Sexual harassment: Women’s stories
I’m a 32-year-old blind woman. I’ve been blind since birth. Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to have a normal job and go to work every day like everyone else I know.
About six years ago, I got a job as a telephone receptionist at a small hospital and I enjoy it a lot. I get to speak to new people every day and I’ve made some good friends at the hospital.
About a year ago, a new male nurse started working at the hospital. At first, he behaved like every other member of staff: polite and friendly to me. My co-workers seem to like him a lot, as he is quite an entertaining guy and likes making people laugh.
But then one day he got too friendly with me. He visited my small office during his lunch break and after talking to me for a little while, he said I looked tense, like I had stiff shoulders. I said I was fine but the next thing he was behind me, massaging my shoulders. I tensed up. One thing I don’t like is being touched by people I don’t know. I need to be asked before someone touches me. Many people assume that, just because I’m blind, it’s okay to touch me, but actually it’s not. When I told him to stop, he laughed and told me to relax and slipped his hand onto my chest, just like that! That’s when I pushed my chair back and then he got the message. But still he keeps coming around to my office. I tell him I’m busy but sometimes he doesn’t take no for an answer and hangs around. It makes me very nervous because I don’t know what he’ll do next.
I want to say something but I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t have many options as a blind person. Besides, I really like this job. I really enjoy coming to work every day. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to make trouble. One of my colleagues has noticed the change in my moods and that I seem stressed. She asked if everything was okay at home. She hasn’t noticed that I am in this state only when he is around.
Once a month I go to a disability support group in my town. We talk about our problems but no one opens up about being touched or sexually harassed. Unfortunately, there’s a culture of silence. The only reason I know my friend, who is in a wheelchair, had similar experiences at work is because she confided in me two years ago.
I want people to know that when they touch me without my consent, it makes me uncomfortable. I cannot see what the intention of the person is so I don’t know what will happen next and it can be dreadful sometimes. I hear people getting very close to me; I can even hear them breathe. So touching me without my consent is sexual harassment. It’s not right and it’s got to stop.