It didn’t surprise me when I learned Harvey Weinstein was a sexual predator. He was a powerful figure in Hollywood and could make or break an actor or actress. You would think after Anita Hill blew the whistle on Clarence Thomas, these men would have gotten a clue. The sad thing is, many of these women allowed men like Weinstein to get away with being an abuser rather than call him out on it years ago.
I have to admit, I too, was a victim of several sexual predators disguising themselves as bosses and co-workers. I felt like I had to act like a willing participant in order to keep my job.
I can remember vividly three incidents, with men in high positions, who sexually harassed me. Each took advantage of me even though two of them were married. I ended up leaving all three jobs because I felt so uncomfortable. I left these jobs even though I did not have other employment to go to.
When I put my notice in to the President of one company, he called me into his office and asked me why I was leaving and if I had another job offer. My excuse was I wasn’t getting paid enough to support my family and needed to find other employment outside of the non-profit realm. When he asked me how much I needed, I quoted a salary twice of what I was making as an Executive Secretary with them. Shaking his head, he said he just couldn’t do it. With no other prospects in line, he seemed genuinely concerned, but not enough to pay me what I was worth, and said I was taking a great risk. However, I felt for my own sanity and safety, I had to take that risk. I’m not sure if he was fishing to see if I would rat out his Vice President, but I didn’t. Was he suspicious? When I look back today, maybe he was. But I kept my mouth shut.
As an Executive Assistant, you have a rapport with the boss because you both work closely together. Without that rapport, the union doesn’t work. Some of these men thought that meant they could discuss anything they wanted to. My boss at a small construction company that built multi-million dollar homes, was a porn addict. While cleaning up his desk one afternoon, I opened a bottom draw, thinking it was a file draw and he had stacks of Penthouse Magazines. Embarrassed at my discovery, I quickly closed the draw. Now, I’m not a prude by any means, but it shocked me. Trying to get the imagine of what he was doing behind closed doors in his office out of my head was pretty amusing.
One night after work, I was getting ready to leave when he called me into his office. He had a bottle of beer and asked me to sit down. He handed me a beer. This wasn’t unusual for me to have a beer or drink with my bosses. When I worked for Sea World, my boss and I went to happy hour on a regular basis. Sometimes alone, sometimes with other people from the office. There was nothing going on between us, it was just a drink after work at happy hour and our conversations were centered around work.
This night, my boss started asking me questions. Was I happy there? Was I dating anyone? Why did I get a divorce? Personal questions, not anything to do with work. I was a uncomfortable but I answered his questions honestly. I thought it was his way of bonding with me as his assistant. He then shared with me about his family, how he started the business, etc. I finished my beer and told him I had to pick my kids up at daycare.
Several days later, he called me into his office again just before closing time. He offered me a beer and asked me to sit down. This time he went over what he wanted to accomplish the following day. No big deal. But it was his comment to me as I turned to leave that startled me. He said he found me to be very attractive and he loved my spunk. I didn’t know how to respond to his comment, so I just smiled and said, see you tomorrow.
He then started taking me out of the office. He would ask me if I wanted to go to the job site. Of course I did! I wanted to see the progress of the million dollar homes we were building and it got me away from my desk. He did this with me once per week for about a month. On one occasion, he said he wanted to take me to a nice restaurant on the beach for lunch. He had made reservations, the whole nine yards. We had the perfect table, he ordered appetizers, a bottle of wine, it was all very nice. I just didn’t know why he was doing this and I also wondered if his wife knew about it. It was at this lunch, he expressed his love for me. He wanted to get a hotel room and make love to me. What? Love? You’re married, you have children, you have a beautiful house? At first, I was speechless. When I was able to catch my breath, I explained to him that I wasn’t interested in him in a sexual way and further more, I didn’t date or have affairs with married men.
He apologized immediately. He said he thought he was getting different signals from me, whenever we would have a beer after work in his office, or whenever we would walk a job site together. Then I apologized because I was just being myself and enjoying our work relationship. How easy it was for him to put it on me, that I had been flirting with him. After that lunch and proposition, it became painfully awkward at work between us. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to find another job. That’s when he called me into his office and again apologized and he hoped I wasn’t thinking of leaving. So I stayed because I thought he was genuinely sorry.
Several months passed and things were going fine between us. Then he broke the news to me and the office accountant he was moving the office to his home garage. Huh? Not only was it a longer drive, but I really did not want to be at his house. He told the accountant she could work from home. I, of course, could not. So, I went through the process of hiring a moving company and packing up the entire office to be moved to his home garage.
I was probably there about 2 weeks when he told me he had to let me go. He said business was very slow and his wife would take over my position. He would allow me to collect unemployment, (I love how he said “allow” like it was my fault he was letting me go), but he would give me my last check with a one month severance IF I would sign a letter he had drawn up. He handed me the letter and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This letter stated I would never come after him legally for sexual harassment. I looked at him and said, I don’t need to sign a letter, I promise I won’t be coming after you legally; it had never crossed my mind. He wouldn’t budge. No last check unless I signed the letter. I walked out.
When I got home, I called the labor board and told them what he was doing. They told me it was illegal and they would open a case on him. I think it scared him because after they contacted him, I received my final check with a one month severance in the mail. I never saw or heard from him again.
These two incidents took place in the ’80’s.
