A string of sexual harassment and assault allegations lodged at a former employee of a downtown Victoria restaurant are a sign of ongoing stigma around reporting sexualized violence, according to experts.
“First of all, somebody has been violated in an incredibly deep and personal way,” said Carissa Ropponen of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. “To come forward and to speak about something that impacts a person so deeply on that level can be really challenging.
“And there’s so much stigma in our society, there’s the questions, ‘Why were you drinking? What were you wearing?’”
At the end of January, dozens of reports appeared on social media platforms over several days, with allegations claiming an employee of Chuck’s Burger Bar was aggressive with several women and sexually assaulted others. Reports also said he over-served alcohol and frequently pressured women for sex.
In an online statement Feb. 1, Chuck’s Burger Bar said it had fired the employee and was investigating the allegations. The restaurant also claimed it was unaware of any issues prior to the reports.
After encouraging people with information to come to police, the Victoria Police Department announced it was investigating the claims on Feb. 4. None of the allegations have been tested in court and police have not yet announced any charges.
Social media pages dedicated to sharing allegations of sexualized violence can be a safe place for survivors, said Janni Aragon, gender studies and political science professor at the University of Victoria. The virtual space can act as a gateway for more reports.
Emboldened by both the number of accounts and the support of others, some of the allegations make their way from the digital world to the pages of a police report, like in the case of Victoria tattoo artist David Hadden, who was charged with five counts of sexual assault after online allegations surfaced in August.
“I felt like (this) was a way for the survivors to understand that they weren’t alone,” Aragon said. “Because in so many societies across the globe, girls and young women are raised to be ‘good girls.’ When something like this is perpetuated against them, be it sexual harassment or sexual assault, usually the knee jerk (response) is, ‘What did I do? Did I give off mixed signals?’”
And going to police is difficult, she adds. There’s concerns about being believed, not to mention a low rate of charges, let alone convictions, for sexual assault.
But social media offers a platform for support, without gatekeeping.
“It says, ‘You’re not alone. Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re not broken,’” Aragon said. “I think that’s a very empowering moment for so many of the survivors, to know that what happened to them is indeed wrong, and that someone is there supporting them.”
Aragon also points to a hostile sexual environment in the service industry. “There have been stories that, during this pandemic, some servers are actually facing male clientele (who are) saying, ‘Take your mask down so we can figure out how much it’s worth tipping you,’” she said. “There’s been multiple stories like that.”
But that isn’t new for most service industry workers. Statistics Canada data from 2016 shows that sales and service workers see the highest probability of workplace harassment, second only to health care workers.
“I think that we’re having a moment,” Aragon said. “Bad behavior has consequences.”
Anyone who wishes to report an incident or has information about an incident can call the VicPD report desk at 250-995-7654 ext. 1.
The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre offers counselling, victim services and a sexual assault response team. The centre can be reached 24/7 at 250-383-3232.