Today's topic? How some old guy groped me at work.
I've been mulling this around in my head for a while wondering how I'd broach it here with both honesty of how the experience stung and sensitivity to the groper's privacy.
I've made it through a good portion of my career without ever having anything like this happen. Penelope Trunk shares that she's fallen victim numerous times in a recent blog post where she says most cases are not worth reporting but not me.
If you can be frank about your (lack of) feelings and those boundaries are respected, I suppose you can move past the awkward moment, depending on the situation. But sometimes it's good to get it out. I've had enough distance from the incident now that I can share it.
I told myself that TMI Thursday would have one requirement: if I wasn't cringing about some aspect of the post, then it didn't qualify as TMI.
I am definitely cringing about this.
Instead of rewriting the details, I will include a portion from a letter I sent my dear Dad. I was shaking while writing:
At some point he looked like he might cry and I welled up. He held his arms out for a hug and I hugged him back, not thinking anything of it.The whole experience was really creepy. The dude was basically my grandfather's age. It took a long time before I wasn't reliving his thin grisly lips grazing my cheek and bad breath hot on my face. I actually had to wash my cheek multiple times. I've seen people do this in the movies but never realized how involuntarily and yet necessary it is.
But then this is where it gets weird.
He began kissing my face. Not once, like the Italian way of pecking the cheek, but multiple little kisses that seemed to be trying to work their way to my mouth. I was horrified and turned my face away, pulled away and the hug broke up.
He said a couple of things too that I don't fully remember because my mind was too confused by what had just happened. But he said something like "(I made sense most of my life?) but with you I don't want to make sense." And then something about this being (or growing into??) a special "private friendship."
Before the hug, he mentioned his marriage having trouble but I didn't think anything of it at the time. The other things he said after the hug. I was really freaked out and not quite knowing how to respond to all this so I didn't say much.
Luckily his secretary knocked on the door to remind me the shuttle was leaving shortly. I bolted out but I was so shaken by the experience I basically cried the whole way home.
When I told Dan, he remarked how bold the guy seemed, how quick he was to make the "move." He wondered if this had happened before.
Rumor has it that it, indeed, has.
He's no longer working in my building. Rumor has it he was let go for this very behavior (although not my incident -- I didn't even tell anyone until after he was already gone).
Have you ever been faced with unwanted advances at work? How did you handle it? (You can comment anonymously, nothing about this website captures any information.)
The site "Sexual Harrassment Support" says that sharing the experience helps in processing it:
Because sexual harassment encompasses a vast range of behavior, there is much confusion about the problem. In truth, sexual harassment actually relies on a victim's uncertainty about how to describe, and label, what is happening to them. A rape victim knows when they have been raped, but sexual harassment victims often do not understand what they are experiencing, or even why they are being hurt by it. Even if they can describe the experience to themselves, victims often differ in their willingness to accept what is happening.The guy did apologize later, after I saw him at a party. He came up to me and asked, "Will I get to see you later??" and I said, "um, I'm here now!" and then avoided him the rest of the night. He got the hint because he came over and apologized, saying he misinterpreted the situation. At least he had dignity enough for that.
Most often, when a sexual harassment victim speaks out about what they are experiencing, they are the ones who are considered the problem, not the harasser.
For these reasons, and the fear that harassment can incite, most victims never report what they have experienced. Often, they do not even talk about it to friends and family. Plus, when there is denial (including institutional denial), disbelief or placement of
blame on the victim, recovery is much more difficult.
Rules for sexual harrassment in the workplace:
- If you are attracted to someone, try to use their body language to see if they return the feelings. Note: polite eye contact is an insufficient marker of reciprocity, especially as it is a desireable trait in today's American work force. (e.g.: Someone looking at you while you are speaking does not mean they are ready to rip off their clothes, in case you missed that in social skills 101.)
- If you were rejected the last 10 times you did this, think twice about the next 10 times.
- If you hold a position of prestige and power and will be ashamed if you are found out, don't do it.
- If you are found out, it's your own damn fault. Shoulda known better.
- It is unwise to mistake empathy and compassion for passion if none of the other signals mesh (also usually covered in social skills 101).