Former reporter wishes her 1980s sexual harassment story was irrelevant today

OTTAWA — Kathryn Young remembers the anger growing within as she listened to their laughter.

On the floor of the House of Commons, they were snickering and chortling as a New Democrat MP mentioned a newspaper story about how the press secretary to the prime minister had told a female reporter she would get her interview once she agreed to a date.

The politicians were shaking with laughter and, she realized, so were many of the reporters seated with her in the press gallery overlooking the scene.

She went home and told her husband something she had never shared with him before.

Eighteen months earlier, she had been sexually assaulted by Michel Gratton, press secretary to prime minister Brian Mulroney.

“Clearly, he just kept on his merry way doing what he was doing and nothing had changed,” Young said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“I felt that somebody had to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right. You can’t go on. You can’t treat people like that.’”

It was time to finally tell her story.

The arrival of the #MeToo movement on Parliament Hill feels like a watershed moment to many of the women who have walked its halls.

They are coming forward, often anonymously, to tell their stories of sexual harassment, assault and the everyday sexism that has long pervaded the male-dominated culture where loyalty to party is often seen as a virtue that trumps all others.

“The #MeToo movement, when you get all those voices together telling essentially the same story, that’s when you get a groundswell of support that forces change,” Young said.

But for Young, who shared her own experience more than three decades ago, it goes far beyond the stories told.

It is about the storytellers, finally, being believed.

Young was 24 years old when she joined the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press in 1983, a junior reporter who felt as if she was beginning her journalism career right at the top.

She worked the night shift, meaning she had to rely heavily on the good graces of Gratton for the details she needed to do her job.

There was a social aspect to the professional relationship too, as Gratton would often drink and trade gossip with reporters late into the night at the National Press Club.

As Young was heading home from there one night, Gratton asked if they could share a cab. She agreed, thinking it a sign that he accepted her as a colleague.

Once inside the taxi, Gratton began kissing her, ignoring her protests.

Out of a desire to set things straight for the sake of their professional relationship — and her ability to do her job — Young decided to invite him up to her apartment for a drink.

“It was a split-second decision,” she said.

Young did not want to revisit what happened next in her interview with The Canadian Press, but she shared the story with the CBC radio show “As it Happens” in 2014.

It was the first time anyone published the details in full.

She sat him down and began to explain that she was engaged to be married, but he leapt on top of her and ripped open her shirt, prompting Young to think this was it — she was going to be raped.

She remembers yelling “No!” repeatedly and turning her head from side to side, until he finally stood up and left.

Gratton died in 2011.

All these years later, Young said she still blames herself for inviting him up, even though she knows she did not invite what happened next.

“I still feel embarrassed and stupid for having done that,” she told The Canadian Press.

“Society tends to blame victims. I think that’s slowly changing, but there is victim blaming and then you internalize it,” she said. “Whatever people say about you, you kind of tend to take in.”

That night, she called a male colleague from the bureau, who came over to comfort her and then pushed Gratton into delivering what she remembers as a half-hearted apology over the telephone.

She thought it was over.

She needed to keep working with him and she wanted to move on with her life and her job.

The laughter that day in November 1986 let her know it was far from over.

It was happening to others, too.

She told her story to the Toronto Sun.

Then she felt the old doors of Parliament Hill — and many in the mostly male press gallery — shut her out, ridiculing her both in person and in the pages of their newspapers.

There was no haven in her own newsroom, either, as the Ottawa bureau chief at the time, Gordon Grant, was drinking buddies with Gratton.

“That old boys’ club just closed ranks against me.”

Meanwhile, the wire service had offered to cover the cost of meeting its lawyer for advice, but then mailed her a cheque for only half the amount.

She said she sent it back to head office.

“That did not go over well,” said Young.

She believes her career at The Canadian Press, where she remained in the Ottawa bureau until 1993, suffered.

Still, Young said she does not regret coming forward.

“My whole reason for going public in the first place was to shed light on this sordid underbelly of Parliament Hill,” she said, “and I think I’ve helped.”

She said the courts, the media and society at large have evolved in their understanding of consent and sexual assault.

She thinks she would be treated differently today.

Still, she wishes there was no longer a reason to share her story.

“In an ideal world, it would be, ‘Ah, that’s history, we’ve all moved on, it’s not relevant,’” she said. “But sadly, it is relevant.”

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