How many of you have had the experience of hearing a word or a phrase that triggers a memory? Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a word, sometimes the memory is good, sometimes the memory is bad. Sometimes…It’s downright haunting!
Over the years, I have learned to suppress the anger and the memory of a workplace sexual assault that took place in 1991. Looking back now, and looking at young girls that are the age I was then, I get so angry at the events that occurred and at the people who “handled” the situation.
I worked in a research facility as a secretary/receptionist. I was surrounded by brilliant minds, of which I was inquisitive, would ask questions and felt a great sense of pride to be associated with. I had my own apartment, car and I had benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan. I really had it together for a 24 year old.
I took a lot of pride in being a hard worker and was always willing to work on projects that were outside my typical duties.
One day, a senior scientist in the department I provided support to approached me with a request to work on a special “organizational” project for him that would require a bit of overtime. I was more than happy to help and agreed.
The second afternoon into the project, just after everyone else had left, I was walking down the hall with this co-worker toward the lab where I was working, when out of the blue, he pushed me against the wall, tried to forcefully kiss me and forced his hand between my legs and up my skirt.
I was shocked! I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was push him off me and walk away.
I left work immediately and went to the apartment of my best friend. I cried uncontrollably. I remember vomiting several times. I would shake in fear and then I realized I had to go back to work and work around this guy. I didn’t know what to do! I was horrified.
I called another friend who worked in the same facility and asked about the company policies surrounding sexual harassment and the proper reporting procedures. According to company policy, I was to report the incident to my immediate supervisor within 72 hours.
That was a problem, as my immediate supervisor was out of the country on business and at that time, it wasn’t so easy to contact him, as it would have been in today’s world.
According to that same policy, if I was unable to report to my immediate supervisor within the specified time, I was to report to human resources. I called in sick the next day and arranged to meet with human resources that same morning. While in that meeting, I had to provide verbal detail of the incident, of which was taken down in notes by an HR rep. Once the notes were typed up, I had to read over them and sign them.
The afternoon that I reported the incident, my co-worker was called to HR to discuss what had happened. He read over the report and signed it, agreeing to every single detail.
The next day, I was called back to HR where I was told they would be moving me to a different department. As it turns out, this particular senior scientist was a specialist in his field and my company had gone to great lengths to bring him onboard. He was a specialist in his particular field and thus, making him irreplaceable.
Something I was not.
I went along with the plan and moved. It didn’t take long for me to realize what was going on though – I had gone from a girl who got glowing reviews to a secretary to more than 50 people where I could not keep up with the work demand. Suddenly, instead of being an ultra-supportive, hardworking girl that everyone turned to, I was the girl who lacked the skills required to do my job. Within 6 months, I was told I would either have to quit or I was going to be terminated.
I was young, stupid and didn’t want a “termination” to haunt me so I let them know I knew what had been happening and said “F*ck you, I quit”, and walked out.
In hindsight, I realize that was a dumb thing to do, as I was not able to draw unemployment. I was also dumb in having never sought legal representation to file a lawsuit for what had happened.
The whole incident haunted me. Day after day, I would read over company policy to try to figure out what I could have done differently.
My cousin worked at the same facility and remained there after I left. I learned that shortly after I had been “let go”, the senior scientist received a huge promotion.
It all made perfect sense!
Company policy had held him back from his promotion as long as I was still working within that company. Once I was gone, the incident disappeared from all record and HE got promoted.
So why am I thinking about, and talking about this now? Because EVERY time I hear the phrase Ebola Czar, I am forced to remember – that scientists name was very similar to that phrase.
As I grew older and developed a stronger backbone, I always hoped I would run into him some day. I wanted to confront him, to let him know how much he messed me up, mentally and emotionally.
I never saw him again.
With the Internet being what it is though, I did find myself searching for him this morning. Part of me wanted to know where he was now – hoping to see some proof that Karma had taught him a valuable lesson. What I found instead was an obituary. It seems he passed away over 10 years ago.
Part of me is sad he is gone because I will never get the validation I feel I need – but another part of me hopes that I can put that horrible incident behind me, once and for all.