I don't usually talk much about politics, but if you're paying attention, you've probably guessed that I'm not a conservative. (We don't talk about politics much in my house because we're a mixed household; although my husband has been, lately, deciding that the Right is swinging a little more towards the Religious Right and less toward the financial conservative that he prefers. I don't know if he's quite gotten disgusted enough to vote with me instead of against me, because I don't really want to know.)
But I do want to say that this particular rant has nothing to do with Herman Cain politically. I'm not going off because he's a Republican, I'm going off about this issue...
Sexual harassment. And why it's an issue.
Let me tell you a story:
Quite a long time ago (more than ten years ago) I was the victim of sexual harassment.
About a year before I went to work there, the company was sued for racial discrimination. I heard this story from one of the other employees who was telling me that someone called another co-worker a "fucking nigger." I don't know much more about it than that, but that he attempted to resolve the issue through HR and his manager to no avail and at last sued the company for creating a hostile work environment. The company was found guilty and told to pay him compensation to the tune of $50,000, or about two years his annual salary. While I was hearing about this story, the manager in question who refused to resolve the issue and was still working at the company, came by, happened to overhear the end of the story and had this to say, "Okay, he's 50k richer, but he's still a stupid fucking nigger."
So, when I started having problems with another employee sexually harassing me, I knew complaining to the company would do no good. I mean, if that's the attitude they had about racial discrimination, what were they likely to do about me and this co-worker? Nothing.
To give you some scope of the problem: this guy left sexually explicit letters in my desk. He would come into my office and make crude comments about everything from the way I dressed to how I walked. My manager never asked him to leave, even after hearing some of the comments. A few of my OTHER co-workers, upon learning that this was happening, took it on themselves to "protect" me. If they knew "Larry" was in the office (because he wasn't, always. In fact he was only generally in the office about once every two weeks at the same time that I was) they'd take shifts staying with me up in my office, so that I wouldn't end up being alone with "Larry."
"Larry" backed me into the corner one time in the lunch room and put his hand between my legs. This was the culmination of many weeks in which he would stand in my way when I wanted to get to the copier, the file cabinets, or anything else, forcing me to either not get my work done, or brush past him when I did.
I got so paranoid and terrified about him that I would have one of my co-workers walk me down to the parking lot after work because there were too many places "Larry" could have hidden and attacked me that would have been out of sight of the office. My hours were such that I left two to three hours before most of the other employees and came in at five in the morning, most days.
Twice "Larry" tracked me down outside of work to press his advance. Once when I was meeting a girlfriend for lunch, he called her from my office (I'd already left) to tell her I wouldn't be showing up, that I had to work late and then he showed up in her place. And another time I "ran into" him at the post office when I was delivering some packages for my boss.
"Why didn't you sue?"
For one thing, can you really, seriously, imagine what it would be like to stand up in a court-room full of people and explain what happened? While a bunch of men look at you like you're some cock-tease slattern, and a white male old judge decides whether or not your sexual promiscuity in college "led him on." And if you think that doesn't happen, you clearly have not been paying attention. Slut-shaming is the number one defense technique in rape and sexual harassment trials. Go read comments in any of the articles about Herman Cain's accuser. Somewhere in there, you'll find someone commenting that she's a slut. Because, obviously, if she's ever had sex in her life and enjoyed it, she can't possibly not want sex with someone else.
I'm not saying Herman Cain is guilty of sexual harassment. Not at all. We don't know the facts, he hasn't been tried. What I am saying is that it happens, it is an issue, and no, women don't always go to the police immediately. And even when they do... not a whole hell of a lot happens that's good for the woman.
You know why I didn't file an official complaint? The belief that even if I was believed (doubtful) and even if I could prove anything, and even if, given all that, I was vindicated in a court of law, and given monetary compensation for my distress? I would never work again. I knew that. Who the hell's gonna hire me when they look up my work record and see that I sued a company for sexual harassment? I become an employment risk, even if they think that they don't have anyone in their company "who would do that." They'd doubt that it ever happened and I must be some sue happy slut that they don't want on their payroll.
I was not prepared for the consequences of that action. And that's what keeps a lot of women silent. Fear.
We are afraid. Afraid people will think we're liars. That we're sluts. That we're "trying to get attention." That we're lazy and don't want to work and want to take some hard-working company's money away from them. That we "got ourselves into this situation."
All I wanted was to get away from the situation.
"Well, she had a boyfriend, she says she told him, why didn't he do something? He must not have believed her either." They have a name for that, it's called assault and battery. It doesn't matter if the boyfriend had a reason for beating the shit out of Cain.
All we want is for it to go away.
"So why did she wait until now to bring it up? She's just trying to take him for money now that he's worth something."
Maybe. Or maybe she doesn't think someone like that should be in a position of more power.
I'm not saying Herman Cain did it. I'm not saying Sharon Bialek is telling the truth. What I am saying is that there are reasons for keeping quiet. There are reasons for just getting away from the situation. And those reasons are exactly what is going on now.