Thought Catalog
June 12, 2017

This Is Why So Many Women Don’t Come Forward About Sexual Harassment In The Work Place

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What is the issue?
Tim Gouw

We’re here to protect you, they said; we take these cases very seriously.

This is a classic case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What started off as seemingly innocent flirtatious banter quickly turned into hands grabbing my inner thigh and expressed interest in seeing my naked body. Coincidences of his wife being out of town every time he asked me to dinner became routine and filled with pressure; he was my boss after all. Wagging his slobbering tongue across his face while insinuating exactly where he’d like to put that tongue sent my body into a sweaty state of panic and detest. Ten years into my corporate career – a career that had until that point been fulfilling – doubt and insecurity consumed me.

Being a twentysomething corporate manager swimming in a pool of older men hadn’t broken me, but it felt as if this one man was going to push me over the edge – sending me to a mental state of no return.

The days that I felt strong enough to stand up to him, to put an end to the sexual harassment, were quickly tampered by fear as I remembered his stories – his threats – of people who had gone up against him in the past. He had always won, he’d brag. Take heed of the warning.   

Just as I have grown into many things, I grew into my feminism while simultaneously navigating the misogynistic corporate world. There came a time when the person that I was became so at odds with the persona I had succumbed to at work – the one who turned the other cheek when being sexually harassed by her boss – and my ability to tolerate the harassment dissipated to nothing. The clash of my beliefs and principles outside of work and the disturbing dynamics that had bred inside the office became excruciating for me, and I knew that I had indeed ended up in a mental state of no return.

The time came when I addressed the issue and braced myself for the investigation launched by the human resources department. “We’ll protect you,” they said. Interviews were held, one after another beginning with me. After my interview, I returned to my office which overlooked the entrance to the interviews.

I watched my boss as he walked into that room, and I watched as he exited with the interviewer. They were close and chummy – laughing to each other. His hand kept touching her as they walked through the office and I watched as she became flattered by his attention.

There were a few follow-up questions, the woman told me, before asking me to return to the interview room. “We’ll protect you” turned into “why did you wait so long to come forward?” The tone in her voice changed from sympathetic to accusatory. I wondered what had happened as I explained to her that the boss has all the power – he makes all the decisions, and that the quality of my work life depended entirely on whether or not I stay on my boss’s good side. She explained to me that she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t have come to her in the beginning, and I explained to her that she should absolutely understand.

The conclusion of the investigation would not exceed two weeks from the date of the interviews, I was promised. Those initial weeks were unbearable. I stayed on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen with my job, with my coworkers, with my career. The two-week mark hit and I hadn’t heard anything from the Human Resources department, so I reached out to them, only to be promised that they were working on it and would have a conclusion in “a week or so.”  

Patiently, I waited.

Another week passed, and I began calling the woman who had promised to get back to me, with no avail. I sent emails and made daily phone calls, receiving nothing but empty promises of “I’ll call you back after my meeting,” or “I’ll get back to you shortly.”

Weeks turned into months, and my work life continued on. Most days, I left the office on the brink of tears, feeling defeated; feeling as though my safety at work wasn’t being honored and that my feelings of vulnerability were not treated as valid.

There never was a conclusion to the sexual harassment investigation. My boss ended up moving on to another position within the company, a plan he’d had long before the investigation began. He was able to follow his professional goals by moving to the next phase of his career within the company. When I continued to follow-up on my emails to Human Resources, expressing my disappointment and frustration with the company, I was finally silenced with a two-minute long phone call in which the woman told me that everything had been taken care of, but that she was not able to provide me any further details due to confidentiality. I assure you, as the woman who was sexually harassed by her boss for a year and a half, everything had not been taken care of.

When the woman had asked me during my interview why I hadn’t come forward earlier, this is why. After putting everything on the table, opening my heart up for a cause that I believe in, I received no respect. I was not taken seriously. I was told through the actions of my employer to look away and tough it out, it will be over soon.

It was over soon. My boss moved on to his new position, and I ended up leaving the company. My employer failed their duty to protect one of their employees, and has continued dominating its industry, unfazed. Welcome to 2017; this is the world we live in today. The majority of women who experience sexual harassment do not report it, and after my experience, I can’t say that I blame them. It was torturous and insensitive, and the worst part was that I watched the man move up in power as the company slowly squeezed me out. TC mark