As the #MeToo Movement gains momentum on Twitter and Facebook, I am reminded of two painful stories I’ve told about sexual harassment and sexual assault during my years as a blogger. The first one I shared in 2009, was about sexual harassment. I decided to share it after a difficult year in my career, when bad memories came home to roost. In 2014, I followed up with a commentary about childhood sexual assault for KOSU Radio.
June 23, 2009
Some stories take a long time to tell. This one about sexual harassment at school is one of them. I wrote it down in 2008 for my daughters, and for Mary, wherever she is.
In 2005, on her fourth day on the job, Jamie Lee Jones, a young computer tech working in Iraq for the popular U.S. defense contractor Halliburton/KBR, was drugged and gang-raped by coworkers. A judge who reviewed the case said this: “Sadly, sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault is a reality in today’s workplace.”
In 1976, at an elementary school near the foothills of Pike’s Peak Mountain, Mary DuBueno fought off the playground assault of a dangerous boy named Shannon. He’d bullied her all year.
All the little girls and one sweet little boy ran away scared.
One second, they were third graders frolicking with jump ropes and monkey bars. The next second, Mary was pinned against a set of locked doors.
Tears streamed down her soft brown face as childhood bliss ran aground.
The sexual assault lasted for only a few moments.
It was abetted by the remaining boys who formed a little human boy wall the eight-year-old girl could not scale.
In the early 1990s, posted on a foreman’s desk in a dark corner of a federal facility, was a crude copy of a World War II poster — Rosie the Riveter — proudly going to work to support the war. Donning a cute red bandana, these words were scrawled underneath her beautiful and patriotic face:
“Shut up and work, bitch.”
I saw this with my own two eyes.
Sexual harassment is not about lust. It is the mean little cousin to sexual assault. It is about power, control and dominance over women.
Sexual harassment is a form of violence against women, and it leads to devastating consequences including physical and psychological injuries.
It prevents the integration of women in the workplace and reinforces the subordination of girls to boys, women to men.
It violates a girl’s dignity.
Sexual violence pervades the world and sexual harassment is just one of the first links in a long chain.
Sexual harassment is not someone’s personal dilemma. Sexual harassment is a crime.
Men (and boys) who sexually harass women (and girls) sexualize the workplace, classroom or schoolyard in an effort to diminish the role of females.
Sometimes, they succeed.
It is also true that men can be sexually harassed. It just doesn’t happen as frequently, but it is just as humiliating and illegal.
Years of experience, post-graduate education and impressive credentials do not serve as an inoculation against sexual harassment.
The research scientist is no more immune than the 19-year-old girl working at a Houston dry cleaner.
In fact, studies indicate that women who do not conform to gender stereotypes are particularly targeted.
In most cases, men sexually harass assertive, ambitious and independent women leaders.
Sexual harassment can be a dizzying world of he-said/she-said. In the absence of witnesses, complaints can become fodder for a dark fairy tale, Shut Up and Work, Bitch.
The men who sexually harass women know they can grope them in the elevator one minute and isolate them at the office party the next.
No wonder more women don’t come forward.
As if it’s not hard enough for women to secure equal pay, compete for executive positions and balance children and career, they must work with the knowledge that they are not adequately protected from unwanted sexual behavior and comments.
According to government and media, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are both on the rise —despite— Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, Tailhook, Anita Hill and so many more.
(In 2007, EEOC reported that the number of sexual harassment complaints had increased for the first time since 2000.)
And, it’s no big surprise. After all, according to sexual harassment law, there are no consequences for being bad when nobody is looking.
What it will take for our daughters to inherit a workplace free from these civil rights violations?
In 1976, I ran away from Mary DuBueno. It won’t happen again.
I kept the story about Mary DuBueno to myself 32 years. I shared it for the first time in 2008.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9