I’ll always regret those after-work drinks at the local pub because that’s when your interest started to spike. You were the funny one in the office, always making jokes, and sitting in that pub with you and another colleague was a nice change for me. I didn’t have many friends, not that much of a social life, so an after-work drink felt not only ‘grown-up’ but a welcomed change from my regular routine.
At home I was going through a bit of a tough patch – the romance was dying but only one of us could see it (me). My partner at the time was very focused on his own things and our relationship had turned into a friendship. So yes, going out for after-work drinks was a good distraction from that.
Our colleague left the drinks to go home for dinner with his girlfriend, but I wanted to stay out a bit more. We talked and joked around a bit, though I was careful not to reveal too much. After a little while longer we both left. After that evening however, things got weird, and I let them get weird.
After a few more after-work drinks, sometimes just with the two of us, I started to confide in you and tell you things about me. You gained my trust by at first pretending to be this caring, harmless, funny friend at work, but soon you decided to lie about your personal life in order for me to trust you with mine. That was another mistake – I believed everything you said.
My relationship had just ended and I had moved out of my ex’s place. Perhaps you saw that as a green flag. Texts started to happen late in the evening on weekends. You were probably pretending to be drunk. I admit that I was flattered with the attention, though I never fancied you.
You also started emailing me at work with flirty or jokey remarks. I responded. I was stupid.
We started to meet at work a little before everyone else to have a coffee together. That’s when you asked me over to yours for dinner. You said you would cook something gluten free for me, and that I could stay round – all on a weekend in which your pregnant wife was going away.
At first I thought it was nice of you to offer, but I never agreed to it because I knew what it meant. And yet, as a 22 year-old woman, I still didn’t see how much of a predator you were being. I just lapped up the attention.
A few weeks went by and I continued to let you pester me. You even started to wait for me at the end of the working day, just so that you could walk with me to the office car park. On one of our after-work drinks you even changed your shirt beforehand. I found it laughable when I should have seen it as a warning.
One morning at a pre-work coffee meet in the office, you asked me if you could hold my breasts, because we were such good friends. For some reason I didn’t see how very, very wrong this was. I almost let you, but became so uncomfortable as I saw your gross hands reaching out towards me that I couldn’t go through with it. You tried to make me feel guilty about it after, begging with your attempt at puppy dog eyes.
Still, I kept going with our ‘friendship’, though I was beginning to distance myself from you. I stopped responding to the flirting because I just wanted a friend. Sad really, that I would turn to a creepy, married, 34 year-old colleague for friendship. I guess I had always been that way – always been a bit lonely.
Then the Revenge Porn happened. Nobody else was in the office but us as they had all gone out to a meeting (it was a small office of six people). My friend had text me to ask if I had a fetish-based Twitter account as she had found a foot-fetish based one that was using my picture for its profile picture. I said no, went straight onto the page, and scrolled through. There were pictures of random feet and shoes amongst intimate photos of me from years ago. There were also links upon links of other social media profiles that were pretending to be me.
I was in shock. I told you what was happening. I needed help, and so I mistakenly turned to you. You saw everything, but that wasn’t a concern of mine at that moment. I was more concerned with how my pictures had ended up where they were and who it was that was pretending to be me.
That afternoon I called the police several times, trying to make sense of what was happening to me. When our colleagues returned I told them what I had found out. There was no sympathy there – just a lack of understanding, inappropriate jokes, and my boss asking if this was the reason I hadn’t completed a certain task that she had expected to be done.
That was on the Wednesday. During the next few days I had made a statement to the police, visited my ex boyfriend because I simply didn’t feel safe being on my own, and thought about killing myself a hundred times over. All the blame was on me and nobody thought any different, not even the police. Thankfully I did have one, incredible and smart friend who helped me through it all. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the whole ordeal. But that’s another story.
We had another coffee morning in the office. You turned to me and said that you really wanted to tell me something but you couldn’t. Classic manipulative move. I told you that you should just tell me because otherwise you wouldn’t have mentioned it.
