Sexual harassment: Women’s stories
I am 32 years old. For as long as I can remember, sexual harassment has been something I’ve had to cope with for most of my professional life.
When I was in my second year of university, I had the opportunity to work part time on a development programme for youth. I was thrilled to be doing advocacy work with peers.
However, it was during this time that I started receiving unwanted attention from a much older co-worker. He was the organisation’s finance manager (a married man in his late 30s). At first, he was friendly and asked me how I was settling in at work and offered me his help. This slowly progressed to him offering to drive me home after work, but he’d only offer me a lift, not my other young colleagues, so I’d always politely decline.
One day, after I had been working there a couple of months, he called me into his office and after some initial small talk, he asked me to go away with him for a weekend to an outer island resort.
Of course, I declined! I made it clear that I didn’t want a relationship with him and that the attention was unwelcome. It was creepy and made me feel very uncomfortable – I felt I would have to be on my guard around this man all the time.
Another incident occurred with a different co-worker, a driver in the same organisation, while we were both on assignment on another island. Almost from the start of the trip, he flirted openly with me in front of my colleagues, making lewd and suggestive comments to me, even though I was visibly distressed by it.
Not taking no for an answer, one evening this man followed me into the shower block of the hotel where we were all staying. Luckily, I’d been telling a couple of my young colleagues about the unwanted attention from him and how that had been making me really uncomfortable. One of them saw what was happening and came and asked if I was all right. The driver left right away.
Immediately upon my return from the work trip to Suva, I lodged a complaint with the organisation’s human resources manager.
The HR officer was a nice person who really seemed to care and listen to my concerns and took notes. But nothing came of the incident.
A short while later, the programme I was part of ended and the team members were terminated. It might have been for the best, as working there became very stressful for me. I loved what I was doing, but I was always concerned for my personal safety and that was draining.
I was always careful not to smile too much, not be too friendly with my male co-workers, because it could be perceived as an invitation. It ended up affecting my motivation, my enthusiasm and friendliness, and I may have not been as productive as I know I can be.
I want people to know that sexual harassment is no joke. It’s offensive and disrespectful and it’s got to stop. If someone isn’t responding positively to your attention, invitations and flirting, it means they’re not interested. And when you persist, then it becomes harassment.