Millions of women and probably some men who have been sexually harassed at work are having flashbacks as the Herman Cain story continues to unfold. I speak from experience.
The allegations and the denials and the settlements are triggering an emotional response in us that may strike those of you who have not had this happen to you or someone you know as an “overreaction.” The same trigger happens when we attend a funeral and revisit the losses of our own loved ones. Emotions well up in us and even leak out as tears or sobs. In the case of victims of harassment there is a sense of rage that we are still talking about this and that some prominent people are dismissing the allegations as overwrought and blown out of proportion.
I am not passing judgment on the veracity of the women’s claims about Cain. My sympathies run to believing them but I don’t have any facts. I do know that sexual harassment exists.
The short version of my story is that a male coworker, Dick, who had been making totally inappropriate suggestions for a year – and yes I complained – decided at 9 in the morning to grab my breast. I was shocked.
He apologized and then went upstairs to tell our mutual boss, the Vice President of Human Resources what he had done. He also went through the company telling other men what he had done. So much for privately working this out.
My boss came down to see if I was okay. No, not really.
He then asked me what I thought we should do to Dick. I was not going to buy into that. I told my boss that as the head of HR he had signed the policy and he was the one who should be deciding on punishments. If Dick was fired the contingent of “boys will be boys” coworkers would be pissed. If he wasn’t fired people would know that we were not serious about the policy. I was even asked whether I would sue if Dick was not fired. (Really, you are willing to fire him only if you think I will sue?) I again told him this was his responsibility and his decision.
Dick was not fired and shortly thereafter I started looking for another job. I got a better job and this didn’t derail my career. It does still piss me off. I had been with this company for over 9 years and wasn’t really planning on looking for another job.
When the subject of sexual harassment and Herman Cain comes up I ask that you listen carefully to the emotion with which some of us are speaking. We may have some experience in our backgrounds that is causing us to have flashbacks. We may or may not chose to share our stories. Don’t push. But do know that there are many of us who are filtering this story through a fog of disappointment that we are still dealing with this issue. There is no excuse for sexual harassment.
We may have come a long way, but we have miles to go.
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