sex, gender, power, and consent.
This post is different. I'm sorry if this upsets readers, and I am sorry that I didn't share this sooner. (family, friends)
I have been writing this post since November 29th. It has taken me time to write, and time to work up the courage to share. I wanted to wait until I felt some kind of closure. It has been the longest ride of injustice, and it still has not seemed to end. Though the story continues, I feel driven to share it now.
I have preached about wanting to be authentic and vulnerable with my storytelling, but this felt different.
I could not publish something in writing that I was yet to share with those closest to me. I write this now, because I have begun to share what these past few months have entailed. It has felt so freeing, since for the longest time I could not turn to my blog for healing.
If now is not the time for you to sit down and scroll, I politely ask you to save this tab and come back when you do have time. I ask you to take a breath and clear your mind before reading this post. Grab yourself a warm mug of tea, or wrap yourself in a blanket.
I feel safe to share this post with you, so I ask that you make sure to feel safe when sharing this with me.
Not too long ago, the movement #MeToo spread like wildfire around social media. Though it was moving and powerful, it brought attention to a very big problem. I supported the posts that I had read, but I did not join in on the conversation.
I read that nearly half of all women in the workforce have been sexually harassed. Nearly half? That is an overwhelming, and disturbing statistic. Perhaps I can't prove it to be true, but even so- that statistic must have come from only those who came forward. Another, is that nearly 2 in 5 women in fast food are sexually harassed.
Let me touch on this for a moment.
My first job was when I was 16 and I was working in a local restaurant. I remember when I got the job, my family told me they were proud of me. They told me not to take on too many hours so it would not interfere with school. They told me to text them when I was leaving to and from work.
I never had a talk about what to do if my boss, male co-workers, or even customers were inappropriate with me. I am sure my friends can say the same. The point is, many girls, sometimes as young as 14, start with low-wage, part-time jobs. More often than not, it is within the food industry. Whether we are aware of it or not, the statistics around sexual harassment apply to us too.
We are taught to be kind. If we stand up for ourselves we are "bitches", but if we don't we are asking for it. Sexual harassment in the workplace is, unfortunately, prevalent in our society. I knew it existed, but naively never expected it would happen to me- at least not at this point in my life.
But at 19, it did.
This post isn't with focus on the story itself but with focus on the milestones I've taken which have brought me to this place here. I am typing it out knowing it will meet the eyes of others and (hopefully) spread further awareness. This so much more than Hollywood.
This post is also for those who feel the need to stay silent because "it wasn't that bad" or "it could have been worse."
Maybe it could have, but the story is still worth telling.
My city job has been so good for me. I have built a comfort zone, a confidence level, and a friend/co-worker expressed how exciting it has been to see me break out of my shell.
I had shared in previous posts, my gratitude to my co-workers for making it a comfortable, and welcoming environment for me. For someone who has had mental health challenges, and has not had a job since high school- this has meant everything to me. I've needed this to take back my control and prove to myself I can do it.
And I did.
Within my first month of my new job, I was being harassed by a co-worker almost 18 years older than me. It began over text messages outside of work. Asking me to come to his place, go drinking with him, and if I said no he would reply that I was "overthinking" and that I am "only young once." It did not matter if I said a simple no, or gave the valid excuse that I was a 19 year-old student. When I made it clear that my intentions were very different from his own, he continued to beg that he didn't want a girlfriend, he just wanted to "chill." When I ignored his messages I would receive more, including texts at 1 in the morning which read "wake up" or "I have a busy day tomorrow and was hoping to be relaxed."
This was someone who I could talk to at work, who I had always been kind to. So, of course, my mind went to- am I just too nice? Is that why he isn't listening? I could barely sleep. I was having panic attacks for the next couple weeks. Eventually the texts went away, and nothing was out of ordinary when I went to work. I told myself if it continued I would say something, but because he stopped after a lot of telling him to, I was just going to move on and hope he got the message.
One month later, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I was working a dinner shift. He was there. He wasn't scheduled to work, but instead he sat at the bar during my entire shift. He was drunk. He even called the work phone telling me to "come to the f***ing bar." I had to ask who was calling. He told me to order him another drink, and that I had to say it "firmly" for him. I remained at the host stand. Later that night, after I had clocked out and the restaurant was closing, nobody was around when he put his hands on me and wouldn't let me leave. Unzipping my coat, groping, kissing me. He told me that he knew my "no" really meant yes. I was not being heard. When I was able to leave the situation, he smacked me hard on the ass as I had turned away. His booze breath seemed to stick to me.
