Toronto writer's story of sexual harassment spurs others to share experiences
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TORONTO — A Toronto writer's tweet relating her sexual harassment at the hands of an employer has sparked an online outpouring of similar stories, a discussion she says is the first step in tackling a culture in which such abuses are pervasive.
Anne T. Donahue put out a call for such stories on Twitter in light of sexual harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, which were published Thursday in The New York Times. Among them are accusations that he sexually harassed actresses, including Ashley Judd, and former employees.
Weinstein has said he is taking a leave of absence from his company and acknowledged he has behaved poorly, but has accused the Times of rushing its story to publication because of a "vendetta" against him. The Times has said it is confident in the accuracy of its reporting.
"Reading that Harvey Weinstein piece, it was familiar and exhausting in that I think many of us have come to recognize patterns of abuse of power, whether in our own lives or in the lives of friends and family or even in government," Donahue said.
Donahue, a culture writer, said she decided to share her story — she was a 17-year-old co-op student at a radio station when her boss insisted on massaging her shoulders — in case it could reassure even one other person who went through something similar that they weren't to blame.
Over roughly 24 hours, her tweet was shared close to 2,500 times and drew almost as many online responses, many of them from others disclosing their own experiences of sexual harassment.
Some mentioned incidents dating back to high school or earlier, others described being cornered by coworkers or bosses. Not all the stories were from women.
Donahue, 32, said she wasn't surprised by the volume of replies, but rather by their sincerity. Though there were a few dissidents, the tone was overwhelmingly supportive, she said.
Having men talk about the harassment they have endured was also important, she said, noting that sexual violence affects all genders.
"This was sincere, firsthand experiences and it immediately created a space in which people began to feel comfortable sharing," she said.
"Sharing can be very scary and you're in a very vulnerable position and that shouldn't be taken lightly," she said. "This is what reclamation of power looks like, to an extent. It's one step in about a thousand before we obliterate rape culture. But it's an important step."
Still, Donahue stressed there is no shame in holding back.
"You can be just as powerful and create just as much change by just reading and acknowledging," she said.