I was 23 years old, working as a server at an upscale restaurant in Toronto.

I got sexually harassed by customers all the time. But I developed a pretty thick skin and I got good at making jokes and deflecting. I brushed it off. It was just part of the job, and I felt like I handled it fine.

But then one day a line got crossed. I was picking up an order, when a guy who worked in the kitchen grabbed my ass. I was furious. I decided to report it to the owner of the restaurant, who was a woman. She liked me, and I hoped she’d handle it okay.

She did. She immediately spoke with the guy and told him to stay away from me. She didn’t fire him, but still, the reprimand seemed to work – he never harassed me again. 

In some ways I felt relieved. I was glad she intervened. But in other ways I was disheartened. I felt like honestly, he should have been fired. I had been there a long time, and I made the restaurant a lot of money. He was new and totally replaceable.

I stayed in the industry for another five years. As I got older and reflected on my experiences though, I began to see things differently than I had at the time. Back then, I thought I was coping well, but looking back, I realize how exploitative the environment was. The normalization of the bad behaviour, the idea that it was just ‘part of the job,’ the way we prided ourselves on coping okay – it was all really sick and messed up. 

Now, I feel a mix of emotions about that period of my life. I feel angry and exploited. But I’m glad I spoke up, at least once.