Young women, beware of what awaits

I used to think that feminists made up that sexual harassment stuff in their heads.

Quynh Nguyen

Sexual harassment is harder to talk about than sexuality, mostly because of how others react to the topic. Most respond with a blank stare, unsure of how to react. For the fellow women who graduated college last year like I did, their response is chilling: “Me too.”

No one ever tells us as girls what to expect when we enter the workplace. We hear about the “glass ceiling” and “no means no” but they don’t tell us that trusted coworkers, employers or teachers might be the ones who will do bad things to you.

Least of all, we aren’t told what to do after it happens, except to report it. That’s what I did when I was sexually harassed as a student volunteer at a hospital. A staff worker pressured me to take food from the hospital cafeteria, and then grabbed me and kissed me on the face and mouth. Then he let me go.

I was walking with the bags of food he had pushed onto me when I met a security officer. I later spoke to senior and human resources administration about the incident.

The HR admin was a woman, so I trusted her and believed that she would be sympathetic to what happened to me.

She listened to my story, asked for any corrections on her intake of my story and told me to wait for a decision from management.

Weeks passed and she asked to meet me again. Turns out the burly fat cook who sexually harassed me denied any wrongdoing (even though there were bags of evidence in my hands), so management simply believed him and dropped the matter. If he did it again he’d be fired, but as for loading me with a ton of food and kissing me, that was merely written up with a warning.

After HR spoke to me, they began to treat me as a litigious loose cannon that might unleash a sexual harassment suit and bring the house down. Not only was I humiliated by what happened to me, but management sought to keep the cook and pressure me to leave. All I wanted was my safety at my workplace, and they treated me like I was the problem.

I spoke with other women about my experience and they said they had the same result in their situations: The perpetrator needed three strikes to get out.

I had access to an attorney through the University, but I didn’t explore that option. After having shame handed to me by HR itself, I felt that any further attempts to go by the system would take me back to square one: That there is no such thing as sexual harassment except in the eye of the beholder.

As a girl, I used to think that feminists made up that sexual harassment stuff in their heads. As I reached adulthood, I began to realize that sexual harassment wasn’t a myth or made-up monster. It has always been around, with a different name: “boys will be boys.”

It chills me to think that nearly every female born will experience sexual harassment at some point in her life and will face a skeptical world in dealing with it. For me, I still feel very alone in talking about it and meeting others who understand. Do you?

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]