10 All-Too-Familiar Stories Of Sexual Harassment At Work

It’s time for change.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Due to the media surrounding Gretchen Fullido’s case, workplace sexual harassment has found itself in the spotlight. But in no way is it new.

Women and men have long been coming forward with their experiences. They have also long been brushed off as being overdramatic or unable to take a compliment/joke. This has created a culture of dismissiveness, which allows harassment to flourish and bullies victims into remaining silent. As a result, people who experience harassment may not realize that what has happened to them is wrong. And if they do, they may not know what steps to take, or where they can be safe talking about what happened.

To help remove the stigma from discussing and experiencing sexual harassment, 10 people have shared their stories with us. Ranging from overt molestation, to lewd comments, to implicit threats, and more—each of these accounts must be heard. Because it is only when we shine a light on injustice that we can adequately fight it. For their protection, the identities of the victims have been concealed.

Not A Happy Hour

There's a bar across the street from my office building, so it's not unusual for a bunch of us to grab a few drinks after work. Not too long ago, I went there with a friend from work. Inside, the only other people there were a bunch of guys from our office being rowdy and trying to flirt, a little too aggressively, with the waitress. We picked a table away from them, but it didn't stop one of them from coming over, asking to take selfies with us. It seemed harmless, so we complied. When he started rubbing my leg under the table, I told myself to just be polite. He was a bit drunk, so maybe he didn't know what he was doing. But then his hand started going higher. I tried to push him away, but he kept fondling me. I froze. Thankfully, my friend saw and managed to be nice when telling him to back off. He eventually did. I felt angry and violated, but my friend kept saying it wasn't that bad, and to just let it go. After all, he was a coworker, and we wouldn't want to cause drama at work. But the waitress heard us, and offered me a copy of the CCTV tape, just in case I wanted to press charges. I took the tape, but I'm still not sure what I want to do with it.

Continue reading below ↓

"If it were anyone else, I would tell them exactly what I think about their inappropriate behavior. But because this man is who he is, I feel like I have to be more cautious. I don't want to offend him."

Unbelievers

Of all workplaces, I was assaulted at church. He was part of my music ministry team, and we were close friends. One night after rehearsals, when we were done packing up, he asked if we could eat out. I declined because I was tired. Going up a dimly lit stairwell, he was behind me. He started begging, which was really unusual, but I kept saying no. Out of nowhere, he grabbed me from behind and started sobbing. Then, he cupped my breasts. It was a shock for me. I kept thinking, "Of all places? At church?" After a few days, I came forward and he was kicked out of our ministry. But it wasn't an easy process. The guy denied it. So, people doubted that it really happened. It was the usual, "Hindi niya naman siguro gagawin yun? Kasi ganito siya, ganyan siya…" It sucked.

Disservice Industry

When I was 19, I worked as a hostess in a restaurant. There was a server who was large with long hair, and behaved as if rules didn't apply to him. Over the course of a few weeks, a number of the women at the establishment had complained to management about this individual's sexually offensive behavior, but nothing came of it.

One busy Saturday night, I came into work with my hair in pigtails. A few hours into my shift, in the middle of the restaurant floor, this man came up behind me, grabbed my pigtails, and announced that he was going to "ride me like a bicycle." It was completely humiliating as customers and cooks alike giggled while he yanked on my hair.  The man was fired immediately—but only because there were witnesses. No one wanted to believe any of us until the customers saw his behavior and it threatened to affect business.

Continue reading below ↓

Up Close And Personal

I work as a film editor for one of the biggest directors in the country. When I first got the job, I was excited about how it would help me move my career forward. It's the first feature film I've gotten to work on. So, I'm trying to maintain good relationships and deliver excellent work. My future in the industry depends on it. The problem is, every time I'm alone with the director, he steers the conversation towards my looks and all the things he'd like to do to me. If it were anyone else, I would tell them exactly what I think about their inappropriate behavior. But because this man is who he is, I feel like I have to be more cautious. I don't want to offend him. Then again, I don't want him to think that he can take advantage of me, just because my career is in his hands.

"They would talk about how I was such a prude, how I should be grateful that someone was even paying me attention, and how I wasn't even pretty enough to be actually harassed."

The Manipulative Mentor

I was a fresh grad then, working as a field reporter for one of the main news networks. A producer/director in his late 30s befriended me. It was pleasant at the start—he mentored me and taught me valuable things about the job. But it slowly progressed into an inappropriate and awkward work relationship where he would call and text me outside work hours. He would tell me details about his love life and sex life, and I really didn't know how to respond. He was my superior after all, and I was only 20 then. He would ask me out for "casual dates," all of which I declined. So, he resorted to playing the victim. He even went as far as circulating a fake story about how he was involved in a car crash—just to win my compassion. He got the desired outcome: I felt guilty for ignoring him when he could have died. When I quickly realized it was fake, I blocked him on socials and on my phone. Of course, this caused a lot of friction at work. That, and the toxic work schedule, eventually led me to leave my job. I gave up pursuing hard news because of how manipulative that person was, and how everyone just saw it as cute and normal at the time.

