Her Voice: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month which focuses on ending sexual violence across the country.

On a daily basis, women are subjected to verbal remarks or even physical advances when it’s completely and utterly unwanted. Unfortunately, encountering harassment by merely walking around outside isn’t the least of our worries. Many of us have to deal with this when we clock into work.

According to the U.S. Department of State, sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature." In turn, this constitutes sexual harassment when “an employment decision affecting that individual is made because the individual submitted to or rejected the unwelcome conduct or the unwelcome conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment." It’s sickening, sad and incredibly ridiculous that a woman can’t even go to work to make a living without having to worry about being harassed when she gets there.

Even though the month of April shouldn't be the only month we discuss sexual violence, there’s no better time to bring these issues to light. With the help of my editors and many brave individuals who came forward (and chose to be anonymous), we were able to compile stories of their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. As proven by these powerful stories, there's never just one definition of sexual harassment. With the permission of these brave women, we want to share them with you now. 

Source: Stop Hurt Start Here

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I am a recent alumna (class of 2014) working in my first full-time professional job as a registered nurse. I encounter sexual harassment atleast once a week at work, usually more often. Many of my patients make comments, calling me pretty or asking if I am single (which I am, and I think this only encourages further comments). I've even had the family member of a patient [look] me up on LinkedIn and repeatedly [try] to contact me. However, I usually let the comments my patients make slide. After all, I am going to be spending the next 12 [or more] hours with them, so to me it’s more appealing to smile and try to steer the conversation away from those comments than call out the behavior and risk angering or offending my patients. It's a sad reality, but it's the truth. 

My patients' comments upset me less than those of my male co-workers. There have been atleast three occasions where male coworkers have made comments about my appearance or asked about my dating life. There is one in particular who comments on my appearance every time I see him. I know he is just joking because he is married with several kids, and he is a great worker overall. I'm sure he'd stop if I asked, but I know if I said something it would alienate him... and as a relatively new employee, I really don't want to make any enemies. 

I'm glad you're writing a piece on this issue because it has actually been on my mind quite often recently. Every time this behavior occurs I'm left feeling like I'm failing my fellow women by tolerating it, but I don't want to rock the boat. Every time I'm harassed in this way, I feel embarrassed, self-conscious and frustrated that I'm not being seen as a professional with whom such conduct should not be tolerated.

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I was 18 when I started working at the clinic. It my first job as a vet tech and I was ecstatic to be getting hands-on medical experience with animals. I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, and this was one step closer to my goal.

When I walked into the clinic, it was a small, empty, run down place with only one girl sitting at the counter. She directed me to [my future boss'] office and he conducted the interview. He commented and said I looked beautiful, which I found a little unprofessional and odd, but I was too stoked for the interview to care. Besides that, nothing really seemed too weird and I got the job, so I was happy.

I showed up to work, excited to learn all I could about animal medicine. Within the first week, I started noticing him being strange. He'd constantly tell me I looked good. I'd just smile and say thank you, even though I thought it was weird, especially coming from a man in his late sixties. I remember the first time he crossed the line, though. He said I looked beautiful, as usual, and then said, "If [I] was 30 years younger [I'd] do things to [you]." I was shocked, but my coworker just laughed it off, and she said he's just joking. But the dirty jokes didn't end there. One time, we were putting a dog under anesthesia for a neuter, and he told me, "[Don't] lean too close to the gas or [you'll] wake up in [my] office." The most disturbing instance I recall was [when] he leaned in to give me a hug for something and his hands traveled far too low down my back. I would go home and complain about it with my boyfriend, who was obviously disturbed, too. The weird part was, when I would try to talk about it with my coworkers, they'd seem unphased by it, like, "yeah he's just like that." He did it to them too, but they didn't seem to mind.

In the end, I actually ended up getting laid off due to him going out of business. I think the worst part of the whole thing was the fact that I didn't stick up for myself, or just walk out of the job when I felt uncomfortable. I let him push those limits because I kept convincing myself "it's fine," because I thought I'd be overreacting if I said anything. I let him treat me like that even though he was married. I should've said something, I probably still can, but I probably won't ever.

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I used to work for a large retail company for approximately three months during the end of spring and throughout the summer of 2014. I never applied to the store; I was approached by Caleb*, the manager of the store, during spring break. He simply said I was pretty, looked fashionable, and asked if I would like a job there. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity because I wanted retail experience and I thought Forever 21 was a reputable company to work at (in some ways it is, because it's a big brand, but overall the company stinks). Caleb told the assistant manager that I had been interviewed (which I hadn't) and had me fill out the forms and go over basic information. I guess this hiring process was sort of a red flag; I wasn't hired for my work experience/ethic or personality — I was hired because Caleb thought I was attractive.

At first, I loved my job. I worked the cash registers, which is considered a privilege compared to having to work as a sales associate on the floor. This was probably another sign of favoritism, as other employees with a lot more experience had never even been given the chance to train for the cash registers yet, but I was happy with my position and it wasn't my place to say what positions people should have. 

