Thank you for your brave post. All situations involving “I” in my response are hypothetical.
I think one thing which would help eliminate sexual assault in the workplace is a zero tolerance policy on intracompany dating.
For example, I am an Acme One Thousand Tornado Seeds employee. I meet another employee at a mixer or in the office. I know not to express my attraction to that employee or to attempt to date that employee because we both are employees of Acme One Thousand Tornado Seeds.
Setting this zero tolerance policy would be a step into resolving the issue.
I’m not blaming you for the acts the men did. They should have known better, and I wish there had been more allies and more of a culture to help you feel empowered to reject them.
However, our corporate function on subordinate/boss misses the point of sexual assault and the coercive power of the workplace:
We spend most of our lives at work. Attraction is bound to happen.
- Power dynamics exist in too many forms to number or to easily delineate. I work in QA. A developer I’m attracted to depends on my QA help to get code approved. We spend a lot of time during the day together, and attraction forms. Can we suss out how much of the attraction is based on the power I have? Will I treat the developer equally with other developers if I sleep with the developer? Now: I’m no longer QA, but I’m a full time employee and the person I’m attracted to is a contractor I work with. What about that power dynamic?
- The artificial attraction at work wreaks havoc on real life partnerships. I’m involved in a long term relationship, and, due to work hours, I get to see my partner 4 hours a night every night before bed on weekdays, excluding those weeknights I am participating in company socials which involve alcohol and fun. Our company is a startup and has beer on premises, so socialization blends with work. Person I am attracted to ends up sleeping with me, breaking up my relationship or at least resulting in infidelity in a monogamous relationship. I keep thinking about my colleague, and encounters continue. Eventually we are now the couple who only sees each other 4 hours a night, wakes up beside each other with bad breath and crazy hair, and who are in real life situations not curated like the work socials to exclude crankiness, that electric bill which didn’t get paid because someone forgot, and general real life stresses. In short, the cycle begins again.
The simple answer to me involves the zero tolerance dating policy:
You’re at a company event. Someone wants to kiss you. You report it. Someone is fired due to company policy. That person could be married or not, a boss or not, your colleague or not. No company dating is permitted.
If HR does not act on it, lawsuits are filed. Big cash settlements. Our legal definition of harassment changes to this zero policy standard.
I know it does not help the poor individual who is being harassed feel safe to make the complaint — for that, we need to be real, not fake, allies.
Sorry you had these experiences. I wish you the best in healing.