Dozens (and counting) of my friends have posted #metoo on Facebook in the past 24 hours. Well, #metoo.
Most people in my life know I am a survivor of sexual violence. It is going on 3 years since I founded The When You’re Ready Project to give survivors a voice. Today there are over 270 Stories on the site and I can’t even count the number of people who have disclosed their experiences to me personally.
I have talked at length about being raped…on this blog, the radio, videos, magazines, and the front page of a national paper. I have shared my story with family, friends, and complete strangers. Everyone tells me I am brave, most people tell me it wasn’t my fault and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed.
This latest hashtag campaign and the backlash against Harvey Weinstein is inspiring. Things are changing. Things still suck, but they are changing. People are speaking up, they are believing survivors and taking action. Voices of support are drowning out the ever present rape culture rhetoric. This is what should happen.
I want to make a confession. I have been part of the problem. The following story has weighed on my mind for almost a decade.
When I was 23 years old I moved to Amsterdam on an 18 month global assignment with [a Big 4 Accounting Firm*].
I started working with a Senior Manager from the UK named [SK]. At first, everything was exciting. I was being challenged, learning new things, and getting opportunities I never would have had in San Francisco. He would later remind me of this. He would later threaten to take it away, and make good on that threat.
At a conference in Paris, [SK] hooked up with a woman in our industry. On the train back to Amsterdam, he described the encounter in explicit detail. I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t. I started to walk away, he ordered me to sit down and get to work. And he kept talking about it. I documented the event in a file called “SK.doc” and saved it in a folder called “x.Archive”.
On my birthday, [SK] emailed me an astrology article about why our two star signs are sexually compatible. I ignored it, but saved the email. More emails would follow: sexist and inappropriate jokes; questions about my sex life and unwanted information about his. I saved them.
[SK] once told me that if I wanted to attend an important meeting I needed to dress sexier. He said that if I wanted to work on a project in Finland, I needed to “earn it” by flirting with a prospective client and securing a dinner meeting with him. I wrote this down, and SK.doc started to grow into several pages.
Eventually, it was too much. I took a day off work to think carefully about what to do, and decided I had enough. I printed the timeline, the emails, and scheduled a meeting with the Partner, [RK]. I cried in his office as I shared the evidence of several months of inappropriate behaviour. [RK] told me there wasn’t really anything he could do about it. He pointed out that [SK] was a Senior Manager who brought in a lot of revenue. He pointed out that [SK] hadn’t tried to touch me.
I reported [SK]’s behaviour to HR. They said they would give him a written warning, and that after 3 written warnings they would open an investigation.
I called my Partner and Senior Manager in San Francisco and they said they believed me and would support me if I wanted to come home. But I didn’t want to come home. I didn’t want to give up my life in Amsterdam, it wasn’t fair. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the authority to do anything about it.
[RK] said the only way he could help me was to remove me from [SK]’s projects, and call other partners and see if they could find work for me. They couldn’t.
[RK] gave me a below average performance rating, because I wasn’t able to meet my utilization targets. Because no one wanted to work with me. No one wanted to work with me, because [SK] told the other men in my office that I had tried to come onto him, and when he rejected me I filed a false claim of sexual harassment.
One day, [SK] came into my office. Well, he came into the doorway. He announced loudly that he wasn’t going to shut the door because he didn’t want me to “get confused”. I quietly told him to get out. Others started poking their heads out, and watched as he mocked me. He laughed and said it must be my time of the month, and backed away with his hands over his head in surrender. I stopped coming into the office. I stopped working entirely. I decided to leave Amsterdam.
I saw [SK] two years ago at a conference in Manchester. He was hovering around me and I pretended not to see him. I knew he would be there, and had rehearsed what I would say to him if he approached me. He never did, he stood at a distance and stared at me. I was fully prepared to cause a scene, maybe he knew that.
I am not ashamed of the story above. I am ashamed of what followed.
A couple years later, a younger woman at the firm came to me for advice. She was in the middle of a similar experience, with a different man. Someone had suggested she reach out to me, I had never met her before.
She told me what happened and that she was thinking of reporting the man who was harassing her. I believed her, and I told her so. I gave her the names of some people at the firm who had been supportive of me.
And I told her not to report it.
I told her it was pointless, that the firm would not support her and the only outcome would be a damaged career.
She took my advice, and for that I am ashamed.
But it was a different world 10 years ago. Things are changing. Things are changing because of the courageous women and men who come forward despite the consequences. Things are the way they are, because women have been threatened and intimidated into keeping it quiet, and men are equally afraid to stand up against it.
I ran into [RK] in Brussels a few years ago. He asked me to dinner. I thought he was going to apologize or want to talk about what happened. He brought up [SK] and told me that he had moved on to work at [the world’s largest online auction site], and was subsequently fired. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t care. That is all [RK] said. We went back to pretending it never happened. I didn’t bring it up either.
* On WYR, we do not share the names of our attackers or others involved. I have decided that I am going to share the names and details when I post this on my own personal social media.