Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Harassment Fiasco

I'm in the home stretch, just a couple of days away from graduating. That said, my job at the college will be finished this week as well. I feel conflicted about this: I'm losing my steady paycheck and I'll be leaving behind some great coworkers. However, I feel good about leaving: perhaps my job search will yield a job with better pay (though it should be easy to beat the pay of a student worker) and because I'll be leaving the place where I was sexually harassed.

Like anyone, there's a few things in my life that are hard for me to admit, and most of them seem to stem in some way from sex. Two of the biggies are admitting that I was in an abusive relationship, the other is that I was harassed at work.

I'm willing to write about this because my job ends Friday, but I've been inspired by this post about sexual harassment over at Occasional Superheroine. An excerpt:

I feel the person who has gone through this or other traumas definitely has the right to tell her (or his) story -- that it's part of the healing process and provides people going through similar situations with perspective & hope. Further, I think the topic of sexual harassment itself should be debated and examined thoroughly on message boards and forums everywhere.

But one thing that gets lost in the internet debate and gossip is just how goddamn sad sexual harassment situations are for everybody involved. They're fucking sad. There are no winners and losers. Everybody is a loser. Feelings on both sides are filled with agony and resentment and hurt. You have one side saying "nothing happened and you're liar" and the other side saying "I'm really really hurt" and it's like Iraq, there's no immediate clean way to resolve it. And then you have people caught in the middle who are pressured to take sides and it's shitty for them too.

My situation was (unsurprisingly) tortuous. Because my job is the same as where I attend school (I work in the department of my major) I had no way to get away from him. And, like a lot of harassment stories, my situation was not cut and dry. It's not like he touched me--it had more to do with comments he said under his breath or how he would come stand by me, his body almost touching mine. It was the manner in which he looked at me, and how I would see him staring at me while I was having lunch with my partner. It was long and drawn out and I didn't know how to tell him how he made me feel. I couldn't find the voice to tell him to stop. Eventually, I found the courage to go to my boss and make a report. What resulted was an awkward bureaucratic hell that consisted of embarrassing interviews and meetings that were full of difficult decisions. In the end I was told that I'd have to meet with him, along with Human Resources and the department chair for a mediation if I wanted to make a proper complaint. I couldn't go through with it--I was too terrified.

I regret it. Because I failed to commit to the mediation, my complaint was never officially filed. It was as if my tentative steps to make him stop never happened. My boss took care to not schedule my hours when he was working, which did help. However, I still saw him in the hallway or around campus. The lack of closure isn't what I necessarily regret. What has made the situation worse is that once he did stop harassing me, he went after a co-worker, a good friend, of mine. I make him sound cruel and calculating, but I honestly think that he didn't know that he was doing anything wrong. My co-worker, knowing what I had gone through with him, filed a complaint immediately. I admire the hell out of her. She went to meeting after meeting and never backed down, even though the chair of the department expressed to her his opinion that she was making a big deal out of nothing. The kicker in the end was that the professor was only given a warning after her formal complaint went through. I found out from my boss that he would have received a harsher punishment if I had went through with my complaint.

This semester I haven't had to deal with the professor because he's on sick leave for cancer. I think it's unfortunate that he has to struggle though an awful disease, but I'm relieved that I haven't had to work with him now or ever again. For all of my relief, I still feel unresolved about the situation and I still feel ashamed--as though I'm making a big deal out of nothing--whenever I talk about. I do hope that if I ever find myself in a similar predicament, I'll be quicker to stand up for myself.

It's hard for me to look at sexual harassment rationally since I still feel hurt. But I do think this: if my work wasn't so entrenched in hierarchies, maybe it wouldn't have happened. I know it surely wouldn't have happened if the professor would see women as people rather than sex objects.

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