Sexual Harassment and Flashbacks
I’ve experienced various forms of sexual harassment in the past, as a teenager and in young adulthood, today I’m sharing a story of workplace assault that occurred at WWF UK HQ in summer 2015 at the age of 24 (assistant position).
A fluctuating performance and lack of engagement resulted in a premature probation period failure. Accepting this I proceeded to pack up my desk, it was just the male executive and I in the desk row vicinity. He started to stare at my rear end inappropriately, checking if anyone was looking he rolled towards me on his wheely chair. Bending down with his head near the ground and nearly between my legs he stared up to fixate on my vulva.
I acknowledged him yet he repeated his actions. As I swung around in dismay, he continued to drag him self towards me legs wide open and oggle my entire body. I waved him away, navigating his gaze towards mine before scowling disapprovingly.
Colleagues who witnessed appeared shocked whilst others decided to turn a blind eye and keep heads low. This triggered anxiety within me as almost immediately after I disassociated and experienced a full blown flashback of a sexual nature on the office floor. The executive laughed and brushing me aside merely said ‘go’. Anger fuelled by humiliation ensued and I definitely did not go, I remained in a heavily confused and disorientated state.
Initially HR and other management seemed to support the idea of myself staying and him leaving however I will never officially know this as I did not raise a formal grievance. Behaviour of mine soon counteracted any sympathy as my temper grew and ultimately I was verbally abusive to surrounding colleagues and about the organisation in general.
Subsequently I was bullied, with regards to the flashback it was insinuated by management that if it was linked to any past trauma that I deserved it. Having been practically mute for nearly half a year in this role I experienced an embarrassing emotional outburst with manic highs, lows and satire. This was taken advantage of, I was mocked, groped, and at one point as I bent over in tears the executive took the opportunity to push me and poke me in the stomach.
The World Wildlife Fund is a cause I resonate with and I once may have aspired to work for. I do feel defensive admitting this as I was dismissed and blackmailed from its HQ in such a persecutory manner. Head of department stood above me on the second balcony floor, looked down and pointed me out as the soul troublemaker as I was prompted out by security. To this day I still feel a scapegoat for his actions.
My performance peaked significantly in the absence of micromanagement. The executive had been exhibiting perversion throughout the contract and it was more than work targets he was observing. Now a manager he still works there.
To say that the incident has been detrimental to my mental health is an understatement. At first I rose above the memories. However In the months following I suffered excruciating anxiety where I could not breathe, swallow or sleep. Depression, anxiety and paranoia have been re-occurring.
All the might in the world cannot stop post traumatic stress from creeping up and consuming you. Internal conflict can easily permeate and project resentment, but harbouring this only self fulfils a prophecy of inequality – perpetuating a paradigm that the #MeToo campaign aims to raise awareness of and defuse.
Although a perpetrator may not re-offend, especially in the recent political climate, I will always have that individual wound that desires personal justice or compensation to act as stitches. Sharing my story in a respected, public space acts a plaster at least. Self esteem and confidence are difficult to restore.
Remorse over my dramatic reaction? Yes. Advice? Be true to yourself and know your goals.
Employers need to address hierarchy and the inequity of power imbalance that de-escalation and emotional labour unfortunately enable. This is more than gender parity. I consider myself to be an empathetic and diplomatic individual. Investing time and talent into analysing an issue which does not qualify for a quarrel is bewildering.
With kind sight I can say that this surreal and sinister situation was a learning curve. Cases such as these shouldn’t be complicated – no grey areas – make way for none. It should be as black and white as the charity’s iconic logo; the perpetrator should understand yin yang.