It was like everything was in slow motion. I took the nearest door and walked out of the restaurant. I waited anxiously at the T station. I took the next train, knowing it was not my train. I just wanted to leave. For the ride I crossed my legs and leaned my head against the wall, where across I could see my reflection through the dark window. I just stared into my eyes and tried to see a child. I tried to empathize with her. My eyes returned to my reflection and my mind hummed the song:
Ooh child, things are gonna get easier- ooh child things will get brighter.
Taking a different train meant a longer walk back to campus. It wasn't one of my finer moments. Walking alone in the city in the middle of the night; cold, an empty stomach, no money on me. I went the wrong way, and I called my friend in tears. Over the phone she told me which streets to take until I knew where I was.
When I got back, I didn't want to talk about it. As crazy as it sounds- in that moment I was only finding reasons to blame myself. Thoughts creeped in like, "maybe I'm overreacting?" but I was only dismissing my feelings.
My friend told me I needed to tell my manager, or she would. I didn't want to think about it, it had just happened and I sat on my dorm floor in tears with her right next to me. I was going home in 3 days for Thanksgiving. As much as I didn't want to tell anyone, I knew I needed to so things would be okay when I would return to work.
Once I spoke up, I still didn't feel heard.
. . .
Words from the "wise"
"You young girls should know that when men are drinking they have a hard time hearing no."
"Did you say no?" "Well, you should have said a clear NO."
"Why did you follow him? What were you thinking?"
"'Hey Haley, by the way, don't be afraid to tell guys to f**k off.' ____ is harmless, but once you tell him no, after 3 times he'll be like oh okay."
"Restaurant relationships are very loose, maybe he didn't get your signals?"
These were some of the responses I received from adults; adult women. On and off campus; whose jobs are to take these situations seriously, and to look out for someone like me. It took everything in me to assert myself and seek help and the first supports I sought out, were not a support at all. Everything I had shared was dismissed. I was left feeling stupid for everything that happened. I realized- this..this is why people are so hesitant to share their story.
In the news..
I told my managers, I reported to the corporate office, HR. I was told that I would not be scheduled with him while an investigation was in place. However, 2 weeks into the investigation I was scheduled to work a 6 hour shift with him on my only day of the week working. I was so upset that my work was not taking the situation seriously. I realized that if a corporate investigation was not preventing me from working with this man, I would have to make steps of my own.
Meanwhile, a co-worker sent me a link to a news article. 5 other women at my work had just filed a civil lawsuit against the restaurant for sexual harassment complaints and closed investigations that had been going on since 2015. These women were victimized by their coworkers and supervisors in the kitchen staff. They are immigrants and needed a translator for their report. They are prep cooks and dishwashers.
I read into the news story that was now over The Boston Globe and Washington Post. I was stunned. Here I was being told by corporate that I would get an answer on my closing investigation in a few days, and then I read this news and thought what makes me think this will change things?
In the midst of my finals week, I filed a police report.
The first thing I was asked: Are you with the lawsuit?
They already knew about my restaurant. I had to explain that this was not the same situation, but in both cases corporate did nothing. I had to explain that the reason I had waited almost 1 month to report was because I was holding on for HR to come to a conclusion, and I was beginning to lose faith in them. A couple days after my report, I was transferred to speak with an investigator. There I was sitting in a conference room with 2 detectives questioning me over recording.
My best friend from CT walked out with me, and it took some time before I could catch my breath, process it all, and fill her in. I was told that I could think about whether or not to press charges. Back came the thoughts, that maybe I should leave things be, things could have been worse. Fear of the unknown talking me down.
Call from corporate.
I went home for winter break, smiling, telling my family work was "good" when they asked.
The "few more days," I was told, ended up being another month before I heard from Human Resources.
"Witnesses saw you flirting with _____ that night. Why do you think they would say that?"
What? I was appalled. You have got to be kidding me. Here it goes; my interrogation..
"I was not flirting with him..at all..I told him so many times to leave me alone that night. I don't know- I was being my usual friendly self, and talking to everyone, so because I was also talking to him..that was seen as me flirting?"
"Did [insert assistant manager] ever tell you to go back to the host stand?"
"Do you have any idea why [insert assistant manager] would say that [they] did?
I was now angry.
"I don't know, but [X] didn't! I was off the clock and nobody had walked into the restaurant for an hour. The staff were all talking together?"
I felt so small. My management, lying, to cover their own, and making it sound like I was flirting with an alcohol-driven 30 something.
