Thursday, January 6, 2011

I was a victim of sexual harassment.

Actually, I have been sexually harassed in my work place twice. It always comes as a surpriseto my students  when I reveal this during my monthly sexual harassment trainings. They assume that I would never allow such a thing to happen to me because I'm so 'strong'. They assume that people are afraid of me and would never try such a thing. They also assume that I will always know exactly what to do in every situation. It is a great tool to be able to reveal to them that it can happen to anyone, at anytime -- make a note...the key to sexual harassment is that it has nothing to do with you and your actions. Your life has been  invaded by a hostile party and you are a victim to their hostile intentions. Period.

The first time I was sexually harassed I had my first real job out of school and I was completely bewildered in total. I had the misfortune of being employed at one of those fly by night, holding on by the tips of their fingernails non-profits that wouldn't know the law if it smacked them in the face. This guy was a classic harasser, asking for dates repeatedly despite firm and defined 'no's'.  Honestly, I was a kid and believed in my own immortality or rather the goodness of my fellow man - fresh from seminary and excited about changing the world one delinquent child at a time. He told me that I would be in trouble if he ever realized that I meant what I said about not dating him. I knew that I was not worth all of that drama  but he certainly followed up on his threat and when a new manager came in to take over he made sure I was terminated. It wasn't until years later that I learned that I certainly did have a case (actually an open and shut case) of sexual harassment, water under the bridge? Not emotionally.

What no one talks about is the guilt and the communal and self blaming. I blamed myself for allowing that to happen, I blamed my community for erroneously telling me that I had no recourse, and I blamed this man for his misogyny that negatively impacted my emotional and financial health for years to come.

Now I am an adult,trained, and with the responsibility of training others about sexual harassment --

--and it happens again. (I can't believe this is happening again)

A month ago on an overnight retreat, a co -worker, came to my 'dorm' door after working late wanting to talk. During our talk he decided to tell me about sexual things he wanted to do with me and other discussions that were obviously out of bounds for a married man in the religious arena. Well this time, I was no young innocent wippersnapper who didn't know what to do. I followed the procedure as I knew it to be properly laid out by the city and set unseen things into motion.

Throughout the process, it was extremely disheartening to hear my friends (and the HR manager at my place of employment) victim blame myself and express surprise at my actions -- but I understand that people really don't understand the nature of sexual harassment and I am too tired to train anyone else. It added an annoying layer of gilt that required me to attend to [diverted energy]. As I mentioned a few days ago, I knew that their statements, though innocent, were soul killers and they were appropriately filed away in the dangerous bullshit category. I weep for the people, men and women, who deal with this type of thing everyday, in unsupportive environments, in environments where they are told they are responsible, or they contributed to the situation an abuser placed them in. Stand up in defiance.

At the end of the day, my place of employment is no rincky dink thrown together non-profit and I was recently informed that the perpetrator was terminated from his place of employment today.

My heart is stretched on either side of fence. Did I want that to happen? Was his termination  the appropriate response? How will this affect his family? How will his co-managers, my manager, interact with me? Will I be seen as a trouble maker? Will people resist working with me? Did he deserve what happened to him?

I suppose right now I'm still numb to the news. I forgot how hard it was to be courageous. Even when you win, you can still be afraid of repercussions and you can be uncertain about your future. I am worried about myself too. What will the emotional fall out be of realizing that this has now happened to me twice?

I recall in graduate school that a close friend of mine had been sexually harassed twice in one year at both of her internship placements and people (myself including ) had begun  to wonder if she was a part of the problem.  I can only imagine how isolated she must have felt in that situation, without the full and unshakable support of her community...  I know many women that this type of harassment has happened to and they stayed quiet mostly out of fear of rocking the boat. I wanted to do that so bad and to be honest the only reason I spoke up was because I would have felt like a fraud -- training people to stand up while I sat down in fear.

James Cone says that the only righteous suffering is the suffering that takes place as a result of resisting oppression. Because when we resist oppression and fight hegemony will we suffer. That idea has never had more meaning to me than this very moment.

God I hope I did the right thing.


  1. yes in my humble opinion you did the right thing not only because you stood up for yourself, you practiced what you preach. It is more than unfortunate that we tell women to speak up/ say something but then quickly doubt/judge/ persuade them else-wise.

  2. Wow! I'm sorry that you had to go through that but I'm glad you decided to speak up about it. No one deserves to be subjected to such behavior.