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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

I was 19 years old and an assistant manager in training when a supervisor first exposed me to sexual harassment. We were sitting in the lobby of the restaurant we worked at with two other employees when the supervisor made an off-color remark that was sexual in nature. The other employees laughed out of discomfort, but I sat there in shock and didn’t say a word. I eventually left that job immediately after.

It wasn’t just the lewd comment that made up my mind to leave. I had just enrolled in school to earn my court reporter’s certification, when the supervisor had the audacity to ask me to choose between the minimum wage job I was working at or my eagerness at the time to pursue a more promising future. So I left.

I’m among the lucky ones. My father had sat with me right before my first day on the job at this restaurant and broached the topic of sexual harassment. Long story short, he told me men were assholes and not to trust any of them. Right now, that sounds sexist, but at the time – this is the 1990s – it was the truth. Anyway, he went so far as to role play with me, instructing me on how to react to any lewd comments and how to avoid placing myself in a vulnerable position.

Not everyone is so lucky. We already know through the #metoo and #timesup movements that sexual harassment is all too common in the workplace. Unfortunately, not many women have the opportunity to find the support I did through my father, let alone through their companies. It’s fair to say that a lot has changed since 2015, when these movements first made headlines. But that’s not to say that much has improved since many victims of workplace sexual harassment never report their experiences.

I bring this up because it’s important. Such incidents trigger trauma if they’re not addressed properly. Let’s just say I had to recently counsel a woman who was triggered by a memory when she sat through my sexual harassment class. The pain on her face was unforgettable and in turn triggered this memory of my experience at 19 years old.

Laws have evolved since that time, but there’s still more to be done. For one thing, victims should feel more safe at their place of employment to come forward with any allegations. I never told anyone about my incident, not even my father. I was afraid of the repercussions. I know my father would have taken matters into his own hands and I didn’t want that. Seems silly now that I shied away from such support, because more victims should be that lucky.

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