While working as an obit writer and a stringer for a local newspaper, it happened. One minute I was waiting by the fax machine to receive a death notice from a local funeral home and the next I was grabbed from behind by the hips. I felt his hot breath on my neck and he whispered in my ear, “You should wear short skirts more. It turns me on.”
He laughed and then he walked away. I looked to see who it was and recognized him immediately.
I was just waiting for a fax. I was just doing my job.
I can tell you that the moment it happened to me I was rattled to my core. Confused. Shaken. Furious. I didn’t expect it. I certainly didn’t ask for it. I remember walking back to my desk trying not to let him see how much it affected me. I didn’t want to give him that kind of power. Basically, I ignored it because I thought it was over–but I was wrong. For weeks after that first incident, I was continuously harassed by him. He leered at me in the newsroom. He asked me out several times. He called me at my apartment. I dreaded going to work at a job I loved and really wanted to keep. The stress was unbearable. Somehow, I finally got up the guts to give him a piece of my mind, threatened to tell our boss and the cops and he never bothered me again.
I never reported it although I wish I had. I was too embarrassed at the time. I was only 21 years old and it would have been his word against mine.
Sadly, this was not the only time I’ve been sexually harassed. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to deal with it. It still shocks me when it happens but now I report it and then I live with it. But, I don’t typically talk about it.
Being sexually harassed is a humiliating and degrading experience. It isn’t just “locker room talk.” It isn’t funny. It is pure intimidation. Just like bullying, these experiences will stay with me my entire life. They are ingrained in my memory–as if it only happened yesterday.
And now I hear about movie moguls and tech employees at companies like Google and respected news anchors and even U.S. Presidents who don’t think twice about doing it. And I think of the women who speak out and defend themselves at the risk of losing their jobs. I am truly in awe of their courage and applaud them with undying support. And I hope my daughter sees them, hears them and learns from their examples. In the 21st century, sexual harassment clearly runs rampant in our schools, universities, offices and other places. It could happen to her and she needs to be ready to fight back–as I am doing now.