With new stories of sexual harassment coming out each day since the Harvey Weinstein story broke – it’s time to share my story.
I was sexually harassed when I was 18 years old.
It happened over the course of a couple months. Not many people know about it because:
- I was told that no one would believe me.
- I was told that I would never work in broadcasting again.
- I was told that I would be branded a “troublemaker”.
- People close to me put themselves on the line.
I had my own desk at work, however items that I needed to do my job were kept in my managers office. Those items were kept in his lower desk drawer, where I would have to walk behind the desk and chair to get to the drawer. The desk was positioned with one side against the wall – and the drawer I needed to access was the one next to the wall. Slowly, each time that I had to get supplies I would get trapped next to the wall when he would sit in the chair and roll back to block my exit. He thought it was hysterical. It was something I didn’t realize was escalating because I loved my job. Then one day he changed things up and started rolling his chair back to the wall – he wouldn’t move – so I would have to walk in between him and the desk to get by. Then one day he upped the ante and pulled me down on his lap as I tried to walk by. He’d laugh every time I was stuck behind that stupid desk – like a game of cat and mouse.
I tried to move the supplies from his desk to mine so I could avoid getting boxed in – he said the supplies needed to stay where they were because he “might need them”. He was a superior so I didn’t press the issue.
Jokes became innuendo, innuendo became blatant sexual statements coupled with laughter to make them appear as a joke. It wasn’t only in his office that things would happen. One morning I was in the front office near the entrance, there were 5 people working there – he came up behind me – and he pulled up my dress in front of everyone. He laughed like he pulled off some ingenious prank.
A coworker pulled me aside and said that I needed to tell him to stop. I was relieved that someone else said something – but they wouldn’t help me – I had to do it on my own.
The next week I had to go in to get some supplies from the desk. He wasn’t in the office, so I went in as fast as I could to get out before he showed up. Not all of the supplies I needed were in the drawer – some were gone. Then he walked in the office.
He had the missing supplies in his hands and asked me if that’s what I was looking for. I said yes, he walked over and handed them to me so I could restock the drawer. Meanwhile, he sat down in his chair and rolled back towards the wall. I was cornered again.
And YES, I did ask him to move so I could get by each time – and he’d laugh and tell me to just move on through. This man was incredibly intimidating. I started getting fearful of how I was going to get it through to him that his behavior was wrong.
So on that particular day, after stocking the drawer, I needed to get past him. He grabbed my arms and pulled me on to his lap and then wrapped his arms around me. He was laughing as if he was trying to make me feel more comfortable and relaxed. I said in a bit of a laugh (remember I was 18) “You need to stop doing this.” He laughed and acted aloof saying that he didn’t know what I was talking about. Again I laughed a little as I said “You know, what you’re doing now, this is actually sexual harassment.”. He immediately stopped laughing. He looked me directly in the eyes and said that I should never “****” with him because he had the power to make sure I never worked again – and that he’d ruin my life. He finally let me go – and I bolted out of there. I remember feeling like my heart was beating out of my chest. I immediately left the office. I didn’t hear from him or anyone the rest of the day.
I came back the next morning and he pretended as if nothing happened. The coworker that had spoken to me about the situation wasn’t there. I was scared about what I was needed to do.
That afternoon I was called into a different managers office for a disciplinary action for not completing a report for our company public file. I had completed it the week prior – but it vanished. I know it was filed properly – I immediately got a sinking feeling. I was then handed a written warning. I knew right then that I was going to pay for asking for the harassment to stop.
They were starting to fill my employee file with fabricated issues that I knew nothing about.
But I’ll let you in on something – my favorite subject in high school was LAW. And I knew what I needed to do – because I WAS NOT going to allow myself to quietly go away when I was not the person who was doing something wrong.
Paperwork was filed. Lawyers were hired. Coworkers were interviewed by both council and investigators from the EEOC. The company I worked for made it abundantly clear that if they found nothing I would be fired. I still believed that since I was in the right – that I’d be ok.
Some coworkers were fearful about any retaliation – and denied ever seeing anything of concern. Some brought up that everyone in the office tells jokes and that I laughed at them – so I couldn’t be that upset about a little accidental “brushing” that might have happened.
My attorney had asked if I wanted to sue for damages – and I said “No” – I only wanted to keep my job. I thought that the company I worked for would be happy to know that I just wanted the right thing to be done and I wasn’t going for money. That isn’t what happened.
The company contacted my attorney. The man was fired – and two others were let go for conspiring to cover up the harassment.
I had stood my ground – and I believed that the truth would be on my side.
I returned to work. New people were hired to replace the three that were let go. And I was told again that I would have been fired if the statements I made were not true. I found it odd that they’d bring this up to me again. Well, it made sense over the next month as they watched me like a hawk. The company was waiting for me to do something wrong to try to get rid of me. I honestly thought that by telling the truth – and the actions that are taken – that we could all be a big happy work family! Yea, I know – I was completely wrong about that. I was now branded a “troublemaker” – even though I was the victim.
A series of other events happened after my return to work that made me concerned for my safety, and for the safety of family and friends. I immediately began looking for another job in another city – in another state – anywhere but there.
One coworker who was friends with all three of the men fired – told me that I would never be able to get another job, that I had no talent and no one would want a troublemaker like me. I also remember the man who threatened to end my career when I asked him to stop his behavior towards me…so…
Three weeks later I was offered a job in Kansas City, MO.
I heard from the same former coworker that I’d never make it to a major market…
Three years later I moved to Los Angeles to work for one of the most influential radio stations in the country.
I took everything I had been through to push myself and to push past any limitations that others had put on me. That fear of being labeled a “troublemaker” never happened once I moved away the first time. I wasn’t “ruined”. In fact I flourished. I then started in television – and was told that I’d never make it on National Television. Well…15 years on National TV squashed those naysayers.
I had successfully stood up for myself using the law that protects someone from unwanted sexual advances. I am proud of myself for not being fearful – and proud even as a naïve 18 year old – I wanted to fight for what was right.
But please know this…there are many people that will experience sexual harassment at some point and they might not have the ability or support system to seek the justice they deserve. Or they are dependent on their job to support a family – so they say nothing out of fear.
We can’t be quiet anymore.
There’s strength in numbers. Speak out. Support the victims. Find justice.
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