Me Too: It’s not just “harassment”. It’s Assault.

Candice eetimes#MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport

The recent “Me Too” movement’s popularity on social media has brought much-needed attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.  But it’s not just “harassment”, it’s sexual assault and how many corporations fail to address the issue in a fair and equitable manner.  We’ve already seen how several men who had been harassing women have been ‘outed’ in the press lately, some of whom were forced to resign from positions of authority and power.  A very apt analysis of this has been that “This man was not fired because he was harassing and/or sexually assaulting women, but because the PUBLIC found out about it.”

One of the questions that are asked by clueless bystanders is “Why didn’t she complain about it at the time?”  Well… I will address that in a bit, but first.

There is a danger to these narratives in the press lately in that they talk about men with power and authority being protected from the consequences of their actions by their employers and by a culture that tacitly accepts that men with power have that privilege as their natural right.

“I just start kissing them.  … I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy.  They let you do anything.”

So why do women not report this at the time?  Because they are SMART !  They know that doing so will kill their careers.  I know, it almost killed mine before it began.

In late December 1978, I was a technician working for a company that was developing video disc technology.  I won’t mention their name for obvious reasons, but you can probably figure out which company it was.  I was excited about the opportunity.  I was working long hard hours during the night shift, twelve hours on, twelve off, plus attending company classes during the day where they were teaching the techs the deep theory of how the video disc technology worked.  On top of that, I was studying for my degree in physics I later earned.  I still remember and more importantly understand the tech I was helping to develop.  The tech was so new that they didn’t have enough working disc mastering systems so they had me, as a tech, using the R&D lab, mastering discs at night.  Thus, I stood watching over an open optical table where powerful blue laser light bounced around mirrors and lenses until the beam was focused on a spinning glass 18″ disc coated with photoresist by a microscope objective floating on a cushion of air, which was adjusted using micrometers (the kind you would find in a machine shop to measure the width of a part being machined).  I was young, ambitious, and very hard-working.  I should be writing about how I later helped develop CD, DVD, and CDR technology… but I never got the chance…

For decades, I never spoke nor wrote about this episode.  But last May, while speaking on a panel regarding Women In Technology I was asked what was the worse issue I had to face as woman in tech.  This:

One night, a bit after mid-night, I took a break from the lab, a chance to take off the yellow safety goggles, get a drink from the water fountain, and visit the restroom down the hall from the lab.  As it was close to Christmas, everyone had gone home.  I was completely alone in that building, save one, the night guard.  As I left the women’s room, the guard grabbed me and physically attempted to drag me into the men’s room all the while saying “It’ll be alright, it’ll be alright.”  He was literally lifting my mid-calf length full skirt in the men’s room doorway when I managed to hit him hard enough that I was able to escape his grasp.  I ran for my lab and locked the door behind me.

I hid in the lab for an hour before cautiously unlocking and peaking out.  I didn’t see him.  I bolted for the building door, the parking lot, and my car, racing my car out onto the street before I felt safe.  My heart was pounding the whole time.

When I returned after the short holiday break, I saw that the night guard was there every night.  I spoke with one of my co-workers, an out gay man about what had happened.  I didn’t want to say anything to management, but he asked, “Who will be next?”  That did it.  I couldn’t let another woman be raped by that man because I was a coward.  I went to HR and told them what happened.  BAD MOVE !!!

I was required to come in to work the next day and was taken to a very dimly lit room with a single table and two men I didn’t know.  I asked, very politely, that I would really like it if I could speak to a woman instead of men.  They denied me this courtesy… and then GRILLED me like I was a murder suspect.  I lost it… breaking down and crying.  I felt humiliated, abused… it was actually worse than the real event.  They made me feel DIRTY !

That night, I went to my lab as usual… but several times that night, several men, each separately, came to my lab to stare at me.  They wore VERY EXPENSIVE suits.  I recognized the type, senior executives come to gawk at the girl who was almost raped.

The next night, I was stopped in the lobby, handed a check and threatened that if I talked with any employees about what had happened, there would be career consequences for ME!  I was fired.

I never learned what happened to the night guard.

If you know labor law, you probably are now wondering how this company could legally do this, as it is illegal to do what they did to me.  But law has nothing to do with it… reputation in the industry does, for both the employer and the victim.  Remember, these men in the news lately weren’t fired because their employer found out… but because the public did.

ENOUGH !!!

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