I had a disturbing experience recently. Not quite the level of sexual violence in the #MeToo movement and it wasn’t as serious as a Harvey Weinstein-style sexual assault or a Matt Lauer “secret button to lock the door so victims can’t escape”-type false imprisonment.
But it was similar to the root cause of it – somebody of the opposite sex using their power to harass you because they think they can get away with it.
I’d like to think I’m a pretty friendly person. I say hello to people and make small talk when I feel like it. This includes clients, colleagues and random folk who work on my floor.
But there is one elderly guy, who clears the plates in the cafeteria, that would always come up to me to say “Hola!”. He’s in his 60s and seemed nice. I was taught to respect my elders so I was always respectful and polite when we crossed paths.
Until one day, he started touching me. Nothing crazy – just a tap on the shoulder. And the next time, the hand stayed longer on the shoulder than just a tap. The thing is, I don’t really know him and I don’t appreciate the physical contact. He’s also very loud and in his limited English, always yells “What happened?” to which I know no answer.
One day, he thought it would be funny to block me as I walked down the corridor. The kind where he had his arms outstretched and I would have to make some kind of contact with him in order to pass through a narrow passageway. A colleague saw it happening and told him to move it. I walked away quickly. Only to return to my office, with him standing nearby, tapping my shoulder and loudly exclaiming, “What happened?”
I wasn’t going to let him get away with it this time.
I exclaimed loudly, “Don’t touch me.” I saw a few heads nearby turn to see this confrontation go down. “I mean it, don’t touch me ever again. Say hello but don’t ever lay a finger on me. I don’t know you,” I said firmly.
He took a step back, laughed it off and backed away. Someone I knew who witnessed it said he had heard about some old dishwasher guy harassing young female staffers. Oh, and yet he remains employed?
Anyway, he has tapped my shoulder once after that. To which I told myself, if this seriously happens one more time, I am going to Human Resources. But it never happened again.
The moral of the story – speak up if someone makes you feel uncomfortable with unwarranted advances because your silence only enables such behaviour and emboldens the perpetrator. Don’t justify it in your head, don’t put up with it.