TW: this post will be talking about sexual harassment, and topics of a sexual nature.
After writing about my experience with cat calling (which can be read here), I thought I would also write about my experiences with sexual harassment. This post will specifically look at work place sexual harassment, and the next post will revolve around public harassment.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which: violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated, creates a hostile or offensive environment. Citizens Advice also notes that the harassment can come in many forms, such as: sexual comments or jokes, unwelcome physical behaviour, displaying pictures, photos or drawings and sending emails with a sexual content. However, the harassment is not always limited to these things.
When I was 18 I started working for a company as an administration apprentice. I was the youngest female in the office at the time, and it was very much a mans office. This didn’t overly bother me as they were all very welcoming (other than making me do all their washing up, which was apparently part of my job) and never did anything that made me uncomfortable or left me thinking “this isn’t right”.
One individual that worked there, who again was very friendly, added me on Facebook a few weeks after I started. As he’d always been polite I accepted and we began to chat. We discussed work and how I was getting on, he then asked if there was anyone in the office I fancied. I said no, but he was very persistent and said there must have been someone. Again I said no, that everyone was lovely but that I wasn’t interested.
He ignored this and said if I fancied him to just tell him and he wouldn’t mind. I did a bit of a “haha, no I don’t fancy anyone in the office” and then made out I was going to bed.
It left me feeling a bit off, but I just tried to shake it off. I went in to work the next day and continued as if nothing had happened, because in all honesty nothing had. He then began messaging me during work, and when I didn’t respond he started to send emails. I eventually messaged back and said I had a lot to do and would talk later, and for the rest of the day I felt his eyes burning into my body.
The messages started to take a turn: he asked me personal questions about how many men I’d slept with, he asked my bra size, how I’d feel about having sex in the office, if I wanted to meet up behind his wife’s back, told me intimate details about his own sex life. A lot of these messages began to come whilst I was at work, so he could watch my reaction. I would end up receiving multiple messages a day from him, but I didn’t know what to do.
Sexual harassment at work wasn’t something I’d ever really considered, and I also thought that because he’d not actually touched me there was nothing I could really do. So even though I would dread going into work and would run to the other room so I was never alone with him, I just tried to get on with it.
Then one day, around 4 -5 months later my line manager and the owners of the company took me to the meeting room and asked if this person had been harassing me. I was very taken aback and asked why, turns out he’d been harassing another girl that started there after me and she had come forward. I was horrified, and told them everything that had happened to me since I had started. By the end of that day, he no longer worked there.
The guilt that I had let this happen to another girl ate away at me at the time, I apologised on multiple occasions that I wasn’t brave enough to step forward.
Now that I am older, I know that it is not my fault. I was scared and didn’t know that I could speak out on this, I believed I would just be told I was overreacting and he was being friendly (I now realise a lot of this was down to the workplace itself and the mentality, but they handled it amazingly once it all came out).
More than anything, I blame him. He had a beautiful wife and a new born baby (I remember the only break I had from the messages was when he was on paternity leave for 2 weeks) and felt the need to send me explicit messages, even though there was nothing being reciprocated.
I remember reading my statement that I’d written a few years back, and it made me want to go back and give myself a hug at how much it affected me. Even now I still feel uncomfortable being in an office alone with a man, because of the way that one man made me feel.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment within your work place, or you know someone that is. Please do not be afraid to report it, and if it is turned on to you that is not right. Harassment of any form in the work place has to be taken seriously, and legal action can be taken if they do not handle it correctly. I would also recommend keeping a record of every little thing that happens, because this will help your case massively.
Lastly, please remember that you have done nothing to deserve this. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, whether it’s one incident or multiple incidents, do not let them make you think you have done something to deserve it.
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas): 0300 123 1100
- Citizen’s Advice, England/Wales: 03444 111 444
- Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work): 020 7404 6609
- Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS): 0808 800 0082