In the late 80’s, I decided to get out of that industry and went back to school to become a nail tech. Due to the large immigration of Vietnamese into the country, they took over the nail business. They priced out every white, black, Mexican nail tech in California when they started opening up what I called Nail Sweat Shops. None of us could compete with their $8.00 fills, and $15.00 full sets, nor could we make a living at these prices, so I went into the property management industry. During a recession in the early ’90’s, the building industry was the first to suffer. However, retail and commercial space was a booming business unlike residential building. I became a receptionist/broker assistant to a property management company. It was family owned and the work was rewarding as I was learning something new. The owner’s son was a maintenance man and Monday mornings, he would bring in 5 gallon buckets filled to the top with a semi-precious gem stone called tourmaline. He would come to my desk all excited about his weekend finds and show me all these beautifully colored uncut pieces.
After working there for about a year, he invited me to join him one weekend to go up to the “mine”. It was the Stewart Lithium Mine located in Pala, CA. He introduced me to Blue and Joanne and we became fast friends. I started going up to the mine almost every weekend. I learned so much about tourmaline and other gemstones, I was fascinated with it. When I first started hanging out with them, I thought they were speaking a foreign language because of all the jargon used when talking about mining and gemstones. I soon became an expert in finding and identifying some of the things we were uncovering in the mine. Who knew digging in the dirt would be so much fun!
Well, the bosses son took a fancy to me and we started dating. I would go to his parents house for dinner, holidays, BBQ’s, you name it, we did it. We had been dating and living together for about 2 years when he came to me and said he had found someone else. We broke up. I moved out and though I was hurt at first, I was able to handle working with him nevertheless. So, he was dating this other girl and taking her up to the mine and doing things with her for about 6 months. Mean time, I met someone else too and started dating him. I actually liked him better even though I wasn’t mining every weekend. I was doing other things that I enjoyed with my new boyfriend.
When the bosses son found out I was dating someone else, he became incessant with finding out who he was. He would sit outside my apartment for hours, he would call my kids when I was out. I didn’t understand why he was doing this, afterall, he was the one who broke up with me. Didn’t he have his girlfriend? Well, apparently, she broke up with him and now he wanted me back. I had moved on and he didn’t like it.
At work, he would stand in front of my desk and just stare at me. If he did talk, he would say things like why was I breaking his heart, he loved me so much, please come back. I wasn’t interested. I tried pleading with him to leave me alone while we were at work. I needed this job. I eventually went to his dad and told him the entire story. I told him his son had broken up with me, and now that I had moved on, he wanted me back and was bothering me at work. His father said he would talk with him. It did no good. He continued to call me at home, call me at work from his office and just sigh into the phone. It was so annoying. Why couldn’t he just be an adult about this.
After working there for 4 years, one of the other partners called me into his office and said, “things just aren’t working out” with me working there. Excuse me? After 4 years of loyal service, things aren’t working out all of a sudden? I couldn’t believe it! So, I took my check, packed up my desk, and left. The next morning, the ex bosses son called me and told me how he missed me already. I hung up on him. One of the tenants called me that afternoon at home and told me he was happy I had been let go because he had been wanting to hire me for several years. He owned the insurance company in the business park and was going to pay for me to get my insurance license. I was thrilled. I didn’t have to hunt down another job! That night, another call from the ex-bosses son. I warned him if he continued to call me, I would get a restraining order out on him. The calls continued.
My boyfriend told me I should probably followup on that threat and so I headed down to the court house the following morning. I was afraid if I started working for the insurance company, he would continue to harass me at my new job. I was issued the restraining order a few days later. The insurance boss called me and rescinded his offer to me. I asked him why? He stated he had gotten a phone call from my ex boss and they told him it wouldn’t be advantageous for his company if he hired me. They threatened to pull all their business from him and he told me he couldn’t afford for that to happen.
I was so angry. How dare they interfere with my trying to make a living. I can’t remember when I hired an attorney to represent me on a sexual harassment charge but I do know I was unable to find any employment for 9 months because they were giving me a bad reference. I ended up finding employment with a temp agency who advised me not to put them on my resume. Hard to leave a 4 year employment history off my resume. And so the legal battle began. It was dirty too. So when they decided to play dirty, I did too.
They filed papers with the court accusing me of being a prostitute! Seriously? I just had to laugh. It was such an outrageous claim and clearly no truth to it whatsoever. So, I told my attorney about the time his ex, who he had a little girl with, had accused him of sexually abusing her. He had told me the story when we were dating because he was not able to see her without being supervised. This was a true story unlike the prostitute accusation they were flinging at me.
Once we brought this up, they decided to settle. They didn’t want to have this brought up again in court. Mind you, this was after 3 years of legal paperwork shuffling back and forth between attorneys. So I settled. I was so done with the whole thing I just wanted to get my life back.
When I look back on this whole fiasco, it was something that could have been avoided if he had just left me alone and if his family hadn’t interfered in my ability to make a living to support my kids. It was the last straw. I had put up with men sexually harassing me, bullying me, for many years and I was finally done. I was taking my power back. After nine years in therapy, I was able to come to terms with the damage they had done.
I recently came across a great book every woman should read, “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. which was first published in 1992. I wish I had known about this then as this was the time period in which this last incident took place. My copy is marked up pointing out some wonderful insights. I will end this with a quote from her book describing the Wild Woman archetype, “Once women have lost her and then found her again, they will contend to keep her for good. Once they have regained her, they will fight and fight hard to keep her, for with her their creative lives blossom; their relationships gain meaning and depth and health; their cycles of sexuality, creativity, work, and play are re-established; they are no longer marks for the predations of others; they are entitled equally under the laws of nature to grow and thrive” (Estes, 1992, pg. 6).