by Dana Evans, NOW Intern
Sexual harassment often silences a woman. Women who have endured such pain need a place to regain their voices, and NOW's Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign Speak Out online provides such a place. Dozens of courageous women have posted their stories on NOW's web site, benefitting themselves and other women seeking to break the silence and to share their experiences.
Most of the women choose to remain anonymous, but others share their names and e-mail addresses. Each story is filled with very personal, heartfelt accounts of the painful experiences these women have faced in the workplace. Corporations, police departments, governmental agencies -- each unique story presents a new perspective on the many ways in which sexual harassment impacts women's lives.
For example, the youngest writer, a sophomore in high school, was harassed by a classmate during the production of a student drama. This became a drama in her own life as she was verbally abused by this boy, forced to endure insulting, sexist comments about PMS and a "girl's place." She said "the harassment became physical . . . he grabbed me several times and brushed past me whenever he got the chance . . . I felt humiliated and ashamed."
Her situation changed when her parents became involved and helped her report the boy's abusive behavior.
Two women told of their experiences with NOW's first "Merchant of Shame," Smith Barney. "Smith Barney is probably trying to get a lot of women to apply with no intention of hiring . . . They are trying to fill a quota," one woman wrote. "I truly believe they had no intention of hiring me. I was merely [used] to show their efforts to recruit women. This is shameful!"
One woman wrote of sexual harassment in Japan. She recalls reading board meeting records from Tokyo in which a company's president implied that factory work was easy enough for women to do. He concluded that the company should hire women in place of men to reduce production costs. His statement shows that women are not seen as valued, equal employees, the writer said, and in such an environment women have a difficult time filing charges and having their accusations taken seriously.
Many of the women faced severe retaliation when they reported harassment to employers or other appropriate sources.
One woman in the U.S. Army wrote of receiving death threats. "My supervisor said he was going to shoot me for talking," she wrote. "Even the highest ranking officials looked the other way . . . [or] regarded it as amusing, and no one bothered to investigate."
A civilian employee of the Los Angeles Police Department says that not only was she forced to seek psychiatric help after she reported harassment, but she also described drastic forms of retaliation against her, including having her vehicle vandalized on several different occasions and her house broken in to. "I found urine in a package of meat in my freezer . . . My landscape has been poisoned . . . My phone was tapped," she wrote. She added: "Too much is coming against the victims of harassment, and too little is being done to help them."
By speaking out on NOW's web site, women regain their voice and share their stories. As one women who recently posted her story of longstanding sex discrimination at a government agency said in a follow-up telephone call: "Just reading the other stories gave me the courage to post my own, even with my name. It's so important to know I'm not alone. Now someone is listening."
Go to http://www.now.org/ and the Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign to access the online speak out.
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