Was that Sexual Harassment?

 

The year was 1991. I was 24 years old and four months pregnant, but I wasn’t showing. I was three years into an abusive marriage, not physical, but mental abuse. I had been laid off from my previous job, and I needed this job. It was my first real job as a Paralegal.  It was a time when you could smoke in the office, right at your desk.  He was 33, was a lawyer, the head of the Legal department, and a vice president of the company.

I was at this job for ONE WEEK, and I had to work late. I was sitting at my desk, alone in my office and without a word, he walked in, grabbed my face, and started to kiss me.  I was so shocked, paralyzed and unsure what to do; I just waited for it to be over.

It was over almost as soon as it started and he walked out of my office, and I wondered if I had imagined it all.  I packed up my stuff for the day, left the office without a word, drove to my prenatal appointment, where my husband was waiting for me in the parking lot.  Remember, our marriage was already on life support, but as soon as I saw him the first thing I did was kiss him.  I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to tell him, I was afraid to tell him, and I was shaking like a leaf.

He demanded I tell him what was going on, which shouldn’t be the first response when your wife kisses you, but it was in that relationship, so I told him.  His reaction was anger. But the anger wasn’t initially directed at my boss, it was directed at me.  How could you let something like this happen?  What were you doing to encourage him to kiss you? After about what seemed like a lifetime of being yelled at, he finally said, I’m going to talk to him. I begged him not to say anything, we needed the job badly, I would take care of it, and we were going to be late for the doctor’s appointment.

The next morning after a half hour argument with my husband informing me I had BETTER take care of the situation, I drove to work wondering how in the world I was going to do just that. I nervously sat at my desk, alone in my office when he came in first thing.  He started to say he was sorry and I just blurted out “I’m pregnant.”  I was a paralegal, so I knew he couldn’t fire me and I was sure he wouldn’t do anything to a pregnant woman.

But he was slick, he had done this before, and he saw me as prey. I was vulnerable. I was starved for attention, compliments, and assurance that I was smart.  He told me every day I was pretty and because I was really good at my job, he kept giving me bigger and bigger assignments. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we were on the company’s private jet flying to a hearing that in reality, I had no business going to.  That meeting ended up in a hotel room, and that was the beginning of a four-year affair.

I don’t remember who ended the affair really because it was a shit show in the end. I was getting ready to leave my husband, he was accused of embezzling money from the company, and I was under a cloud of suspicion, because “she was sleeping with him, how could she NOT know anything,” but I didn’t.  His wife left him, he lost his license to practice law, he lost his house, but he managed to stay out of jail.  I was left picking up the pieces of my life.

It took me years, and I do mean years, to find my self-worth. Through those years of I would hear about women who were victims of sexual harassment, but I never considered myself as one of those women.  I wrestled with the fact that it turned into a long-term affair so how could it be sexual harassment and it was the story on CNN that made me pause and wonder.  A story so similar to mine it brought up too many memories before I finished my morning coffee.

I’m still not willing to say I was a victim of sexual harassment, but I am willing to say this; NO woman should be sitting at her desk and have to worry about some random guy coming in and kissing her. NO woman should be made to feel worthless. NO woman should have to be afraid to report anything to her superiors, in fear of losing her job. NO woman should be afraid of telling her husband of the harassment because he would be angry with her.

Tell someone, it’s not right, and you didn’t do anything wrong.

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10 Replies to “Was that Sexual Harassment?”

  1. Gina, so many of us have had a similar situation occur in our younger day I think. I know this sort of thing happened to me and so many of my lovely friends. I learned to nip it in the bud so to speak early on which I was able to do based on my sense of myself and my natural mouthiness. That is not possible for everyone and that is where raising powerful, back-talking women is every parents duty.
    Lovely story and thanks for sharing real-life with us. XXOX Teresa

  2. It sure started as harassment. I’m sorry that you went through a shitty, abusive marriage and I am so glad that you were able to get out! I haven’t started on these bits of my past but I have lots of stories to tell on this topic. I don’t think I know any women who worked prior to 2000 and did not get harassed at some point. Honestly from my first retail job (early 80’s) to my last corporate job (2004) I had some level of harassment at each one. I also had an inappropriate relationship with a counselor when I was 16….he was 32. Predators of a different sort, predators nonetheless. Hugs friend.

  3. Luyi De Prada says: Reply

    Definitely harassment in my book. Thanks for sharing your story, hopefully it will empower other women to stand up and not be victimized. 😘😘😘

  4. You are so incredibly brave. Xo

  5. Joyce Hanscom says: Reply

    Gina. I remember meeting you for the first time. It was Easter. Jill was about 2 so how old would you have been? Walking on the way to your home from our home tgere in Mineola, I witnessed a baby bird being hit by a car. What followed is seared in my memory: the mother bird who flew to the side of the road and whimpered by her baby until there was no more breath in her heart. After mourning the death of this innocent treasure, I contined walking to your home with Breyette. Your words on harassment somehow reminds me of this incident in time. It reminds me that when terrible stuff hits us unexpectedly there will be an unexpected caring to hold the brokenness. Your mother and I and our innocent ones have over the years been dealt crushing blows. I don’t know what people mean when their comments are a long the lines, ” You’ll be stronger for this”. Shit in life is not about beibg strong or weak; it’s about finding goodness in spite of x, y, z . Look at you Gina; the baker whose fragrance of oven baked goods permeates people’s hearts. Yes, to me you’ve figured something out in spite of unexpected interruptions of innocence. You’ve figured out that in creating textures, aromas and artistic design there is goodness within you. How I wish I could enjoy a coffee with one of your creations.

  6. You are an excellent writer, Gina. I love reading your writings. This one particularly. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there – you are an amazing women. Sending love your way. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  7. Gina I’m so touched and proud of women like you who at some time or another come forth. It takes a lot I can imagine as I’ve never been through this type of situation. I commend your effort and your courage to move pass this and come to this time in your life where you let so many other women that NO woman should remain silent. God has been with you all along even when you didn’t feel it He has made you a powerful and strong woman through it. Never doubt that. May the best continue to be with you. Much respect and love for you.

  8. Sending you love for writing this story. Thank you.

  9. Survivor, not victim. And harassment is a power play. When your boss or a supervisor hits on you, even if you like it, it is harassment because of the power dynamics. One party should change departments or find a new job. Relationships happen, but in the workplace, as you know, they need to be discreet and discrete. It happened all the time when I worked in a retail place – the couple, if they were in same dept., esp if one was a supervisor – rearranged their situation. The person lower on the totem pole changed depts. Life, as you know, is all about balance and sadly, appearances. You are all the stronger for all your experiences!

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