The other day at work I was sexually harassed by a customer.
I was just standing there, and a short (probably around my height), bald, fat man in a dirty navy blue polo shirt, who was about 50–55, came up to me and asked me where the toilets were. I told him, then he asked “how’ve you been”, with a tone that implied he knew me. I said fine, and he looked me up and down and said in a sleazy voice, “Ooo, I’d like to take you home.” I immediately walked away and told three of my colleagues who were stationed nearby. As I left, he said something to the effect of, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
No, he shouldn’t have.
Now, sexual harassment probably isn’t anything new to a lot of women. It’s just something we have to face because we have a vagina.
I’ve been harassed at work before, not as blatantly as Sunday’s episode, but I’ve never felt comfortable enough to eject myself from the situation. As someone who works in customer service, I think I placed not being rude above keeping myself safe. But, post-SlutWalk, I now have the confidence not to put up with that shit.
But I didn’t report it.
I told a few colleagues, until I eventually mentioned it several hours later to a security guard, who also happens to be a close friend of mine. He sternly asked me if I’d reported it to my manager. I told him no, and he asked me what I would do if he came back? If he stalked me? If he attacked me? If he attacked someone else? His older-brother protectiveness made me decide to report it.
It’s funny that I didn’t think to report it the moment it happened. I guess that’s the stigma of sexual harassment (and don’t even get me started on the stigma of sexual assault!). I think I thought that because I can handle myself and I won’t put up with that shit, that it wasn’t a big deal.
I filed a report with my manager, security know about it and have footage of the man, and it’s been forwarded to the appropriate department.
The responses I got from fellow colleagues were at each end of the spectrum. Some expressed outrage and encouraged me to report it, others asked me if he touched me, as if that would be the only thing to warrant filing a report. No, he didn’t, because that would be sexual assault. (Why do we not bat an eyelid when verbal harassment occurs, but are quick to leap into action when the physical barrier is breached? Both are violations of a person based on the fact that their harasser thinks they’re public property, or available for them to make comments on/touch.)
But these responses really illustrate the abovementioned taboo of sexual harassment. That boys will be boys. That as a young, pretty woman, you just have to suck these things up. That it doesn’t really count because you were only verbally violated.
I am somewhat ashamed that I was so quick to brush it off. (Let’s be clear: I’m not ashamed that I was harassed. I’m ashamed that I didn’t take it seriously to begin with. Rape is my biggest fear, but if I was ever raped, you can be damn sure I wouldn’t keep quiet about it because I was ashamed.) This is 2011. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening. But it does. So as modern women, we should be able to say that making comments about our physical appearance without our consent is a no-go. Just like making physical contact with our bodies without our consent is.