I contemplated writing this for a long time. I guess a part of me was embarrassed that I had actually experienced sexual harassment. A part of me was ashamed I had stuck around for that long. A part of me wanted to pretend it never happened, that I was making it all up.
But when I look back on it now, so many other women go through the same thing and decide to not speak up about it because it’s so frequently brushed under the rug.
“You’re pretty. You need to get used to guys hitting on you.”
“He was probably joking.”
“You sure you’re not being dramatic?”
These are all the things I heard when I told people about what was going on at my workplace. How could I feel so powerless and vulnerable when I’m the opposite outside of work?
Sexual harassment has become, in many ways, normalized, and that’s a damn shame. Women have to learn new ways to say no in order to somehow make the day less uncomfortable for them.
I’ve tried so many different methods to divert the sexual advances. I said things like: That’s unprofessional; I have a boyfriend; No, I’m not interested; Please stop, you’re making me uncomfortable.
But I feel like that all exacerbated the situation. And I was too scared to do anything about it, because I didn’t want to lose my job. I have bills to pay. Why should I have to quit my job because of this? Why does this happen in the first place?
We shouldn’t be forced out of a job because someone is sexually harassing us. They should be reprimanded. They should lose their job. They should be hit with a lawsuit.
But the problem is that many of these sexual advances come from men in higher positions of authority so what does it matter if you complain to Human Resources? Most of the time those complaints go unheard because of the person you’re complaining about.
In my case, we didn’t even have an HR person to report to. The person I had to report the harassment to was the person harassing me. What the hell could I do?
I had some people who actually sympathized with my situation and told me to call a lawyer and file suit. But I never did for the same reason many other women choose to remain silent — it’s a long process, and it requires time and money.
I questioned if it was worth it to go through the headache and have it drag on when I just wanted to close my eyes and forget it ever happened. I stayed quiet. I did nothing.
And I’m embarrassed that I actually thought by continuing to say no, the advances would eventually stop. But they didn’t, and I still did nothing.
My hope is that my experience will reach other women and encourage them to speak out, to take action against any and every unwanted sexual advance inside the workplace and outside.
We shouldn’t be ashamed or scared. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed and powerless. Don’t let anyone of higher authority make you feel this way, because we all have power.
We all have the power in our voices, in our numbers, and in ourselves. We shouldn’t be silenced, and we shouldn’t ever have to put up with sexual harassment.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, please call 1-800-522-0925.