Vulnerability in the Workplace
Reproductive Justice Story
My reproductive justice story is about sexual harassment I experinced at my job when I was 19. I had started a new job for the summer at a condominium pool lifeguarding. I was super excited to be working outside, serving a community and being able to get paid to swim. My boss was an older man who was extremely welcoming and understanding. I had met his daughter and he introduced me to all the renters and owners at the condos with a warm smile. He always made efforts to ask me about school, make me feel comfortable and check in if there was anything I ever needed. I appreciated his gestures immensely and felt like my work ethic was being recognized. As the summer went on he always remained friendly and talkative making me feel honored and grateful to work there.
It was just like any normal day when he came to switch shifts with me and I was getting ready to go home. He asked if I could go to the utility closet with him where we kept the supplies and such because he had to inform me on something. Of course I followed simply complying with what my boss asked. When we entered the closet he said he was going to shut the door because he has to tell me something concerning one of the guests. I thought nothing of it and was only hoping everything was okay at the pool. He began to talk and when he finished he leaned in to kiss me. When his lips touched my cheek I froze. I was unsure what to do, what to think or what to say. I felt extremely uncomfortable and naive. I began to think of all the times he would ask me to check the filters in the pool, watching me take my clothes off till my bathing suit was the only thing on me. All the times he told me I looked pretty and me smiling thinking he was only being nice. I was in utter shock. He noticed I was uncomfortable and immediately left, texting me later “Lets keep this between us”.
A lot of me has changed since then and I attribute some of my self transformation to this occurrence. Once I was back at the pool doing my job shortly after I realized that it was beyond inappropriate and I couldn’t stop holding back tears. Having this be the first time something of this sorts to happen to me, I debated on what to do. I did not want to “overreact” and I kept thinking of his daughter and how if I told someone what it would mean for her. I reached out to my friend who I confide in and explained to her what had just happened. She gave me one of the best pieces of advice I could have asked for. She told me that sweeping it under is the easy thing to do, no one gets hurt and no one has to talk about it. However she reminded me that if I let this go ignored he may feel empowered and able to do this to other women and think he can always get away with it. I then knew what I had to do even if it was a hard and uncomfortable conversation to have. I called my mom and could not finish without bawling my eyes out realizing how much it had hurt me. She gave me advice on what to do next in order to ensure safety for myself and others in the community. The next call was to the boss above him, a woman who managed us. She asked me if I was okay, advised me to leave and said she would be talking to the owners of the whole place promptly.
The feeling of shock and misunderstanding stayed with me for a long time. I then spoke to my dad because I was living with him at the time. He of course made sure I was okay, stayed on the phone with me till I arrived home and was there for me as long as I needed him. I wanted it to be over, I did not want to go to the police and I simply just did not want to talk about it again. However, I had to give more information to the owners so they could file a report. The owner was an older man with a family as well. When he called me was the moment I realized that men will never understand what it is like for someone to violate you and you to feel powerless to fight back. He kept saying to me “well oh it was only a kiss” or “ his hands never touched your body”. I was very angry and upset with the way he was speaking to me and the comments he was making. The man who sexually harassed me at my job was not fired, was able to keep his job and I was left unemployed and violated. My parents pushed me to go to the police so I did in attempts to make sure his actions did not go unnoticed. The first police officer I spoke to told me that it was a “he said she said” game and there was nothing he could really do. He wished me “good luck” as if I needed luck. I went to the police at the town where my job was and they took notes and such but nothing ever happened.
I don’t tell my story in hopes of receiving sympathy. I tell my story in hopes of empowering other women and opening up the eyes of people who think that sexual assault doesn’t go unnoticed. My heart goes out to all the women who have experienced something similar to me and I recognize the magnitude that sexual assault can reach especially in workplaces. I urge every woman to never stand for anything, to use your voice the moment a comment, a look or anything makes you uncomfortable. I know that I will now never hold back. Incidents like this happen far too often and are never talked about or handled the way they should be. I hope employers and coworkers take these issues seriously and never let one of their employees who is more than an employee, a person, a family member get treated in poor ways. I feel forever thankful for my friends and family who supported me and gave me advice to lead me through an uncomfortable, unwanted situation. For the women who do not have the support that I did, you are enough by yourself and your voice is strong enough to move oceans.