In October 2014, sexual assault prevention educator Julie Lalonde visited the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston to discuss harassment and consent with undergraduate students. Afterward, she turned to the media to express her horror at what she described as the most hostile audience she had experienced in her speaking career. She was whistled at, catcalled, laughed at and openly disrespected. A whole five months later, she got an apology from the school\u2019s commandant, Brig.-Gen. Al Meinzinger. But after publicly critiquing the military for encouraging a culture of silence, Lalonde also received a backlash of abusive emails and tweets, telling CBC News, \u201cIf me talking about having been harassed compels you to write me an email telling me that I am human garbage and deserve to die, I think you\u2019re proving my point.\u201d I wish I could pretend Lalonde\u2019s story was unique \u2014 that of being harassed while giving an anti-harassment lecture, much less the issue of harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a whole. But I know better. I was a Harassment Advisor in the CAF. I was also an Air Force Logistics Officer for more than eight years. Yet despite being an expert in the field, I personally experienced countless daily assaults \u2014 from having my breasts groped by a male Warrant Officer to being verbally harassed while giving my own lecture to 20 male students. I was catcalled while in uniform by men I clearly outranked. I was asked if the reason I was assigned to a position in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics security force was due to \u201csleeping with someone who mattered.\u201d Yet despite all of this, I rarely said anything. I never once lodged an official complaint to my Commanding Officer. My silence still haunts me \u2014 which is why I found Lalonde\u2019s story heartening. In spite of the backlash it sparked, her speaking up brought the issue of harassment and assault in the Forces into the limelight. SYSTEMIC HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT An array of challenges lie ahead for women who choose careers in any male-dominated field. This is especially so in the military, where physical, mental and emotional obstacles are coupled with stark sexism and prevalent harassment and assault. With a composition averaging roughly 88% male, the CAF is striving to develop policies that protect women. Yet studies show that, by not providing a safe workplace, the Forces are failing the women who already serve, much less reducing the impact of sexism on future generations. In 2016, Statistics Canada conducted a survey of 43,000 military members; of these, 960 female respondents reported having been sexually assaulted in that year alone. A shocking 27.3% of women reported experiencing a sexual assault over the course of their career, a figure which, notably, doesn\u2019t even cover other forms of harassment. This is an especially high rate for a group of coworkers who should be able to rely on one another for safety and protection, not just during postings but at home too. Yet despite sensitivity, gender, and harassment training and policies, female soldiers are routinely harassed. Two fellow female veterans I spoke to had their own stories to tell. Retired Master Corporal Tamar Freeman, who served for 26 years, experienced harassment first-hand from her supervisor, though she felt it was well handled when she reported it immediately. Another senior Non-Commissioned Officer stepped in as a moderator and had an open conflict-resolution discussion. \u201cWhen I look back I think, \u2018Wow, that was really well done, and that was 15 years ago,\u2019\u201d says Freeman. \u201cIt\u2019s only when I think back on it that I think how exceptional that experience was. But at the time I thought this is how things should be handled.\u201d Major (Retired) Sandra Perron was the first female Canadian infantry officer. In her memoir Out Standing in the Field, she discusses her desire to work in combat arms and the challenges she faced to be accepted. Before\u00a0being allowed to join, she had to take her\u00a0request to the Human Rights Tribunal. She writes about her rape by a fellow soldier, as well as countless other harassing experiences. \u201cI knew they didn\u2019t want me there,\u201d she says, \u201cand they let me know that in a myriad of ways.\u201d WHY HARASSMENT PERSISTS To understand why harassment is still such an issue for women in the Canadian Armed Forces, it\u2019s important to understand how the military works. Out of necessity, it\u2019s an organization that relies heavily on the chain of command for reporting issues, personal or otherwise. Investigative and advisory roles are secondary duties on top of regular work, meaning that investigations are both expensive and taking staff away from their primary roles. In order to reduce workload and lessen the drain on financial resources, the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Guidelines say that harassment is best dealt with at the lowest level possible. Despite the investigation and resolution process in place, women still aren\u2019t speaking up about harassment and assault, and it\u2019s not hard to understand why. I\u2019ve experienced first-hand the desire to fit in, to prove myself against men who perpetually saw me as intruding into their boys\u2019 club. Certainly, not all of my male comrades objectified me, but it was a common, if not daily, occurrence to have my gender brought up in discussions of any perceived successes or failures. Perron talks about same difficulty. \u201cSpeaking up would have ended my career and I knew that,\u201d she says. Reporting statistics are dismal for civilian sexual assaults as well. Yet in the military one of the main issues with reporting stems from a vital element of military life \u2014 the need for