#metoo, a new hashtag recently retweeted, liked, and shared by many woman across the globe but an organization that’s been around for over a decade. Actress Alyssa Milano recently made “me too” a buzz worthy hashtag for sexual assault and sexual harassment victims to post and start conversations with but the original campaign was created for black women who were victims of sexual assault alone. The “me too” campaign was started in 2007 by Tarana Burke who was a victim of sexual assault herself. Tarana is a survivor and now advocates for those who have ever experienced sexual violence or harassment.
I can sit here and write about the many times I’ve experienced sexual harassment from both men and women but today I’ll focus on just one.
But before I do I just want to express one thing.
NO MEANS NO!
Sexual assault is sexual assault no matter how it’s packaged. Marriage does not excuse the act and non consent is a no, no if ands or buts about it. For those of you who think otherwise I suggest you really take some time to reflect on the actual meaning of non consensual sexual acts and think again. According to Webster, rape is the crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will PERIOD! So if you’re under the impression that forcing your significant other to have sex with you is ok simply because they’re your significant other, you’re wrong. Enough is Enough.
Ok now that we’ve got that out of the way.
This post is about an issue many woman face on a daily basis and one that many men get away with far too often.
Grey white and navy blue. Those were the colors in the wrap dress I wore to work that day, a dress that I have since thrown away never to be worn again. It happened in the stock room of the office at…, well I won’t reveal the location but I will reveal how I felt and how I was treated afterward.
In reality the incident happened very quickly, maybe less than 5 minutes but in that moment it felt like a slow motioned eternity. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. For 6 years he had been my supervisor, for 6 years I had looked up to him as a mentor and looked to him for advice about business and life in general. I had never had an issue with him before and when he showed up at my branch once or twice a month I felt comfortable.
I moved about my office freely with no feelings of discomfort or worries at all but that day was different, that day I just stood there voiceless.
I stood there trembling and numb trying to speak up but no words escaped my lips. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was being sexually harassed by my boss!
You know how you see movies or watch the news and see stories about sexual harassment in the work place and you say to yourself,
“oh hell no”
“I would’ve slapped the sh** out of him and ran!” ?
Well when it actually happened to me I did none of the things I always said I would do and I’m still trying to figure out why.
But I digress.
As I restocked the shelves with office supplies I had ordered the day before I heard him enter the building. He arrived around noon that day said his good mornings to everyone and headed straight to the back where I was located. The stock room at my office was sort of like a large garage with white brick walls and an echo.
An echo that could have saved me sooner if I would have only used it. But I didn’t. He walked towards me but stopped at the door way and just stood there watching me. I looked over and said hello like I normally would and proceeded to ask how his family was doing but I was meant with silence. As he continued to watch me in awkward silence I tried to ask other questions to jar where his mind was and to see if he would respond, he didn’t. At this point I was starting to feel really uncomfortable so I tried to leave the room. I walked towards the door in hopes that he would move out of my way so I could get by but I knew deep down that he wouldn’t. I knew that he would continue to block the door and just stare.
That moment reminded me of the numerous other times I’d been catcalled and “blocked” by men in the past. Too many times to count.
I backed up and braced myself for what was to come. As he approached me my heart began to beat faster and faster and before I knew it I was cornered. In a hushed tone of voice I asked “what do you want? He replied, “you know what I want” and got even closer. I felt the lump in my throat grow bigger and bigger; my mouth drier and drier rendering me almost speechless.
I tried to walk around him and get out of the room but he cut me off again and said, “Lift up your skirt so I can see what’s under there”.
I tried to reply confidently, pretending to be unscathed or unbothered but only voiceless “no’s” escaped my mouth. He continued, “come on, just a little” as he started to rub his pants. The way he looked at me in that moment was scary and was a look that I had ever seen before. It was the look of a desire to have me at all cost. A look that was both forceful and sexual, a look that’s still so hard to explain.
But then, I was saved.
I was saved by a “problem” customer complaining about an unsolicited call and an employee who was fed up with him. Both calling my name at the same time.
Thank God for “problem” customers and fed up employees!
After the incident I asked a few of the woman I worked with if they ever had similar experiences with that person before but none of them did, or at least they said they didn’t. And it never failed I was always asked the same follow-up questions by the very same women I was looking to for solace,
“What did you do to make him feel so comfortable to do such a thing”
“Why did he feel so comfortable asking you to lift up your skirt”
“What were you wearing?” and so on and so forth.
These questions made me feel even more isolated, isolated to the point that I decided not to speak out about it any more. I didn’t feel like anyone was on my side and I was fearful of retaliation so I stayed at that job for a few more weeks peeking outside every 10 minutes to see if he was going to show up, and one day he did but when he showed up this time I was prepared. I grabbed my purse, my keys and slipped out the back door before he could even see me. I just left and didn’t’ come back until I knew he was gone. That’s the moment I knew that I had to speak up and tell someone.
I called EEOC on my way home that afternoon and they advised me to contact my HR dept in order to start an investigation. I obliged and he was fired 2 weeks later.
I was black balled and retaliated against by a few people who still worked there and knew about the situation-his wife being one of them but I didn’t care. I was free and glad that he was gone.
I realize I’m one of the lucky ones. I was lucky to have been saved, from God only knows what and I’m thankful for that but I also realize that there are so many women who aren’t as lucky. To those woman I say you are not alone, it happened to “me too”.