Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
“I’LL NEVER FORGET IT”
Three people – two women and a man – describe being sexually harassed while on the job. They asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy and to avoid retribution.
■ For a Honolulu woman who is a senior executive in her firm, sexual harassment during a business gathering was a shattering event – one that still causes her voice to waver though it happened two years ago.
“The idea that this happens just to people lower in the ranks of their companies is not true,” she says. “This can happen to anyone. While I think women are targeted far more, I’m sure men have experienced this too.”
The gathering included many people in her profession, both inside and outside her firm. The man, also a senior member of the profession, moved closer to her in the crowd.
“I was not expecting anything or interacting with this person. This came completely out of the blue. I didn’t even know his name at the time.”
Suddenly, both of his hands moved all over her body. Surprised and shocked, she stood frozen, stunned by the assault and unable to deal in that moment with what had just occurred.
“It was hard for me to quickly move away, but I turned away right after it happened and was able to move away from the situation. I didn’t make a big scene at the time. I was totally in shock.”
She worries today about not just shielding herself from him but shielding other women as well. She is pondering whether to share her story with a trusted member of his firm so women there can be protected.
“I don’t want this incident to be what I’m known for rather than my expertise and accomplishments as a professional. I don’t think this type of behavior is sufficiently condemned in our community yet, so it still feels somewhat unsafe to share.”
■ For the man, now in his 40s, the #MeToo movement has brought back in vivid detail an incident that happened on his first job. It occurred in a central office area of the nonprofit where he worked, as he helped co-workers assemble shelving. As he bent over, his buttocks were grabbed from behind.
“The president and CEO of the organization walks by, and with both her hands grabs my butt and squeezes and walks away. And, as she’s walking away, says, ‘Talk about sexual harassment.’ ”
He felt uncomfortable but the co-workers who witnessed the incident didn’t seem to think anything of it, he says.
“I went back to my office and mentioned it to my other co- workers, and the reaction was laughter,” he says. “And then we moved on. No one came to me afterward asking about it, and nobody ever brought it up again.”
Now, years later, when he shares that experience, reactions are different. “When I tell people about it, they are shocked that it happened and that I never said anything.
“But I’ll never forget it.”
■ In their firm, they were both co-workers and friends, and had been friendly for almost a decade, sharing feelings and problems, as well as some intimate details of their lives and marriages. “He would joke: ‘You’re my work wife,’ ” she says.
“Looking back, he took advantage of our friendship and the weakness I felt about where I was in the company.”
When he changed jobs, he created a position for her at his new company and met her salary, travel and education requirements. “It seemed, of course, too good to be true,” she remembers thinking.
In the new job he was her boss, and arranged regular travel with her, both to the Neighbor Islands and Mainland. He would create after-hours meetings for the two of them and ask her to be his “plus-one” at professional outings.
“He would make jokes and advances and early on he said, ‘My goal is for you and me to be divorced and to get together,’ ” she says. Her reaction was quick: “I’m happily married and you’re not my type.”
As he continued to pursue a closer relationship with her, he’d suggest dinner, working out or golf.
“At some point I felt I couldn’t say no,” she says. “I’m learning the job and he’s my only source of knowledge. I had changed industries and had a huge learning curve and relied on him for a lot of guidance. But he would make comments and it started to feel weird.” Sometimes, she says, he would tell her he needed a hug. “He would rub my leg or squeeze me, and make comments like, ‘Oh you’re so hot I just want to kiss you right now.’ And he’d make comments about my clothes. I would laugh it off.”
Then on a Mainland trip, at the end of the day, he invited her into his hotel room to lie on the bed and watch a movie on his iPad. He then rolled over and laid on her and tried to kiss her. She put her arms in an X over her face and pushed him away and tried to get up, but he pulled her back down. “Let’s just stay here and finish watching the movie,” he said.
Frozen, she obeyed.
Back home she avoided him and made excuses not to be alone with him. And she started documenting his actions. “I didn’t report it. I felt fearful of retaliation.” She began dreading work and going to the office, and worried that she had changed into someone who was meek and worthless.
She also questioned her own behavior. “Did I lead him on? Was I too friendly?”
The harassment stopped when he turned his attention to another woman who came to work in a similar capacity. Three months later that woman reported him for sexual harassment. He was put on administrative leave. During an investigation, our source told her story and so did a third woman. The CEO called him a predator, she says, but the company allowed the man to resign rather than be fired.
Soon after he was in another job, she says.