As time went on, Caleb became friendlier and friendlier: constantly giving out high-fives, making goofy faces, etc. My co-workers would sometimes gossip about Caleb, calling him "creepy" or "weird," but I hadn't really seen him cross any lines. After a while, Caleb’s friendliness started veering towards that boundary. He'd tease me about something work-related and then retort, "But you still love me, right?" with a wink. Yeah, I could begin to feel the creepiness. Then I began to listen to him talk about customers in the store, saying how beautiful they were or how fit their bodies were. I remember one girl was trying on a very revealing dress, but apparently wasn't satisfied with how she looked in it. As she was critiquing herself in the mirrors outside her dressing room, I remember Caleb saying something along the lines of, "Damn, she has no idea how good she looks in that." as he leaned over the cashier counter to peek into where the dressing rooms were. I began talking to some of the other girls at work, and some of them said he'd do the same thing around them. Then things got weirder. Caleb started following some of the girls on Instagram, and liking their pictures (myself included). One of the girls said that the day after he followed her, he made comments about her body from a picture of her in a bikini during a private meeting. After hearing this, most of the girls blocked him on Instagram and made their profiles private. 

Maybe two months into the job, I texted Caleb asking if I could come into work an hour later than scheduled because of my friend's birthday. He replied saying I'd have to shimmy for him. This might sound random, but it was an inside joke that started out friendly (I'd do a goofy serious-faced shimmy to music in the store when it wasn't busy). I thought it was weird, but I texted back, "lol okay *shimmies*" and he replied "oh come on, you can do better than that", so I went along with it and said, "*shimmies with an intense glare*" and he replied "grrrrrrrawrl! yummy! ;-)". I got a bit creeped out and didn't reply. He texted back a few hours later and said, "oh sorry, I meant funny not yummy!" I just replied, "haha yeah, I figured." 

Later on, he started getting a little physical. When he passed behind me at the cash register, he'd place his hand on my hip as he moved by. I thought this was weird because he never did it before and no one else did it either. I just didn't want to say anything because I didn't want it to seem like I was overreacting. Then he'd purposely bump into me and act playful about it, giving me little waist or butt bumps, and say, "Excuse me, you're in my way! It's okay, I still love you!" with a wink. I started telling my friends and boyfriend about the incidents, and they agreed that it was definitely bordering sexual harassment. The only thing was, I didn't know if it really was enough to call it that. It seemed like he was aware of how far he could take things without getting in trouble. I also didn't want to report him because Caleb was a very important asset to the company; he had turned our stores from one of the worst ranking ones, to ranking between first and third every week​. The company loved him so much they'd send him to other stores to help improve any problems. Feeling as if reporting him would be pointless and possibly cause the company harm (or they wouldn't take it seriously because he was so important), prompted me to simply quit. 

I think the weirdest thing is that he's in his late 30s and is married with kids, which made the whole situation just feel even more sickening. He still works there now, though I almost never visit the store anymore. The last time I was there, he hugged me and told me I was still on payroll and was welcome to come back and work whenever I wanted. This was really odd to me, because when I quit, I didn't do it in the nicest way. I did a, "no call, no show" for the rest of my shifts and ignored any contact from the store until they left me a voicemail letting me know that I no longer work there (I know that's rude, but I was beyond frustrated for numerous reasons). Why would a company re-hire an employee who purposely neglected their work shifts? Sounds fishy to me. Anyway, I declined the offer and parted ways as quickly as possible. 

*Name has been changed.

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I had an incident with a male co-worker this past January.

Back story: his wife asked him for a divorce last July 4th. He was visibly shaken at work and needed someone to talk to, so I listened to him rant a couple times. When the fall semester began, he thought financial aid was being distributed on Friday when it was actually be given out the following Monday. He had no food, so he drove us to Publix after work and I bought him $20 [worth] of food, and lettuce for his tortoise. 

The semester picked up and we didn't speak for about four months other than very occasional work issues. 

The incident: winter break ended and we went back to work in January. The first day back, he tells me during work that he has a "secret" to tell me afterwards. I said okay, and we went to the parking lot after we clocked out. He proceeds to tell me that he had a threesome the night before with his ex-wife and the guy she cheated on him with. There is no reason for you to share something like that with your coworker, and we didn't even talk about sex while he was ranting MONTHS earlier. 

Then he proceeds to ask me if my boyfriend and I were interested in threesomes. I backed up onto the curb behind me before I knew my legs were moving, shaking my head and saying no. I didn't want things to be awkward, so I played it cool and have been actively avoiding him since. I think he got the message. 

Why I didn't go to my supervisor: I let him vent. I opened that door. Does that mean he should have crossed the line and asked me if I was interested in a threesome, or [told] me about his? No. I genuinely believe he was scouting for another couple, and that freaks me the f*** out. He's the type to compliment you if you dress up AT ALL, so I only wear t-shirts and unflattering things now. But I opened that door and I believe he thought he was speaking to a friend, not a coworker. So I've just been avoiding him every day I've worked for the past four and a half months. 

Anyway, I also had a man tell me about a threesome he had planned for his boyfriend for Xmas. It was during work, as we were working. That one, however, was completely out of the blue and he was fired for it. 

I really don't know why guys want to tell me about their threesomes, whether women are involved or not. I've NEVER talked about sex during work. It must just be because I'm not very judgmental. 

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Source: National Sexual Violence Resource Center

I and everyone else here at Her Campus FSU want to extend our deepest appreciation to the women above for sharing moments in their lives that made them feel violated and uncomfortable. Your voices help us all take one step forward in the fight against sexual harassment.

Being sexually harassed at work (or anywhere, for that matter) is entirely uncalled for. If you ever feel like this is happening to you, don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it—even if it seems scary.

Click here for more information if you feel stuck and unsure of what to do. There are always people ready to help you, including your peers at Florida State.