My experiences with sexual harassment at CARSA

Op-eds Opinions Uncategorized
File photo by Myles Sauer
File photo by Myles Sauer

Sierra has organized a petition asking for accountability from the university regarding sexual harassment at CARSA and UVic. Click here to check out the petition. 


On June 18, I told a creepy old man in the hallway of CARSA to fuck off when he was ogling me as I walked by. He apparently did not like that I told him to fuck off, so he told the front desk.

As I passed by the front desk after changing back into my street clothes, a student staff member with funny brown hair spoke to me. He said that I should not have told the elderly “gentleman” to fuck off. I told him that the “gentleman” was ogling and leering at me. Clearly, funny brown haired guy was not supportive. He said that this “gentleman” was simply “looking”.

“Do you know how gross it is when that happens, when you get leered at?” I asked. “What was I supposed to have done?”

“Ignore it,” he said, with an incredulous look on his face. “Or go talk to him and tell him that you don’t like that he is leering at you.”

“You mean, have a conversation with a man who felt entitled to leer at me like it was perfectly acceptable?”

Two months before this, on April 27, I had a meeting with Michelle Peterson (Vikes’ Associate Director of Finance & Operations), Daphne Shaed (a Third Space board representative), and Allison Eddy (Personal Safety Coordinator at UVic) to supposedly discuss the sexual harassment issues that I have been experiencing at CARSA. I had made several complaints about sexual harassment prior to this meeting.

There was this creepy guy who felt it was OK to look in between my legs and at my breasts while I was doing sit-ups on a mat upstairs (this happened more than once). There was another creepy old guy who felt perfectly entitled to look down my shirt and at my legs as I was sitting down and he just happened to walk by. I’ll never forget the bald guy who was perched on the leg raise machine, staring at a young woman’s butt as she was on the elliptical next to him, or the pale, old man who was on the elliptical, watching a girl doing situps on the floor beside his machine. Once, I left the change room and a middle-aged man — who I’d seen staring at me inside the gym — walked towards me and purposefully bent down to look in between and at my legs.

At this meeting, I was told to phone security whenever sexual harassment occurs. Peterson admitted that the student staff at CARSA aren’t properly trained to deal with these issues. Eddy kept interrupting me while I was trying to express myself — I felt like she was trying to bully me. Peterson told me that I shouldn’t give sexual harassers the finger, because , ”think about how you would feel.” I replied that I don’t sexually harass people. To think that the Associate Director of CARSA sympathizes with sexual harassers is actually quite disturbing.

If the issue of sexual harassment is to be taken seriously at CARSA by security, then why isn’t there a member of security, equipped with Consent Training and Sexual Harassment Training, onsite at all times during CARSA hours of operation? Why would they make women have to call security every time? Why does it sound like a threat to the complainant each time a Strength Trainer says they will call Security? It certainly makes the process of complaining more intimidating and discouraging and delays response times.

I have never felt that staff members at CARSA took me seriously on these issues. Funny-brown-haired guy hasn’t been the only staff person who automatically took the side of the perp. A female Strength Trainer once told me that a sexual harasser wasn’t staring at me (even though she wasn’t there at the time) and that sexual harassment does not occur and has never occurred at CARSA. It doesn’t seem like CARSA plans to properly train their personnel to be able to handle these issues, either.

The only person at CARSA who seemed to have any sort of empathy and rational thinking ability is the guy with glasses who stepped in to talk to me after funny-brown-haired guy was blindly defending the “elderly gentleman.” He listened to me calmly, sympathized with me, and actually agreed that calling security in this situation would have been useless. He told me that he would talk to his bosses regarding actually addressing the problem of sexual harassment at CARSA. It was refreshing to deal with someone sincere and respectful, and who didn’t stare at me when I walked by like the actual managers have done. I’ve caught them staring at me, and glancing at my backside as I walked by on many occasions.

This is the climate at CARSA. The truth is that nothing is being done by the staff about the sexual harassment occurring regularly at CARSA. I know some women who have simply stopped going to CARSA because they didn’t want to be leered at, and some women who felt sexually harassed but said nothing.

My membership was recently suspended for a month by Michelle Peterson, who was notified by the managers that I had told the creepy old guy to fuck off. She then called a second meeting with me. I invited Kaitlyn Kokoska from the Martlet to come to this meeting, but Peterson flatly refused for her to attend. On June 27, Peterson, Eddy, Shaed and I met. I was told that I should have called security instead of telling the guy to fuck off, and that I would now be punished. I brought up the fact there is still nothing being done about the gym culture and sexual harassment at CARSA. Peterson  said that this culture of sexual harassment at the gym is only happening to me, and to no one else.

On July 26, I was asked to re-sign the waiver upon my return to CARSA. This new waiver very briefly mentions  the prohibition of sexual harassment, but also includes an amended, even stricter dress code for the gym. It appears that women have to be even more covered up at CARSA now. Funny, as CARSA admin must think that this is the only way for women to be “safe” from perverts who apparently cannot handle themselves otherwise. The dress code policy states that the code is there “in order to maintain a healthy, safe environment.” The concern about passing out from the lack of adequate air conditioning in the upstairs cardio section of the gym is always on my mind.

Is CARSA acknowledging that if we wear anything that shows our abdomen or back, for instance, that we would not be safe from the perverts that they willfully let into the gym? Women should be able to wear whatever they want, wherever and whenever, and CARSA should be protecting people from sexual harassment, instead of intimidating or shaming them. Women should not have their workouts interrupted and be asked to leave the gym just because their gym attire does not cater to a creep’s ability to control himself. Why is the blame put on women? A quiz should be taken and passed by each CARSA gym member on the topic of sexual harassment, after they read the appropriate guidelines. The staff working there should be properly trained and compassionate. If CARSA is such a state-of-the-art, progressive facility, then why shouldn’t the staff be just as equipped and progressive? Those who enable sexual harassment, or even have the attitude that it is no big deal, are just as creepy as the sexual harassers. CARSA should not enable misogyny.

Creepy men will often take advantage of the fact that most women were raised to be polite and not to cause a scene. When we simply accept their crap, they get a sense of power in their pathetic little way. We have to let them know that they aren’t entitled to sexually harass us. No one has a right to make us feel unsafe or uncomfortable. We cannot be intimidated by sexual harassment and misogyny. Do not accept it.

In the interest of protecting our writer’s privacy and safety, her last name has been withheld.

This story has been updated to include a petition organized by Sierra.