Before it happened to me, I hadn’t thought much about sexual harassment in the workplace. Sure, I knew the term and what it meant. I knew it was a bad thing and that it was something that I definitely didn’t want to have happen to me, but I also thought that I was totally removed and nowhere near being the victim of sexual harassment at work.
I took a job for a company in the city after graduating from university, working with a boss that I knew-of, but didn’t know very well. He seemed totally normal, and why wouldn’t he? (1) He was married to a beautiful woman, wore Italian leather shoes with skinny jeans to work, and seemed to have the life he wanted. No reason for me to worry. Or so I thought.
On my first day, he insisted on drinks after work to celebrate. I wasn’t super keen on the idea, but how could I say no? It would have been like saying no to a birthday gift. It was my first day, and the occasion was first day drinks to celebrate my new position. UGH. Fine. I had to go.
When we got to the restaurant, he asked for a table at the back of the room. I remember thinking it was an odd choice, since there were two beautiful tables in front of the window that would have provided me with wonderful people-watching opportunities. But no. He wanted the back of the restaurant. (2)
Dinner was uneventful, and I was counting down the seconds until it was over and I could escape into the fresh air. I mean, come on – it was my first day. I was tired. I wanted to go home, shower, run around my apartment in my underwear and eat Ben and Jerry’s straight out of the carton.
The bill came and he paid, saying it was covered – the office was paying for it. Works for me, I thought. We exited the restaurant, and my freedom was so close I could almost taste it. And then he decided he wanted a nightcap. BAH. I tried to decline, told him I was tired and needed to get home.
“Come on,” he insisted, “just one more drink! You’ve got to!” (3)
I wasn’t happy about it, but again I felt obligated to go. He was my new boss and I had to make a good impression. The pep talk I gave myself was brief: he’s married, you’re not interested, this’ll be quick.
The next restaurant was undeniably cool — I’ll give him that. Also very dimly lit. He ordered an old fashioned for himself, and a pear flavored champagne cocktail for me. I purposely sat directly across from him to signify that I was not interested in closeness of any sort, but my choices made no difference. After ten minutes of sitting there, I felt his hand on my thigh.
Confusion hit me quickly. I hadn’t anticipated him being so forward or pursuing any attraction with me. I mean, what the fuck! It was my first day! Whyyyyyyy!!?! (4)
I didn’t know what to do. I froze. Completely froze. Shit! What do I do? What about my job? I need this job! I need to make rent. Fuuuuck. Without missing a beat or obviously disrupting his carefully crafted plan, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned to the table, I made it clear that I was leaving. It was late. No other explanation was needed.
That was day one. It was all downhill after that.
A couple of weeks in, he showed up outside of my apartment building on the weekend, drunk and insisting on hot-boxing my shower together. Umm, GROSS. I hid in my bedroom closet, listening to him bang on the glass door of my apartment building, watching my phone light up with texts from him asking to come in, and waiting for him to go away. I definitely felt alarmed at this point, but it didn’t change the fact that I needed the job. Monday came and went, and neither he nor I addressed the incident from the weekend. (5)
At Christmas time, he bought me a far too personal gift that cost far more than was necessary. He made me open the gift in front of him. It was a TNA flannel button-up shirt (totally cute, totally in-style, and totally my size) and a gift certificate for a $200 deep-tissue massage. I didn’t even get him a gift. I mean, it’s not school where you give your favorite teacher a mug or anything. It’s work. It’s a professional environment. Or so I thought.
Later that night he texted and asked to see a photo of me in the shirt, and then he took it too far and asked to see a photo of me without the shirt on. (6)
I ignored his texts, but I knew it was wrong. The entire working relationship felt wrong since day one, but it was a tough job market and it had taken me months to find my job, so I stayed, thinking that I could avoid him and make it clear over time that I wasn’t interested in anything romantic with him.
There were concerts and events that he insisted I go to with him, telling me he’d already gotten a ticket for me, or something equally pressuring. I found my way out of most situations – I’m busy, have other plans, visiting with family, away for the weekend, etc. One day he told me we had to have a work meeting off-site (at a rather expensive / aesthetically beautiful restaurant). I told him I didn’t have much time to spare as I had a dinner to get to (totally made up on the spot), and that I’d rather have the meeting at the office before leaving for the day. He laughed and said no.
