Boys should be taught about consent, harassment at early age: expert

TORONTO – From how you act to what you say, experts warn there are many behaviours which can cross the line and be interpreted as harassment.

Metrac in Toronto is an organization that works to end violence against women and youth. Shequita Thompson, a youth program coordinator with the organization says respect and recognizing what kind of behaviour is acceptable should be taught early.

“They don’t understand when it comes to consent or building boundaries, what does that mean,” she said. “So when we say that’s inappropriate they say, ‘yo miss, i never knew that.’”

Thompson and “React” team reach thousands of youth across Toronto each year. In addition to learning lessons at home, she says part of the challenge in the classroom is showing students, especially boys, what harassment means.

“We really work to building a culture of consent, what does consent look like and healthy relationships,” Thompson said.

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Experts hope early education will be the key to prevention. The Canadian Labour Congress says young, single women are statistically more likely to be sexually harassed in the workplace. That means being on the receiving end of inappropriate comments, gestures or physical contact perpetrated by coworkers.

In some cases, employees aren’t aware that what they are doing is wrong.

“The increasing use of social media theres often some conduct or behaviours that employees unwittingly engage in,” said lawyer Laura K. Williams of Williams HR Law. “They don’t realize that they’re offensive and unwelcome.”

Williams conducts sensitivity training sessions for businesses and says while a grey area can exist among employees who may not be fully aware of what harassment means, there is a push to change that.

“Sensitivity training really should focus on sensitizing the workplace to understanding what is appropriate and inappropriate conduct,” said Williams.

While men are also victimized by sexual harassment in the workplace, experts agree continued conversations around consent and where to draw the line should be taught at home and in school.

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