Even better, a few days after that phone call HR called to announce (a good 3 days before Christmas Eve) that they did not have enough evidence from the investigation to terminate him, and that he will still be working there. I was also told they could only keep me off the schedule with him for a certain number of days.
I got off the phone in tears. I had high doubts they would help, but I still had some hope they would do something about this.
Back in the city.
I was home for winter break, so I did not have to worry about it just yet. When I returned to Boston the next month, I dreaded going back to work. I had options. I could press charges, I could quit my job. But I did not want to quit my job- why should I be the one to leave?
I did my research, I asked some questions, and I decided that my best bet was to request a protection order.
You know when you don't know where you're going, but you still confidently walk in the wrong direction? That was actually not me. I could not hide how anxious I was. I did not even know what the inside of a court looked like. Would there be a reception desk? Where do I go? I walked through the security check and an officer directed to an office to hand in my paperwork. (Did you know you can get the restraining order paperwork online?) I felt in control until a man told me to have a seat and wait to go up in front of the judge. I was told to be "very specific" and that if I wasn't [she] would make sure I was. Suddenly, I no longer felt in control, I got that "searching for mommy and daddy in the grocery store" feeling. I got that middle school social anxiety "holding in tears in public" feeling. I chose to do this on my own, but I wished then that I had asked someone to go with me.
When I was asked to go inside, I took a seat and waited for my turn. I was already fighting back tears, and telling myself to just breathe. "When your name is called, you will stand next to me right there." the man said.
When it was my turn I walked up past the line, and had to take a step back. I shared how I knew him, why I was requesting the order, and had to go into detail. There I stood with my puffy coat (that my friends say makes me look like a burnt marshmallow), my Bearpaw boots, and my colorful hippie crossbody bag wrapped across my shoulder. I must have looked far too innocent to be familiar with the courthouse. Each time the judge looked down at her book I wiped tears from my cheek. I was so annoyed with myself. You're fine, stop crying, this is so embarrassing. And then my nose was running. Damnit Haley. There was no hiding my discomfort. When a teacher from my childhood scolded another student in my class, I was always that sensitive kid who would start feeling guilty. This felt like that. I was so intimidated by my environment, I had to remind myself I didn't do anything wrong.
"You did a great job, that wasn't easy." I was told while being handed a copy of my protection order.
In one week, I would be back, and He would be there too.
Court day 2
I barely slept or ate the week leading up to this hearing. What if they drop the order? What if he shows up? What if he doesn't show up? I honestly don't know how my friends stayed so patient with me, but I love them for it. They knew how hard it was for me the first time, so the amount of "thinking of you" texts I received that morning was overwhelming in the best way.
He never showed, and I learned why. He was never served.
Then, they could not find my police report. I sat with a pit in my stomach as they got my case in order.
I was given, yet another, temporary order and told to come back in 2 weeks. The updated order had a distance limit of 3 yards instead of 100, which was on my initial order. The judge said "however your work wants to handle it."
I left in tears yet again.
Sir, I'm here because my work will not handle it.
2 weeks? And I can be working with him? What do I do now?
Giving myself closure.
This had been 4 months of me trying to make the matter right. I was exhausted, and feeling hopeless. It took so much energy for me to take those steps forward, and I felt as though nothing was coming of it. I became angry with the system, with society, with my employers, with Him.
I had been stubborn in refusing to leave my job, because why should I be the one to leave? It sickened me to picture him going about his life, getting his paychecks, and doing this to someone else. At this point I was realizing it was not worth it. I made the decision. I was going to quit my job, for me. But I was not going to give up. I left a message for the investigator. I decided that by pressing charges, even if the court decides against it, I can say without a doubt that I did everything I could. That with or without me, this would catch up with him. And I will go on to do so much more.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post, that for the longest time I could not turn to my blog for healing.
I have shared the story now, and next up I will share how I have been healing along the way. Sadly, it isn't wrong what they tell you. It doesn't matter the situation, women will still find ways to question their own actions. It is a protective instinct, to take some responsibility in order to make even the least possible sense of why it happened.
I will give updates as I continue to face the legal system. I will give updates as the story continues. I am a writer, it is in my blood. My stories are my teachings. I believe we grow through every hurt. I believe there is healing in a vulnerable connection. This connection is "Me Too." I am making sure my voice is heard now.
I have taken leaps and climbed mountains as far as asserting myself these past few months. This is just the beginning.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656.HOPE (4673)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: 1 (800) 669.4000
Crisis Textline: 741-741
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273.8255
A Boston social work student, using writing for healing. Sharing the peaks and valleys of an empath's mental health journey.