The predominant thing on my mind this week has been the nomination proceedings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s been hard to watch. It has brought back memories of sexual harassment at work for me just like I’m sure it has for the almost half of the women working in corporate America that have experienced the same thing.
Most women, like me, don’t say anything for a variety of reasons. Some studies show only about 30% of all sexual harassment incidents are reported, from women or men. Yes, men are sexually harassed too.
My experience happened decades ago. To some it may seem trivial. To me it was not.
We were at a company party on New Year’s Eve arranged by our CEO. I was wearing professional attire since the party was right after work — a sweater and slacks with a blazer. At one point later in the evening the CEO came over to a table where I was sitting, pulled open my blazer, and said “just what’s under there” while he ogled me. I was shocked and speechless, which for me says something in itself.
He was drunk and might not even remembering saying or doing anything inappropriate, and if I reported it I knew I may lose my job. I knew it was the CEO’s word against mine and since I had very few interactions with him at work I decided to say nothing.
I felt shame around that incident for a long time. I was angry, felt violated, and very alone.
It wasn’t long after this incident that he entered rehab for his alcohol addition which, of course, had nothing to do with the incident with me as I told no one.
This wasn’t the only time I have been sexually harassed. From incidents with guys I went to school with to cat calls from construction workers when walking down the street, to incidents like the one I outlined above, almost all of which would have been easily written off as “boys will be boys” behavior, these kinds of incidents happened more often than I care to remember.
This week has shown me that I have had a lot of pent up anger around these experiences that I didn’t even realize I had. If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, I’m sure you know what I mean.
Part of my anger is about not having spoken out. Today, I hope I would have reported that CEO and let the chips fall where they may, but at that time in my life I was too afraid to do so. I questioned whether I had said or done anything to elicit that type of behavior (I hadn’t), I felt ashamed, I was afraid people wouldn’t believe me, and I knew it would make for an intolerable work environment if they didn’t fire me. The bads outweighed the goods.
But today things are different. The environment is different. Women are starting to be believed (finally!) and more and more women are exhibiting the courage to speak their truth.
In the past couple of weeks I have heard story after story from women I know talk about incidents like mine and worse, many speaking out for the first time. Almost every woman I know has a story to tell. It’s horrific.
So I’m writing today to let you know that if you are being sexually harassed or have been sexually assaulted at work, you are not alone and you have my support.
I’m not going to tell you to speak out or report it. Only you can decide what the best course of action is for you.
As we have witnessed this week, sometimes speaking out has very negative consequences. Dr. Ford, who testified yesterday about her alleged incident with Brett Kavanaugh, has had to hire security, move out of her home, and has lost her privacy. It took an amazing amount of courage for her to speak out to the entire world and I wish her and her family nothing but the best.
Speaking out may not be the right thing for you, or it might, but do me one favor — don’t take on any shame. Don’t feel responsible. Don’t allow the jerk who treated you this way to have any power over you. They were in the wrong, not you.
My fervent prayer is that someday this behavior will stop, that people will respect each other and treat each other with dignity, but until that day arises, if it ever will, we who have experienced sexual harassment or assault need to stay strong.
We have nothing to be ashamed of. No one, and I mean no one, has the right to impose themselves on another human being in any way without their permission.
While the political story will play out, regardless of how that story ends, our story needs to end happily knowing that our perpetrators will face their own karma at some point. Our job is to let go of the shame and anger.
Our best revenge is a life well lived. We owe it to ourselves to live the best possible life we can. We can’t change what happened, but we can certainly change our response to it.
I won’t forget and I won’t condone that type of behavior, but I have forgiven because I know his disrespectful behavior taught me a lot and I’m thankful for the lesson. I respect myself more today because of his disrespect and hope, if I’m ever treated that way again, I will find the courage to speak out.
Whether you have been or are currently being sexually harassed at work, or are a victim of sexual assault, there is support available.
And know that I support you. I wish you the best life has to offer. You are not alone. #MeToo