“It’s a business meeting, be there at 5 or you’re fired.” And he laughed some more. (7)
I didn’t like his threat, but I showed up anyways. It’s always nice to get out of the office for a bit, and how bad could it be? Bad. Just straight up bad. He started off by talking about how there are many young women who move from the suburbs to the big city (he was describing me), and how they are often naive about what adult relationships look like in the city (uhh, what?). Adult relationships in the city, according to him, involved a lot of flexible boundaries and openness to new things (hah! Sure buddy). (8) And then he came right out with it. He asked what I thought of having a threesome with him and his wife.
The words came out of his mouth, and he watched me intently. It was in that moment that I finally found my balls. I gave him a long look and said, no. I’m not interested in a threesome. I don’t care what other people do, that’s not something I’ve ever felt inclined to do and I’m not interested. I also need to leave, as this conversation has made me uncomfortable. And I left.
Somehow throughout all of this, all of my ignoring his texts, refusing his tickets and hand-outs, and straight up refusing to have sex with him and his wife (who by the way definitely wouldn’t have been interested in sharing her husband with me), he still didn’t understand that I wasn’t interested in him.
Days after the threesome conversation, I found the courage to confront him. I had pulled away already and he had noticed. He asked to talk to me about my performance and dedication to my work (HAH), and I showed up to our meeting prepared. I notified a couple of female co-workers to the issue, and let them know that I was going into the boardroom to meet with him. Just before entering the meeting room, I opened the voice memo app on my iPhone and hit record. For the next 30 minutes, everything that was said was recorded. It didn’t go so well for him. He claimed to be confused about my intentions. He said he thought that I was in love with him (wtf?) and that I had been pursuing a sexual relationship with him (again wtf?). (9) He even alluded to the fact that there were “legal proceedings” currently in the works between him and his wife (umm, sure guy). The truth is that he used his position as my direct boss to pressure me into meeting with him outside of work, and he kept pushing his luck to see what else he could get away with.
I kept trying to think the best of him, to think that he didn’t mean to be as sinister and creepy as he was. And that was my biggest problem – that I kept trying to rationalize all of the crazy things that were happening. I tried to make sense of things, and to paint a picture that allowed me to keep my job.
Looking back now, I’m glad that I wasn’t physically harmed in any way, and I’m grateful for the lessons I learned. If you have encountered sexual harassment at work – DUDE, I feel your pain. If sexual harassment hasn’t touched you yet, you go girl! Keep up the good work and check out the lessons that I learnt the hard way:
- Sexual predators don’t make a habit of announcing themselves, nor of alerting anyone to danger. They prefer to fly under the radar, on the lookout for people who are weak, naïve, or gullible.
- Sexual predators always have ulterior motives. They have a plan. They are willing to cross the line and violate boundaries for the sake of their own pleasure. And they’ll always choose the dark corner of the restaurant, because darkness and illegal activity go hand in hand.
- Sexual predators look for ways to trap you into doing things. They prey on your niceness and make you feel obligated to do things with them or for them.
- Sexual predators purposefully put people in complicated situations, situations meant to cause the victim stress and confusion. If it seems as though something has been planned on purpose, know that it has been and get the hell out of there.
- Don’t shrug off situations that make you uncomfortable — situations that are wrong. Say something about them. Call them out.
- Sexual predators do anything they can to make you feel indebted to them. “Here, I bought you an expensive gift. Now show me a photo of your boobs. You owe me.” Umm… what? Don’t play in to their tricks.
- There is no such thing as a mandatory 2-person business meeting at a restaurant. And if someone says “you’re fired if you don’t,” take them up on it. Say all right, if it means I lose my job, so be it. Cause the truth is – they won’t fire you. They’re playing the pressure & intimidation game. And it’s not okay. So stick it to ‘em if you can.
- Sexual predators think they have something to show you, something you’ll like. They think that you want what they want, you’re just not expressing yourself clearly enough, and that it’s up to them to coax you into feeling comfortable about crossing the line. ANYONE who does this to you is wrong. Don’t let it happen. Don’t let anyone tell you what you want or what kind of person you are.
- Sexual predators will ALWAYS play innocent. They will tell you that you led them on, that you made them think you were interested, that you love them. Don’t listen to their bullshit.
- Believe your gut instinct when it tells you there’s danger. Melody Wilding, licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College states that “trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences.” So trust your gut. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Trust what you know and what you feel. And speak up. Always speak up.
A recent survey from Cosmopolitan says that roughly 1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 has been sexually harassed at work. Have you been sexually harassed at work? Feel free to share your story below in the comments! It’s SO important to speak up about topics like sexual harassment, so don’t hold back! The only way to escape the darkness is by turning on the light.