Victim or Whistle Blower?

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You’d have had to be living under a rock to not be familiar with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements which have called time on sexual harassment. The movements which started in the film industry have raised awareness in every workplace in the western world.

While I take solace in the fact that this issue is getting light shed on it, I wonder, and fear, it may be a simple fad. Remember Kony 2012? Or the Paris attacks – “#PrayforParis”, when buildings internationally were coloured in solidarity with France’s flag’s colours? Or even  more recently, #wecallbs headed by Emma Gomez, a survivor of this year’s Florida high school massacre.

Are these just bandwagons to load your empathy onto until the next inevitable, tragic thing has been ‘hashtagged’ on Instagram and Twitter, or live-streamed on Facebook?

And what of people who suffered at the hands of harassers before the trends of Time’s Up and #MeToo? Are their stories still relevant? Is mine?

If I’d been sexually harassed in 2017 instead of 2014, would the culprit have continued to be employed?  I’m not the only person who ponders such questions. The 14 women who accused Donald Trump of sexually harassing them publicly wondered the same thing. They came forward in 2016 and were all but ignored. By 2017 they publicly wondered if it was all about the timing.

I wonder that, too. The choice to revisit this period of my life definitely was one met with apprehension. I never achieved full closure and perhaps that’s possible to achieve now by calling attention to it. Getting my voice heard and actually respected was something I looked forward to experiencing with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Though, even with celebrity advocacy, empathy can seem less than bountiful on the respective forums, it not being unusual to find a female in comment threads undermining the seriousness of these types of offenses.

Empathy and support was not what I was met with in 2015. In the end I chose to leave my previous employer when my complaints of sexual harassment were met instead with disbelief.

The aftermath of this period took its toll. I lost a substantial amount of weight, my skin broke out, my mental health deteriorated. I didn’t leave bed for days at a time. During the incredibly invasive, detailed interview [read “interrogation”] with the Fair Work Commission, it was implied a reaction to these events by someone without depression and anxiety would have been less severe.

My approach to the situation fluctuated between utter rage to blasé indifference. At its lowest, my bank balance, punished by more than six months of unemployment, totalled  just under one hundred dollars. That’s all I had, to my name.

I am hesitant to leave the supermarket where I was harassed on my resume, fearing former managers might bad-mouth me to potential employers, calling me out as a trouble-maker. But why should I leave out the work experience I accrued over two years there? Should I erase two years of my life from employment records in case of a backlash?  A backlash for reporting sexual harassment. A backlash for being a victim of someone else’s appalling behaviour. A backlash for pointing out that my employer was failing to provide a safe workplace.

Just a few weeks into my career at this supermarket, another employee revealed to me that the trainee store manager had said he thought I was “keen for bangs”. I was just 18 years old.

I kept my distance from the trainee manager but when he discovered my sexuality his treatment of me worsened. Referencing a clothes special he leered, “What do you think of girls in yoga pants?” and “Do you think girls in yoga pants are hot?” and “What would you do to a girl in yoga pants?”

While working on registers next to one another, he’d ask me what I thought of a particular girl, whether she was my type, and whether I’d have sex with her.

He even went as far as to comment on my physique while I was stacking shelves. Gazing at my arse, he said; “Yeah I can see you’ve been squatting lately.”

After bringing the bullying and harassment to the attention of my Store Manager in late December of 2014, the roster was shuffled so we were on different shifts. I eventually was moved stores when the situation still rendered discomfort. 

But six months later, he was relocated into my new store. I was told to move back to my original so that I could keep out of his way, immediately, as he would be working there the following day.

I felt could no longer fulfil my contract because my employer refused to uphold its own workplace policies, which according to the employee handbook included: ‘providing advice and counselling to all employees who are party to or victim of harassment’ and ‘ensuring that no victim of harassment will be disadvantaged in any way’.

I was victimized, on the receiving end of unwelcome conduct in a sexual nature. I felt coerced into making my decision to leave. I was met with no compassion from my Area Manager who stated that I “didn’t know what it felt like to be harassed by a man.”

I didn’t get any compensation and ultimately I had to retract my claim with the Fair Work Commission when my lawyers couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have to pay $3,000 court costs. 

The trainee manager, to my knowledge, still, happy as Larry, went on to work for the company.

My reaction at the time was to try to minimise the harm I felt in the absence of a resolution. I’d tell myself, “Maybe it wasn’t that bad” or, “Hey, at least it never got physical”. But I know now, with the support of these movements, I didn’t behave unreasonably. My behaviour wasn’t, as my female Area Manager claimed, “disproportionate to the situation”.

In the end, these movements haven’t just encouraged cases of sexual harassment to be brought forward; they’ve highlighted the unfortunate ingrained indifference women face  when they stand up for themselves. It took 60 women to come forward before the authorities would believe Bill Cosby was guilty of sexual assault.

Reporting cases of sexual harassment to authorities is an action seen as brave now, empowering even, though, I hope, will be something that in future doesn’t take courage, or defying unsupportive women, but rationalism. Here’s hoping when the hashtags become outdated, so too do the deep-rooted social restrictions limiting peoples’ empathy.

 

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