TV & Movies

Project 97: “The Real Strength Is in Standing Up For Yourself”

When CBC Television host Jessi Cruickshank blogged about being sexually harassed by her university professor, she hoped her experience might resonate with a few women. Forty minutes later, her website crashed

(Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank)

(Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank)

On the night the Jian Ghomeshi story broke, I was live-tweeting Canada’s Smartest Person on the CBC, as I always do. Suddenly these CBC-related tweets started coming in that had nothing to do with our show. At first, my instinct was to stay silent. Because at that time, nobody knew whose side to be on.

As the story started to unfold, and brave women started to step forward and speak out against Jian, it quickly brought back my own memories about an experience I had with a college professor. While I realized that what I went through was certainly very different from the harrowing stories of Jian’s accusers, I could relate to being a young woman who was taken advantage of by a man in power, a woman who felt like she didn’t have a voice to speak out. I thought, Oh, I know that feeling, I can understand that.

Here I was, a young woman who was the face of a CBC show—I had a voice and a platform and support from the network and I wasn’t using it. I felt like I had a story to share that could be powerful and perhaps impactful on other women who had experienced what I had, or even what these alleged victims of Jian had. I was empowered by these brave women who were sharing their stories and finally I felt brave enough to share my own.

When I posted the blog on my website, I thought, Maybe a few young women will read it, and maybe it will have an impact and maybe they’ll start having conversations with their friends about sexual harassment. But within 40 minutes, my site crashed. It turned out that four million people read my post in the first two days. That’s when I realized, Wow, maybe my voice does have an impact.

The most rewarding and disconcerting part of this experience was the fact that hundreds and hundreds of girls, if not thousands, have written me, telling me that they have experienced a similar thing. And I realized how common that type of sexual harassment is; how common it is to be taken advantage of by a person in power. And those are the types of things we’re conditioned as women to brush off and to be strong about, but the real strength is in standing up for yourself and saying, ‘That’s not OK.’ That’s what it means to be a strong woman.

I always try to find the positive in any situation, and what became  abundantly clear to me with regards to the Jian situation, is that it initiated this national conversation. What Jian’s accusers experienced is horrible, but because they spoke up about it, it’s allowed our entire country to have intelligent conversations about what is OK and what is not OK. Employers and universities are thinking more critically about how they can protect people from sexual harassment and assault.

What I want women to know is that they’re not alone, it’s not their fault, and there’s always a way to speak out. That’s a blanket statement; I know how specific different situations are, but I genuinely believe that this is always a way to seek help or to get yourself out of a situation, no matter how small or how big it is.

When this happened to me, I didn’t talk about it to anyone, not even my closest friends. The thought of sharing these explicit things someone said to me with my parents was so unfathomable. Even now, I’m a fully-formed adult and I was still afraid to talk about it. But having shared my story and getting the feedback that I did, I feel a great sense of relief. I can only hope that a younger generation of women will also grow up feeling the freedom to speak up for themselves.

In one of the letters I received after my post, a woman described the feeling that she had when she was harassed—this sick knot in her stomach, this helplessness—and that was the exact way that I had felt. No woman should have to feel that.

As told to Maureen Halushak by Jessi Cruickshank. This interview has been edited and condensed.

This story is part of Project 97—a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.

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