments that were ignored, downplayed, disbelieved, it’s not surprising that people would be suspect about real change happening,” James said.

“Having said that, I think what surprises me most is Albertans’ reaction relative to the other provinces.”

NRG Research Group Vice President Kim Scott said there is no easy answer to why Albertans seem so pessimistic.

“I know that there is a very long history of staunch Albertan conservatism," she said. "So perhaps that’s it – that there’s more of a, ‘We’ll believe it when we see it’ kind of an attitude,” she said.

When it comes to understanding sexual misconduct, Albertans seem to be on par with the rest of Canada – 96 per cent said threatening to rape someone is an example of sexual violence or harassment, compared to 92 per cent nationally, while 89 per cent said attempting sexual activity with someone who is incapacitated or intoxicated is an example of sexual violence or harassment, in line with 91 per cent across Canada.

Scott said there seems to be a clear consensus among Canadians of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour, despite recent comments by public figures that might suggest otherwise.

“In the last few days there have been some celebrities that have come out saying, ‘Well, gee, this is just women making a big deal out of normal behaviours, how do we even know what harassment is or how to define that, or I’m scared to do anything,’ ” Scott said.

“And it seems like there really is a very clear understanding of what crosses the line.”

James has credited the #MeToo movement for a recent spike in reporting of sexual assaults, and she is still hopeful that the campaign will be a catalyst for lasting change.

She said prevention is the key to eradicating sexual violence in the long term, and that starts with educating kids about healthy relationships and consent.

“I think what has to happen is change has to be an instrumental and integrated part of the curriculum in the schools,” she said.

“Unless we get into those schools much earlier than high school as we’re doing now, then we probably aren’t going to see a shift.”

The results are from a provincially-representative Canada-wide study of 1,001 respondents, conducted online from November 27-29 and weighted to reflect the age and gender distribution in each region.

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