Continue reading below ↓

Awful Aftermath

When I was new to my former company, I was helping supervise an ad shoot with a photographer who had been a longtime contractor for such projects. During one of the breaks, he started making penis jokes to me and asked me sexual questions. I was visibly uncomfortable, but still, he and the other people in the room laughed. At a later break, he started looking me up and down and said how he'd like to photograph me naked. I curtly told him to stop and tried to avoid him for the rest of the day. Later, he put his arm around me and tried to cajole me into being "friends." At that point, I shoved him away and shouted at him to not touch me.

I reported the incident to my boss, to whose credit, never hired him for a project again. However, some of my teammates who were friends of this contractor started a smear campaign against me. They would talk about how I was such a prude, how I should be grateful that someone was even paying me attention, and how I wasn't even pretty enough to be actually harassed. And yes, some of those teammates were women. To be honest, the harassment was annoying, but I was able to put a stop to it. It was the aftermath of reporting it that made my work situation difficult, and I completely understand why many victims of harassment choose not to report it. People are awful.

Continue reading below ↓

Friends Without Benefits

Even though I am a freelancer, I decided to take an office job to help with the bills. I was grateful when a project manager friend of mine offered to get me a position at his company. The work was demanding, but I gave it my best effort anyway. Things started getting weird when this friend began hovering around my workstation, roping me into conversations about his private life. We had known each other for a long time, but something was making me feel uncomfortable. It wasn't until he began trying to buy me a hefty birthday gift that I realized he had feelings for me. At first, I shrugged off his offer. But when he started getting irritated and insisting that I accept his gift, I told him more firmly, no. He was insulted. I don’t have proof that he involved our boss, but suspiciously soon after, management brought me in to talk about how I wasn't "adjusting to the work culture" very well—and fired me.

Thankfully, it wasn't worse than that, but what makes stories like this scary is how subtle the harassment is. In the past, I didn't understand just how insidious or far reaching harassment was. In my mind, if it wasn't blatant disrespect in big, red angry words, or rape, then I thought it was just part of my job to deal with it. It took a while to understand that the girls who I thought were just whining, were actually dealing with real trauma.

Continue reading below ↓

Dressed Down

I went to work wearing a pair of trendy ripped jeans. It was a casual environment with no dress code, so I thought nothing of it. My boss was fixated on the pants though, and making jokes about them all day. At one point, I walked by him, and he stuck his fingers in the holes. Then, he pulled as hard as he could. My pants ripped, and my underwear was exposed. Good thing I had extra clothes in my car! When I got changed, my boss told me how sorry he was, and how he only meant to rip the pants a little. I laughed it off. But I didn't stay at that job much longer.

Emergency Exit

As a medical student, we were required to do the initial history-taking of patients during our radiology rotation. I was speaking with a middle aged gentleman and asking for his story. He told me he was getting an abdominal MRI because his wife had come charging at him with an umbrella. Red flag. I then asked if he was taking any current medications. He smiled, winked, and said, "Nope, I'm not taking any Viagra." CRINGE. That was my last question, so I promptly left the consultation room in disgust. When I tell this story in a Filipino setting, people laugh—it's like the gross tito. It's sad that we find this behavior funny, and have normalized it.

"It's important for women to know that harassment doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of catcalling or inappropriate comments. It can also be disguised as 'kind' or 'friendly' gestures, where the guy is 'just trying to be nice.'"

The "Nice" Guy

When I started my new job, I made a conscious effort to be friendly. One married man, who I would say hi to in the hallways, started asking me to go out for lunch. I said yes to a small group outing, but when it quickly turned into one-on-one sessions, with invites becoming more frequent and more forceful—I'd politely decline. Still, I would get creepy messages, like, "Your calendar was free earlier, are you avoiding me?" I questioned whether I was overreacting. I didn't want others to think that I was a snob, so I felt pressured to have lunch with him once in a while. Then dinner invites and weekend texts began. Even though I told him it was inappropriate, he would leave me coffee or snacks from Starbucks on my desk. I had heard through the grapevine that he was telling people in the office how "close" and "bagay" we were. Finally, on Valentine's day, he presented me with flowers at the office. I had reached my limit, and publicly told him that I wasn't accepting the flowers and that he should give them to his wife. With the support of a concerned coworker, I was also able to tell my boss, who handled the matter so that I wasn't bothered again.

I'm sharing this story because I think it's important for women to know that harassment doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of catcalling or inappropriate comments. It can also be disguised as "kind" or "friendly" gestures, where the guy is "just trying to be nice." In cases of "nice guy" harassment, women often feel the need to explain their discomfort and make excuses for the guy, but they shouldn't.

Continue reading below ↓

Follow Pauline on Instagram.

Sorry, no results were found for