You pretended to feel nervous, took a deep breath and looked me right in the eyes as you told me that you had been masturbating to some amateur porn sites and ‘accidentally’ come across my images. The very same ones that you had been looking at with me on the day I found out. The very same ones that lived in some disgustingly dark corners of the internet. You told me you had been scrolling through some ‘teen porn’, seen my picture and accidentally, before you could look away, finished the task and cum ‘everywhere’.
At first, I laughed. Then the rest of the office came in to work and we got on with the day. I later told my friend what you did and what you said, and he made me realise what a liar you were, what a predator you had been over the last few months of our ‘friendship’. I finally became angry.
The next week I distanced myself from you completely. Ignored your texts and emails. Didn’t laugh at your stupid jokes. Spoke the bare minimum to you. You began to notice and asked if there was something wrong – I said no. I wanted to be ice cold to you without any explanation. It was the least that you deserved.
You kept pestering me through the week, asking what you could do to make things up to me as I was obviously angry with you. I said nothing, that everything was fine, but I continued to be as cold as I could without being unprofessional in the office. You were desperate to make things up to me, emailing and texting, telling me that you wanted us to be friends again before you left for your belated honeymoon.
On the last Friday before your annual leave, once my part of the open plan office was empty, you walked over to my desk, weeping. I had never been so embarrassed or angry in my life. You, a creepy 34 year-old predator came begging for my friendship in the middle of a work day, crying your eyes out. It was horrific. I said anything I could to stop you from crying. I couldn’t believe how you were trying to play the victim.
You left the office that day a bit earlier than usual. A colleague, my boss and myself were the last ones left in the office that afternoon. They began to talk about you, feeling sorry for you as you had told them you were upset because your mother was ill. Their sympathy for you triggered something inside me and I erupted. I told them everything that you had been doing over the last few months because I needed them to be angry at you too. I didn’t stop until the end of the work day. My boss, who didn’t like you that much anyway, tried to reassure me by saying that everything would be sorted out and that she would talk to the freelance HR lady that the office employed. I left the office, scared shitless. That was the night that I met my SO.
The following two weeks were rough. I had a meeting with the HR lady to tell her everything that had happened. They had gone through the emails sent over the last few months. They decided that although you were at fault, I was to blame too. My boss even told me that I should focus on my career more, rather than men. I felt so much shame that day I am surprised I managed to get through it and see the next morning.
I was told by my boss to come in at midday on the day that you were supposed to return to work. Pulling into the car park, I thought I was going to die if I saw your car. Thankfully, I didn’t. Our bosses and the HR lady had met you at the front door of the office that morning, telling you that you were on leave during an investigation of allegations against you, and to return your office door keys.
The next few weeks were still terrible. I had no idea if you had been fired or if you were coming back. Each morning I thought your car would be in that car park, waiting for me. Waiting to harass me. I was scared. That’s when I went to my local GP for some anti-anxiety medication, and came out with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, as well as a prescription for Sertraline.
Finally, the office were pulled into a team meeting and told that you had left. They had given you the option of leaving or being fired. There was some relief but not much. I still thought you would try and get to me.
I noticed some time later that you had blocked me from all social media, even LinkedIn. I never saw you or heard from you again.
This particular experience is one that comes back to haunt me. I still regret everything I did that encouraged you. I regret giving you the time of day in the first place. I regret my naivety. I regret all the blame I put on myself.
I wrote this because of all the brave people out there who are coming forward with their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, following the #MeToo campaign. I wasn’t sure what to label this particular experience, and so I looked up the definition of sexual harassment:
Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
I think this qualifies.
I’ve been sexually assaulted before and I’ve been sexually harassed before – but there was something about this particular experience that I can’t quite forget. Perhaps it was the betrayal of trust or the beginning of my depression and anxiety. I don’t know.
I have wanted to tell this story but have been too scared to do so. The self-blame I carry around with it is probably why, though if anybody else came to me and told me the exact same story, I would tell them not to blame themselves.
Sexual harassment or assault is never the victim’s fault, no matter what the circumstances are.