Gas Money & Sexual Harassment

 

Last week, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment.

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Reuters

In the subsequent days, many allegations have emerged from women accusing him of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Why is it so much easier to speak out in droves? And where does that leave women whose workplace sexual harassment does not involve a celebrity whose accusations appear on the front pages of the international media?

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*Names have been changed  *Trigger warning – sexual harassment

Toby was gorgeous, undeniably so, and an amazing dresser. He and his wife, Lana ran a café in the shopping complex where I worked. Lana had recently had a baby, a little cherub. Though Lana was not doing well. She seemed in a bad mood all the time, sullen and quiet. She gained a lot of weight during the pregnancy and it was not shifting. Working in the café did not help Lana, with snacking a temptation.

Toby and Lana were ten years older than me, maybe more. They lived nearby, and would pick me up on their way to work, dropping me home afterwards. I always tried to give Toby gas money but he never accepted it, just smiled and said “It’s fine.” Toby was a total flirt – all the girls knew, and he liked that. He winked at me, often making suggestive remarks when Lana was not in earshot. Sometimes he grabbed me, teasingly as I walked by. I pushed him away with a look of mock scorn, though secretly I loved the attention. He was so much older and always looked fantastic. Lana wasn’t looking after herself, she had poor hygiene and greasy hair. She never wore make-up anymore and always looked pissed off. I felt bad for Toby being so hot-looking and having a wife who didn’t seem to care about her appearance. I also felt bad for Lana, she seemed so flat.

Toby started following me, appearing around corners when I did – the complex was open-plan so he could see me most of the time. I often went into the stockroom to check on a product – a cavernous room full of boxes. Eventually Toby was coming in every time I went in there alone, pushing me up against the boxes and trying to kiss me as I squirmed. He was different in those moments, never laughing, but serious and controlling. Holding me firmly, trying to get into my clothes he made aggressive comments like he would “have” me. I never felt afraid, surely it was all an act? Besides, anyone could walk in at anytime. I’d struggle free from his clutches, laughing and telling him to “fuck-off”.

Part of me liked being Toby’s favourite girl, at first.  But sometimes he was indiscreet, and others noticed. I began to think he wanted them to, like he was showing off.  They said Toby was acting like a jerk. They started telling me he should keep his hands off me, which was embarrassing, like as if I’d started it all.  I felt sorry for him that he was not getting any attention from Lara, she seemed so steeped in her own tired, sad world. But mainly I felt guilty in his car with him and Lara, trying to make small talk on the way home, knowing Toby had forced his hands inside my clothes earlier.  It was happening every day now, even though I tried to push him away.   I didn’t laugh, and I wished he would stop.  Toby likely knew I would never mention what he was doing, taking advantage of me in hidden corners at work while refusing my gas money.

One Sunday, my housemates were away and I was home alone. Toby and Lara had dropped me home just after 6pm. I was about to head to bed around 11.30pm when there was someone at the door. It was Toby. He apologised for scaring me so late and asked to come in. He and Lara had argued, and he didn’t know where to go. Toby looked genuinely upset.  He cut a lonely figure in that moment, and I felt bad for him.  I invited him in and said I would make coffee and we could talk. Toby asked if he could use the bathroom. I said ‘of course’, directing him upstairs with my back to him, continuing to make the coffee.

Moments later, Toby was calling me. Tired, young, and perhaps a little too trusting, I went up the stairs to see what was wrong.  As I reached the landing, I saw the bathroom was empty. Toby was in my bedroom now with the lights off. I could see the shape of him on my bed. Waiting, in the dark. He asked me to join him. I froze, absorbing the real reason he was at my house at 11.30 at night. In that moment, I knew I could be raped – it now seemed a real possibility. Backing slowly down the top three steps, I spoke, shakily, eyes on Toby the entire time;

“Toby you need to go. Right now. I need you to leave. I’m not doing this.”

Amazingly, Toby quietly came downstairs. I told him again he had to go. My heart was racing and I was ready to run, but made sure I looked strong.  He hesitated, asking me if I was sure, then he left. Maybe my reaction showed him I would tell this time if he touched me. I locked the door and didn’t sleep.

Neither of us ever spoke of that night. Toby carried on declining gas money. He carried on cornering me in the stock-room or empty corridors, trying to kiss me and feel me up every chance he got.  And I carried on trying to shove him off me, but not knowing how to stop him. When I got a car and started dating a lad from the camping equipment store, Toby finally left me alone.

 

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