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Story • Sexual Harassment at Work: The Fear of Crying Wolf

27 April 2017
Sophie D. Morin

Stories are written by people who don’t necessarily work or study in fields related to sexology. They convey emotions, perceptions, and subjective perspectives. Opinions voiced in the stories are those of their authors, and in no way represent the position of Les 3 sex*.


Ce témoignage est aussi disponible en français [➦]

Translated by Zoe Yarymowich

To be honest with you, I hesitated to sign my name on this text for a long time. I was scared of being told I had “asked” for it. I was afraid to be seen as a hysterical woman who makes a big deal out of nothing, or rather, over a “compliment.” Indeed, according to popular beliefs, when a woman is vehemently seduced, she should take it as a compliment. She must smile and tell herself that she is “lucky” to turn heads. My reaction to these rules of conduct? Bullshit. I can react the way I see fit, regardless of the intentions of my counterpart. In addition, what happens when this seduction is unwanted, uncomfortable, and sometimes even, anxiety-inducing? What should I do when this persistent seduction takes place at my workplace?

After some thought, I decided that I don’t want to hide, since I consider myself right to have filed a complaint of sexual harassment in my workplace.

Before I changed positions within the company, a very nice man would greet me with a smile when I passed by his department. It was harmless and appreciated. I would return his hello and return his smile.

A few months ago, I changed departments at work. From that moment on, that same man came to see me just to talk. I always thought he had an insistent gaze. However, I told myself that there was nothing to panic about and that he must be like that with everyone. I admit, at first, I took it as a compliment. Having low self-esteem, I generally take whatever people give me to temporarily improve my self-image.

I am afraid that people will say I was asking for it, under the pretext that I didn’t try to put an end to the situation from the start.

Over time, this man came to see me more and more often, sometimes even several times per shift. He often came when I was alone. Once, while I was serving a client, he came to ask me if I wanted to have a drink with him. Uncomfortable with the situation, I didn’t know what to say to him. I laughed nervously. It put me in a very awkward position, especially in front of my client whom I continued to serve.

Later in the day, he came back to see me when I was alone. He approached me and asked me again if I wanted to go out with him. Once again, very uncomfortable, I smiled and refused his invitation explaining that I had a boyfriend with whom I was very much in love with. He seemed very disappointed and told me that we could still go out for a drink. He complimented me and took my hand, not for long, but long enough to caress it. Embarrassed by this, I made an excuse to leave the situation.

In the following weeks, he continued to come and talk to me. It was his gaze in particular that made me very uncomfortable. It was a seductive and persistent look. Despite my refusal and obvious embarrassment, he continued. I started to avoid walking by his department.

Before coming to work, I felt anxious. I avoided being alone in order to feel less vulnerable.

One evening, he told me it was his last shift at the company. I was incredibly relieved. He came to see me at the end of his shift. He came behind the counter, my last barrier. He wanted to kiss me goodbye. To save myself, I told him instead to come back right before he left at the end of his day. He complied. At this moment, my other coworker went on a break. It was a very long 15 minutes. I was terrified at the idea that he would come back to see me while I was all alone. I knew he wouldn’t do anything serious, but I REALLY, REALLY, didn’t want to deal with it.

Before the man returned, my colleague came back from his break. He saw that something was wrong. I explained the situation to him quickly before going on a break myself. I wanted to avoid crossing paths with the adamant man.

During my break, I ate in the women’s locker room. Yes. The locker room.

All that to prevent him from finding me.

When I returned, my colleague informed me that the man had come to the department to find out where I was. He told me that he lied to him, and said that I went to the bathroom. According to my colleague, the man had walked around the store several times to find me. He subsequently left the premises. I profusely thanked my colleague for his lie and support.

Nevertheless, I was relieved to never see that man again...Until I crossed paths with him again two months later, at my work. I was in the middle of serving a client. When I turned around, he was there. Very surprised, I said “hello.” I asked him why he was there. He told me that he had started to work again on Thursdays. Therefore, we have never seen each other because I didn’t normally work on Thursdays. Unfortunately, he still had his insistent gaze, which made me very uncomfortable. My tactic for leaving the situation without being able to leave the site: ignore him.

When he left, I went to see my assistant manager. I explained the situation. She was very understanding and strongly recommended that I go discuss this immediately with the manager of the company. So, I went to knock on the manager’s office door, a little nervous: I did not know him that well. I had apprehensions about his potential reaction. I was scared of being told that I was asking for it. I was afraid to sound like a hysterical woman who makes a big deal out of nothing, or rather, a “compliment”.

In all honesty, I am writing this testimonial, in particular, to share with you the incredible reaction of my manager, but also of the entire management team. During this meeting, he was very understanding. He was shocked by the situation and strongly criticized the behaviour of the relentless employee. There were no questions asked as to whether I had provoked or encouraged the situation in any way. My manager quickly reassured me that he was taking the situation into his hands that very instant and I should not worry. He told me that there was zero tolerance for harassment. He guaranteed that he would inform the employee’s supervisor so that this would not happen again. He also told me to come back if the unrelenting man ever did this again. If he did, he assured me that he would be fired on the spot.

I left the manager’s office feeling lighter. I felt like I was in good hands. Barely an hour later, the superior in question came to see me in my department to tell me that my manager had informed him of the situation. He reiterated that harassment at work was not tolerated. He reassured me by telling me that the man would be met with very quickly. The manager of my department also came to see me to reassure me.

This collaboration amongst the members of the management team has greatly comforted me. I was happy to have been taken seriously, whereas I myself had worried about rocking the boat. I can reassure you by telling you that the man in question never came back to see me. I was relieved to be able to come to work without apprehending an anxiety-provoking situation.

I want to end my testimony by encouraging victims of sexual harassment at work to come forward about the situation. I know it can be scary to denounce, since we may fear the reaction of our colleagues and superiors. However, if we do nothing, the situation may persist or even worsen. I believe in taking this chance, because the potential benefits are worth it, especially when we are well received and taken care of by our superiors, as I experienced. I sincerely hope that my testimony will inspire other companies to handle sexual harassment complaints as my workplace did. I can only praise the measures that have been put in place.

No matter the situation, a sexual harassment complaint is NEVER a storm in a teacup.

job, denounce, report, labor market, discomfort, employee


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