This post is a personal one, about something that happened to me. After being sexually harassed at work for months, my coworker and I spoke up. This is what happened.
It had started my second week on the job. My assistant manager, Jacob (not his actual name), came to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind but I went through your Facebook- you are stunning.” I didn’t know what to say. That week he expressed his preference for younger women. I said I supposed mine would be for older men, as my boyfriend was three years older than me. I said it explicitly to remind him I was in a relationship. He replied, “I bet older men love you. C’mon, you know how beautiful you are.” It was embarrassing and I had just started working there, I didn’t want to make waves with this man who had so much authority over me.
That was just the beginning.
It escalated from comments to touching my back, my neck, and arms. He asked me for a massage one day saying, “C’mon, I won’t tell Ryan.” Speaking of my relationship, he would ask coworkers about Ryan and I and try to “size him up.” It was incredibly uncomfortable and wasn’t just happening to me, but to another coworker. He would look around, lower his voice, and tell me things like, “you look really hot today.” I documented his actions and comments, which spanned almost five pages.
I told my coworker I wanted to speak out, but she was scared. Her and another urged me not to, and I listened.I knew I shouldn’t have, but it was scary and without that support I faltered. These were female coworkers who like me, had been taught that sexual harassment was a normality. My male coworkers looked out for us and said that whatever we did, they had our backs.
When my coworker and I made it clear we were not going to put up with it anymore, he snapped. Jacob found a reason to reprimand and snap at us at any turn. Even our other coworkers that were not aware of the situation asked what had happened to make him single us out like that. I went from dreading work to feeling physically ill when I thought about being there.
When we finally came forward about it, I felt equally terrified and relieved. I had to give multiple statements, written and verbal. I had to talk to regional managers. Jacob was on vacation when this had all begun, and was put on suspension while it was investigated.
With Jacob gone, I began to relax. My anxiety was gone, I didn’t feel sick at work, and the demeanor of everyone improved. Until one day I walked in to see Jacob behind the counter.
It felt like a bad dream. My manager pulled a few of us into the office and explained that it was as much a surprise to him as it was to us, even though I found out later he had fought to keep Jacob on. With no warning, I was so overwhelmed and uncomfortable I went home.
That night I received so many messages of support from my coworkers. I sent an email to the regional managers, as did seven of my coworkers. They threatened to find new employment. I told the managers in my email, “Honestly, I feel very conflicted about how I feel continuing my employment at a company that treats abuse of power and sexual harassment so lightly. Today I felt as if I were being punished for speaking up. Speaking up was terrifying and not something I took lightly or would have done unless I knew I was doing the right thing.”
Finally, Jacob was fired. Am I still mad at my head managers indifference? Yes, I am. But I was so moved by the unfaltering support of my coworkers, of their willingness to put their employment at stake because they knew it was the right thing to do. Work isn’t perfect, but with a group of coworkers who I can also call my loyal friends? I am pretty lucky.
This whole ordeal wasn’t easy. And I know people go through it every day, through worse things. But I urge you to speak up- there are rules and laws in place to protect you. And if someone isn’t doing their best to keep you safe then you can go over their head. It’s scary, strange, and embarrassing but it’s the right thing to do. I’m glad I did.