What Happened After I Reported My Sexual Harassment

Not consequences for the gropers; of course not.

After being groped and kissed (uninvited and unwanted) by my married boss, I did what Donald Trump and his supporters are criticizing his accusers for not doing: I spoke up at the time. And the unfortunate consequences to me for doing so were monumental.

I spoke up to my boss. After he grabbed my breasts and kissed me, he invited me to his hotel room. Stunned, I somehow managed to politely decline. I was a regional sales rep in New England and he was the East Coast general manger located in New York. The next morning, as I was giving him a ride to the airport, I brought up what had happened the night before, hoping to save my job. I was young and naïve - obviously. I said I really liked my job, was doing well, and didn't want to compromise that in anyway. What happened next was the classic definition of sexual harassment. After I refused his advances, he judged, criticized, yelled at, and verbally abused me every day. He withheld commissions, gave leads to other sales reps, gave me a negative performance evaluation, and transformed what had been a wonderful job into unbearable misery.

I spoke up to my friends, all of whom were older, successful business women. They encouraged me to talk with a lawyer. One friend suggested that I contact her on again/off again lawyer boyfriend as a place to start. I called him, and to spare me a fee, he offered to come to my apartment to discuss this. After I told him about the groping and the kiss and the subsequent harassment, he told me to let it go, adding, "You have precious few rights in a situation like this." As he was leaving, he gave me a hug at the door, and then, to my shock, a serious kiss on the lips. I never told my friend.

I spoke up to the company. After the kiss by the male lawyer, I managed to find a female labor lawyer. She took my case and advised me to notify my company's personnel department. I did. The personnel department "investigated." They listened to me and my boss, and looked over the documents I had collected supporting my allegations of harassment. Their conclusion was that I had misinterpreted my boss' actions. Oh, I knew that wasn't right. My lawyer advised me to file a complaint with the EEOC. I did.

I spoke up to my female co-workers in New York. It seemed that there was a culture of employee sexual assault in this company. One co-worker confessed to me that she had been at an industry conference out of town, and the general manager from the Chicago office kissed her, groped her, and nearly raped her before she escaped. He was the son-in-law of the company owner...she obviously didn't complain to HR. Although all of the female employees knew about the groping that was going on, and many had experienced it, none of them would share their experiences with the EEOC to support my claim.

I spoke up to my mom who lived in a small town in Iowa. I was so beaten down by my boss' abuse, the company's support of him, and the stressful consequences of speaking up, I couldn't continue in my job. I was planning to quit. I told Mom what happened, and asked if I could borrow some money until I got another job. She was furious with me, and said, "Boys will be boys. Do NOT rock this boat." I hung up the phone, sat alone in the dark, and sobbed. An hour later, the phone rang. It was Mom calling back. She surprised me by saying that she had thought things over, and did have an insurance policy for $1000 that she could cash in, and she would send this money to me. As I was choking on tears of gratitude, the shocking motivation for Mom's change of heart was revealed. She told me that when she was in her twenties and working as the receptionist for an Eye, Ear Nose and Throat doctor, he molested her in the office. He would back her up against the wall in the examining room, and take his penis out and play with it in front of her. She was mortified and traumatized by this. She disclosed that he had done this to all the women who worked for him. "But," she said, "In the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing we could do about it. So, you make him accountable - for all of us."

I spoke up to the Unemployment office. After I quit my job, I applied for unemployment, and my claim was denied. They determined that I quit my job voluntarily without just cause, concluding that I had experienced a personality conflict with my boss. I had no job, and no money saved for such a rainy day, and was afraid I might soon be sleeping in my car. I did appeal this determination, which was reversed in my favor several months later.

I spoke up to the National Organization of Women. The company had offered me a very small settlement in the $5000 range. NOW advised me to accept the offer, saying that these cases were not being won in the courts. It was 1980. My lawyer also advised me to accept the offer, since she feared that I was precariously on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I feared it, too.

I spoke up to the IRS. I had to. I accepted the settlement, and following legal advice I did not report this in my tax filing as income. According to the law, any money received in lieu of prosecution was not considered taxable. The company, however, either didn't know this or didn't care, so they included the settlement amount in my W-2 and called it income. It was like this harassment wouldn't end. Almost two years later I started receiving threatening letters from the IRS, demanding payment of tax and interest that had been accruing from the filing date, and would continue until I paid up! So, I had to go to tax court, which was another very stressful experience, believe me. Again, months later, the determination was in my favor.

I don't know how I survived this speaking up, and the consequences of doing so. As the accusers of Donald Trump and victims of other perpetrators of sexual abuse will attest, in some ways, it's an easier choice to say nothing and try to bury it; try to forget it. But as my mom's story enlightened me, these experiences are not forgotten. Some of us will have the opportunity to speak - when the time is right for us to do so - and some of us will have the good fortune to be heard, believed, and supported.

But the message I hope to impart by sharing my story, is that even one brief instance of groping is not harmless to the victims. We do experience consequences, whether we keep quiet or speak up. These experiences and our emotional reactions of disgust, despair, fear, confusion, humiliation, and helplessness are etched into our minds, hearts, and bodies forever. The only solution to the harm from groping that has been inflicted upon us for generations is for our abusers to be held accountable, and for future groping to stop.

After the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, Gloria Steinem said that what we had learned from this process is that it takes more than the word of one woman to equal the word of one man. And after a dozen women came forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault, I wonder, just how many women need to speak up to equal the denial of one man?

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Jade Angelica is author of Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer's Disease, We Are Not Alone: A Guidebook for Helping Adolescent Victims of Child Abuse, and A Moral Emergency: Breaking the Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse.