A few days ago, activist & actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me Too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."
I’ve been contemplating sharing this for a very long time now. I know that I don’t have to share every single aspect of my life, even if something triggers it. However, seeing how many brave women have stepped forward to say #metoo, I felt it was time. I want them to know that they are not alone.
This is not something that many know about me because, quite honestly, I didn’t think it was a big deal when it happened. However, looking back at my life, this is just one of the many times that I was violated as a woman and as a human being. I choose to share this episode. I am not simply sharing this because #MeToo has become a trending movement and I sure as heck am not sharing it because I feel pressured to share it. I am sharing because I think that many young girls and young women can learn from my experience. Yes, this happens to men, as well, but studies show that more women get sexually harassed/assaulted in the workplace than men. Regardless, I don't want this or anything worse to happen to anyone else.
I was sexually harassed by my manager back in the 1990’s. It was my very first job ever. I was about 20 years old. Picture this: he was about 6’2” and about 250+ pounds. I was 4’11” & weighed about 120 pounds. In stature alone, he was very intimidating. Yet, he was very nice to me, too nice, actually. His advances began very gradually and subtly. He’d call me into his office to have “small talk”. He’d say things like “your boyfriend is lucky to have you” as a way to fish to see if I had a boyfriend (I realized this afterwards). He even once indicated that his son was available, but somehow I don't think he was trying to hook me up with his son. Not one time did he call me into his office to discuss work. It was always some type of odd conversation. I was almost naive about whether or not his questions & comments were appropriate. I was very new to the workforce & part of me felt that perhaps this was normal, even if it made me feel uncomfortable.
My desk was located in a room that housed another desk with a computer, but no one was assigned to that other desk. Therefore, I was the only employee in that room. On several occasions, he’d walk into the room & begin massaging my shoulders. I worked in Corporate America and not at a massage parlor. He had no business putting his hands on me. I’d sit there confused thinking, “What did I do to invite this?” and also wondering, “Is this normal?” I never said “stop” or “don’t do that”. As a result, I carried a sense of guilt with me about that for years. His behavior caused me to literally freeze. He knew that I was a single mother and he took advantage of that fact.
Because I felt as though he was becoming more and more bold with his advances, I mentioned what was happening to a female coworker. She was shocked and suggested that I tell our supervisor. I told her that I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else. Our supervisor was male and my fear was that he would side with my manager and say that I was overreacting. My coworker told our supervisor, nonetheless. I felt uneasy about the entire thing and I honestly didn’t think any good would come out of it. I just knew that two people now knew about what was happening to me and that if anything more serious were to happen, at least I had them to back me up.
Well, one morning I arrived at work and I bumped into my manager. Running into him startled me because by this point, I was on edge about being around him. I looked up and politely said, “Good Morning”. He said nothing in return. Right then and there I realized that he was being escorted out by Human Resources. I never saw him again. The unusual thing is that no one ever brought it up and no one asked me any questions, not my supervisor and not anyone in Human Resources. They were probably trying to avoid a lawsuit. I honestly don’t know. I was just glad that he was gone.
With that experience I learned that predators will prey on the young and/or the vulnerable. My manager knew that I was inexperienced in terms of behavior in the workplace and just life in general. No one ever warned me that something like that would happen. I think that more conversations and awareness about sexual harassment/assault should be taking place and they need to start at home. Also, just because certain things get swept under the rug, as was the case with this situation and how my employer handled it, it doesn’t change what happened. It happened, even if people covered it up!
I have also learned that I will no longer live in fear of what my current employer or future employers will think of me because I am sharing this. I remember reading an article about this very same topic a few years ago. The article discouraged women who were seeking employment from being vocal about any sexual harassment they experienced in previous jobs because they may be considered "trouble makers" or a "liability". I found it very unfair and irresponsible for the author to suggest that victims need to remain silent.
If I could go back, knowing what I know now, I think I would have handled things differently. I say “I think” because we contemplate all the things that we would do in certain situations, but when we are in those situations, it’s a whole different ball game. I considered myself outspoken even then in my 20’s and yet that still happened to me. There are women who go through far more serious and severe situations. However, it doesn’t diminish my experience. It happened. All it takes is one circumstance to change one's life.
Why bring this up now if I seem like a normal, functioning adult? I am bringing it up because I want people to know that they do not have to be at the mercy of someone who is trying to take advantage of them or intimidate them. I want people to pay attention to signs, to be alert, and not be afraid to call people out. The reason more people get away with this behavior is because many victims remain quiet. I know that it is extremely difficult for some to discuss their experiences and I am by no means suggesting that everyone needs to speak up. I have personally made the conscious decision to share this and I hope that it helps at least one person.