cohesion within the unit. When soldiers deploy, they must support and protect one another: teamwork is paramount to getting the job done and getting it done safely. If there is a relationship and communication fracture between troops or their supervisors, that trust is put at risk. To put it plainly, when soldiers don\u2019t trust each other, people can die. Rocking the boat by reporting harassment is made all the more difficult by the fact that women are often perceived as weak compared to male counterparts. The act of soldiering is a gruelling one, and women \u2014 by nature of their builds, body fat percentages and muscle development \u2014 cannot always match the physical strength and abilities of men. While preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, Freeman said, she put in extra effort to ensure that she could hold her own with the combat unit to which she had been assigned. A male coworker later said he was relieved to see her working so hard \u2014 when she arrived, he and the other men had been worried that they would be relegated to picking up her slack. Freeman says she had to work insanely hard to eradicate that perception. \u201cMORE THAN A GENERATION\u201d No one-button solution exists for solving systemic sexism and harassment in the military, but improvements are possible by educating both men and women. Several programs are currently in place to stop harassment at the source, including Harassment Prevention and Resolution lectures and cultural training, which include gender awareness education. That said, progress is slow, sometimes maddeningly so. Creating new policy often involves surveys, interviews, and various boards and approvals. \u201cEven once you implement policy changes and really get programs to both educate and work on issues and problems, I think it takes more than a generation,\u201d says Freeman. \u201cI don\u2019t think it will ever change fast enough.\u201d The CAF\u2019s sheer size also leads to inertia. \u201cYou have 60,000 humans you have to affect, both men and women.\u201d Another necessary step toward equality is ensuring that there is one standard for all. Recently the CAF moved away from the CF EXPRES Test, which was designed to measure physical fitness but used different standards based on sex and age \u2014 a fact men in my own platoon were quick to harp on. EXPRES was also based more on arbitrary physical fitness measures, like push-ups, than on real-life scenarios. In 2015 a new fitness testing system, called FORCE, was enacted, using moving sandbags and other endurance and lifting measures that more closely replicate scenarios soldiers might actually face during military operations. Efforts to create universal, relevant standards for all soldiers help women assimilate into their professional work environment and maintain equal respect amongst troops. Still, sexism has deep roots. In July 2016, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance created a plan designed to crack down on sexual harassment, with General Christine Whitecross, Canada\u2019s most senior female military officer, assigned to lead up the task force. As part of this plan, they launched Operation Honour, which aims to send a tough message to those who engage in sexual harassment, assault or other inappropriate behaviour. Shortly after Operation Honour launched, however, rumours spread of a crass rewording of its name, with soldiers calling the initiative \u201cOperation Hop on Her.\u201d \u201cSURVIVAL MODE\u201d Though at times new educational techniques and programs seem only to highlight how far there is to go, further education is vital to progress. With funding support from Veterans Affairs Canada, Dr. Gordon Davidson, a clinician in Vernon, BC, has set up a new\u00a0program called the Operational Stress Recovery clinic, to support women who experienced sexual trauma while serving. \u201cWe focus to some degree on education around harassment and bullying, in order to help women understand what happened to them and thus be more able to put it behind them, and also to help prevent them getting into future risk situations,\u201d says Davidson. Davidson notes that although many female veterans he\u2019s worked with found comradeship amongst one other, they also\u00a0felt shunned by fellow women if they reported their experiences of harassment or assault. Perron also noted this lack of female support within the military community. \u201cWomen, we\u2019re so good at helping one another through life phases, and then we\u00a0 don\u2019t do it when it comes to work,\u201d says Perron. \u201cWe\u2019re in survival mode ourselves. It\u2019s hard to have someone lean on you, when we\u2019re barely strong enough to stand up ourselves.\u201d While Perron believes that the CAF has much to do in the way of improvement, she feels that part of the solution starts with women, saying that the CAF should be promoting mentorship and support between female comrades. The same mentorship for model behaviour should also exist for men, she says, to teach them how to be champions of their female comrades, rather than adversaries. The CAF serves as an example for all workplaces. If we learn to celebrate the skill sets that women bring to the table, while also providing them with opportunities to prove their equality in various elements of their careers, women will be on better footing and feel empowered to bring forth complaints against harassing behaviour. Through education and programming, the culture will hopefully shift toward one of acceptance and inclusivity. While the Canadian military has a glowing reputation around the world, there are elements within the organization, regarding harassment and assault, that are fundamentally broken. Policymakers, leaders and troops need to come together to create a joint solution, so all soldiers feel safe and welcome in an already challenging workplace.