People pretend when you leave you don’t have to look back.
When I was sexually harassed at work, I reported it. Immediately. I’d already heard about the history of the perpetrator and the work environment was toxic long before he started gazing at my breasts in already uncomfortable one-on-one meetings. I knew other people had tried to report it but circumstances and power dynamics being what they are, here we were a few years down the line deja-vuing the behavior.
And much like the #metoo trend on twitter is amplifying right now, nothing happened. Nothing meaningful anyway. I had a meeting with someone with a lofty title, she expressed remorse, she offered to move my desk, urged me not to take meetings alone, but…
But, that left my protection solely up to to me- work environment be damned. But, that ignored my need to do my job well and those restrictions prevented me from being able to my job not only well- but given the way we were structured- at all!
So I left.
Not immediately. But I crafted an escape plan. And all’s well that escapes well but what about other people coming behind me? What about those with few options of escape?
And what about after you leave?
The thing is, the perpetrator, the job, the experience, isn’t some discreet event that can be folded up and put on a shelf someplace. Instead, victims (even those of us lucky enough to escape) are forced to navigate our work histories, our resumes, our references, with a predator in the midst. That person can color a potential job offer and stymie a career.
And then, of course, there is the reality of coming face to face with your tormentor in professional settings. Do you speak? Do you cold-shoulder? What an awkward affair to navigate: speak and be seen as cordial to a person who wielded power to objectify you or be seen as rude and have to explain what happened to you and the offending organization ignored.
There is no winning there.
And that is the root of it all…power. Power that once wielded continues to ensnare someone even after they’ve left the shadow of the organization complicit in causing the harm.
People continue to feign a lack of understanding about why women (and men) don’t report harassment and simultaneously ignore the realities of navigating life AFTER someone reports.