I Was Sexually Assaulted at Work

by November 18, 2016
filed under Activism
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November 14, 2014 is a day that will forever be etched into my memory. This is the first time that I have openly talked about what happened. This is the first time I will admit a phrase I have stuttered for the past year and half: I was sexually assaulted at work.

I remember that day like it happened only a few hours ago. It was a Friday, and when I walked into my department at work, there was a man who I knew from having previous conversations with for the past two years. He smiled at me and asked me when he could take me on a date. I politely told him that that was never going to happen because I had a girlfriend. At the time I thought that relaying my sexuality would make him leave me alone – but actually, that only seemed to draw him closer to me.

I continued walking into the office, clocked in and got ready for my shift. I ran into him again on the elevator, where he looked me up and down and said, “You know I can turn you straight if you give me a chance.” I laughed at this statement because I hate when a man implies that I need changing. With work on my mind, I ignored his banter and got off on my designated floor. Hours passed and we didn’t speak again – until I heard his laugh from down the hallway. It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable, but his persistence made my skin crawl.

As I was waiting for the next elevator to come, he circled around me as if I was on display. He asked me out for drinks and I said no. He then proceeded to tell me what he wanted to do to me sexually. Another employee from a different department walked up, so he didn’t say anything more. But when I walked into the elevator, he stood right beside me – shoulder to shoulder – even though there was enough room for appropriate space. I turned to him and told him to move over, and he responded with: “You don’t have personal space at work.”

“What did I do to make him feel comfortable with touching me in that way?”

The other employee in the elevator got off on the third floor. When he left, the man grabbed my vagina, and at that moment I froze. Then I pushed his hand away, got off the elevator and calmly completed my job. By the time I had reached my manager’s office, I completely lost my cool. My thought process was to automatically blame myself. “What did I do to make him feel comfortable with touching me in that way? What did I say that made him think I wanted it?”

I had to sit in a room and replay everything that happened to my manager. Then I was told then to go sit in the girl’s locker room and wait for him to finish his shift. I remember crying onto my co-worker’s arm, thinking that I should be safe at work, that you hear horror stories but you never think they’ll happen to you. Afterwards my manager told me that I had to finish my shift and that I couldn’t talk to anyone else about what happened.

When Monday arrived, I reported to work to speak to HR and give my official statement. I had asked if someone could escort me to the office because I didn’t feel safe walking the hallways knowing that he was going to be there. No one showed up. And as I was walking to the office, there he was right outside the elevators, walking behind me as if he was taunting me. “Hey baby, you look good as hell today.” I felt my lunch working its way up my throat.

At HR, I had to tell an officer and a human resources representative the same story I told my manager that Friday night. The officer stepped out and came back in with a laptop and a CD. He put in the CD and turned the laptop around. He asked me to identify if I was the woman on the screen and I said yes. The video showed me several times trying to move away from him and him following me into the elevator, but there was no camera in the elevators so that was all the footage they had. The officer looked at me and asked me if I wanted to press charges, and I said yes. He escorted me to the Magistrate’s Office where I swore in my statement. I thought that would be the end of the ordeal and the rest would be up to the law. But unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Of course, the man denied everything. He said he didn’t even know who I was. Later, he went out into the hospital lobby and told everyone that would listen about what a liar I was, called me a slut and said that I was mad because he turned me down. The people who knew me knew what a lie that was. But as my shift continued, women who I have never spoken to were taunting me — calling me names and sticking their feet out to trip me. Someone even threw food at me in the cafeteria and closed the elevator doors on me.

“I was looked at like a traitor for standing up and speaking out about what he had done.”

In a world where women are often blamed for what happens to them, I was looked at like a traitor for standing up and speaking out about what he had done. Eventually, I quit my job because my employer refused to help me further or move me to another department. Two months later when I finally went to court to testify, the man’s lawyer asked for an extension. At the second court date, he pled guilty – but because he didn’t have a criminal record he wasn’t charged. If he had been, he would have had to do community service and be placed on the sex offender’s list.

I don’t regret my decision to press charges. Whatever your decision, know that it’s valid, no matter what people tell you. You have a right to say something – you have a right to stand up for yourself when no one else will. The man may not have gotten punished for what he did, but I want to believe that because I called him out on it, he’ll think again before putting his hands on another woman.

After the lack of support I received from my employer, I believe there should be stricter sexual harassment policies in place in the workforce. We should be able to feel safe at work. I may be known as the girl who snitched, but for my own peace of mind, I did what I had to do to stand up to someone who felt as though they had power over me. I had to be my own hero, and you can be your own too.

Published in the Fall 2016 Issue. Read the rest of the issue for FREE here.

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