There’s a huge spotlight on sexual harassment right now because of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations. I see people supporting the women who have been assaulted by him and also people shaming them and others for not speaking up sooner. I would like to share my story and what I experienced and why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
I was about 24. I used to work at a well known retail store, you may have heard of it — Walmart. I was an apparel associate. They had hired a new co-manager. Co-managers are right below the store manager. They are the top bosses. From the beginning, this new manager had been extra friendly with me. With most of the females in that store, honestly. But I thought I was just being judgemental and mean, so I ignored it. Lesson number one: don’t ignore intuition. Maybe he’s just a friendly guy, I thought. He was very touchy. Hugging me when he saw me. Once he hugged me and picked me up in the air. I laughed but I was really uncomfortable. Why are you picking me up like that? Once again, I took it as, Sonja, you’re overanalyzing it. He was in his 50’s and married. He was always talking with females. And we had a lot of young people working there. Teenagers and adults in their early 20’s. I was one of the older ones. He would blatantly look me and other females up and down and lick his lips. But I would ignore it. It made me so uncomfortable, I’d pretend like it didn’t happen. I was so afraid then. Of confrontation. Of speaking up. I was insecure. And I didn’t trust myself. He’d often stop in my department and talk. I told him I was looking for another job and that I need to write a resume. He said he would help me with my resume and to email him it. So I did. He never got back to me about my resume, but he did email me saying how he liked me and asking if I knew that. Again, I brushed it to the side. I didn’t like the attention at all, but I didn’t like to hurt people’s feelings. He eventually quit because he was getting complaints about his behavior.
A little later after he quit, he text me. I think he got my number from my resume. He said he thinks I’m sexy. He wanted to take me shopping at the mall and buy me some matching lingerie. I laughed. And that’s the problem. I didn’t know what else to say or do, so I laughed. And I remember being very sarcastic. I was extremely uncomfortable and disgusted by the conversation. It crossed the line for me. But it had been crossed way before then. He continued to try and get in contact with me through social media, but I avoided him.
My experience wasn’t an extreme case, but that’s how it starts. And honestly, I wasn’t going to write about it because people have experienced far worse than that. I decided to though because that’s one reason why people don’t speak up. It’s not that “serious”. I see people shaming others for not speaking up sooner. I told my mom and my friends (also my co-workers). My co-workers knew how he was. I also told my dad and my ex, but I don’t feel they took it seriously. Maybe because I tried to act like it didn’t bother me. I don’t know. Like I said, at the time I was way more insecure and a people-pleaser. But that doesn’t make it okay for people to take advantage of us. I used to think that’s what I deserve for being so nice to people. I’m not pretty, I would think. How embarrassing would it be if I were to call him out on his behavior? What if that’s not what he was doing and I was giving myself way more credit? I even heard him talking to another associate about how he didn’t “want” anyone there. So he played the game well making it look like he was just being friendly and that others were overanalyzing.
Instead of shaming people for not speaking up sooner and focusing on the past and what we can no longer change, how about we encourage people now and in the future to speak up. To tell someone. To share their stories. To trust their intuition. Let people know that they’re important. That they are powerful. That their voice matters. That we support them. I haven’t had an experience like that since, but it still sticks with me. I think of all the people he made uncomfortable and how uncomfortable I was. Maybe it might have been worse for others. I don’t know. Maybe if I would have said something too, he would have been out of there faster. People who have been sexually assaulted are probably already shaming themselves. They need love, not more shame. Love from themselves and love from others. I know in my situation, I blamed myself for a lot of what happened. I get mad at myself for why I worried so much about making other people happy and not myself. Writing about this has helped me. When you’re in situation like that, you do what you know. You don’t have time to think about it. Whatever keeps you alive. Try to understand that. Let’s keep showing more love and compassion.
-Sonja Jackson, OpenHeartTin