By Amanda Harnisher
This is a story about workplace sexual harassment. But lucky for me, and for my readers, our protagonist is a heroine! Makes for a much more rewarding tale, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to being on the receiving end of sexual harassment. Fortunately, I knew I needed to take action, never wanting to make the mistake of staying quiet again. It’s a regret I’ve lived with for six years now.
I’ll spare you the sickening details of what actually occurred. What hurt more than being degraded was being discouraged by the owner of the business from having a meeting with the three of us, wanting to handle it “quietly.” Besides fueling my anger, this encouraged me even more to speak as loudly as I could, metaphorically. I demanded the pervert look me in the face and deny what he had done.
Minutes before the meeting took place, I thought I was going to be sick. Why do we do this?! Why do we allow ourselves to feel nervous, awkward, wrong, doubt our instincts, even run away in situations such as these? I wasn’t at fault. And then, a moment of clarity and capability took over me. I printed out text messages with proof, NYS Labor Laws regarding sexual harassment and retaliation, and I demanded that I record audio of our meeting, otherwise I’d go straight to a lawyer. In that meeting, I summoned the power of every woman in the office who had been harassed by this man and kicked his ass in the most professional of ways.
Speaking out doesn’t guarantee that you will get everything you want. In fact, that’s what makes speaking out so brave; the fact that you never know the outcome or the impact your words will have. I certainly didn’t get what I wanted. Even though my coworkers looked at me as their leader and I diminished his power and my vulnerability, he was not fired. If I was going to make a call for action, it would be for every single company to have a one strike policy; a zero-tolerance policy. Since the world seems leaps and bounds away from enacting a policy like this, it’s up to the victim to take charge.
- Anything that makes you uncomfortable is inappropriate.
- You are aware of social queues and etiquette. Listen to your instincts. You’ll know right away when the situation takes a turn for the worse.
- Don’t let anyone talk you out of speaking out. It’s most likely fear that is holding them back from doing the same. Your boss cannot retaliate against you.
- Don’t sacrifice your self-respect for the sake of fitting in or keeping the peace. There can only be peace when everyone is being respected and respectful.
- Never give up your pride, strength, stance, or job for someone who can’t conduct themselves professionally at work.
I haven’t been recognized outside of this workplace. I haven’t set an example for a large portion of the public. I can’t even say I was fully supported by my family. It might surprise you that I see this as one of my biggest achievements in my life so far, that I’m so proud of the strength I untapped that day. You have that power as well. Don’t let fear or someone else take that away from you. Exert your power for yourself and for those in your life who haven’t found theirs yet.