We recently attended CNAR 2018 which included a session on the implications of the #MeToo movement for professional regulators. The room was packed with attendees with some people having to stand. The session began with the presenters asking how many people in the room have been sexually harassed or know of someone who has been. Almost every hand in the room went up and did so without hesitation. The desire to engage in the issue was palpable.
The intense engagement with #MeToo has also been seen in our legal work with an increase in regulators examining their regulatory tools by asking:
- Are there invisible hurdles created by our standard regulatory procedures? How do charging standards impact whether sexual misconduct complaints proceed to hearings? Are hearing processes so invasive that complainants cannot realistically make it to a hearing or through a hearing without debilitating effects?
- Do we have implicit biases that feed into unwarranted assumptions about how complainants are unreliable and respondents are upstanding? Are we unable to get beyond the lack of corroborative evidence? Do these implicit biases result in skewed settlements or poorly reasoned discipline decisions?
- What does it mean to “believe her” in the regulatory context? What are we doing or saying that sends the message that we don’t believe her?
The public eye is focused on how organizations that enforce sexual assault and misconduct laws are engaging with women coming forward with sexual abuse reports. Professional regulation laws are changing in provinces across Canada to provide for specific penalties for sexual misconduct.
In the #Metoo world, professional regulators need to take a hard look at whether they i.e., their staff and committees, and their regulatory processes create unintended invisible barriers for complainants of sexual misconduct.