Abuse Of Power

Author: Charlotte O'Shea

After the initial sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein were released, I shared (albeit briefly) my own experience of being subjected to the abuse of power in the workplace on my personal instagram.

I was overwhelmed by the response.

Since then the sheer amount of similar experiences and shared accounts of those that have been on the receiving end of quite frankly, appalling behaviour – that have more often than not witnessed the perpetrators get away with it, has been shocking. The hashtag #metoo has been widely utilised across social media platforms and has certainly brought a sense of solidarity to those that have previously been too scared or too ashamed to come forward.

There must be nothing worse than feeling that not only were you the victim of harassment, bullying, verbal or physical abuse in the workplace, but that you also feel unsupported and very much alone.

From my own experience, and from information I have gathered since the Weinstein story broke, I have gathered together some advice that I hope you will find useful.

What To Do If You Are Being Sexually Harassed Or Bullied At Work

1. Record everything. EVERYTHING. As much evidence as possible is key, be it emails, text messages or verbal communications – keep copies and write down exact times and dates of what happened, what was said and when. Keep your calendar up to date so that your whereabouts (if required/relevant) matches up with the accused and take note of any witnesses or others within the business that may be aware of the accused’s actions against you.

2. Confide in a trusted friend or colleague, as I mentioned above, being alone during an experience such as this is not conducive to you having the confidence to speak out.

3. If you are not already a member of a trade union join one. This will make your issue a collective one.

4. Put a grievance in writing to Human Resources outlining what has happened to you and when. There should be information on your company intranet/literature as to how to make an official complaint. If there isn’t then speak to your line manager and request they source the procedures for you and advise what the exact protocol is.

5. Easier said than done I know but please please don’t ever feel that comments of a sexual nature or actions that make you feel uncomfortable or simply not safe in your place of work can be excused as harmless “banter”. Or that anyone who feels they are able to take advantage of your humour or good nature as an excuse to make inappropriate jokes at your expense is allowed to simply because they are in a managerial position, or because other colleagues seemingly think they are hilarious. Being made to feel upset or angry is not ok. And you have every right to ensure it stops immediately.

As I began writing this feature I was listening to the radio in the background. Apparently it has been discovered that several female researchers and aides to Members of Parliament within Whitehall and Westminster have recently reported various cases of wholly inappropriate conduct towards them from Ministers. Theresa May has said that “serious action” will be taken against those whom are proved guilty of the allegations.

Have you ever been harassed at work? Have you felt unable to come forward due to the fear of not being believed or the risk of potentially losing your job?

I sincerely hope that by capitalising on the current media coverage and aforementioned sense of solidarity, that this is the time to harness real change.

A position of power does not give anyone the perceived right to behave like a complete and utter arsehole towards others. They deserve to be appropriately punished. And we deserve the right to work in a safe and non predatory environment.

Purveyor of short shorts. Make-up junkie. Hopes to grow old disgracefully.
Follow Charlotte on instagram @charlotte.oshea
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22 thoughts on “Abuse Of Power

  1. I absolutely agree that this needs to be a watershed moment in workplace cultures. When I first saw #metoo, my first thought was ‘nope. Not me’. Then I thought back; I’ve been working full time for 20 years now (depressing in itself) and there was so much I just took for granted as ‘office banter’ or ‘just having a laugh’.

    There are actually three situations – without having to think too hard – that leave me wishing I could go back in time and confront these awful men, and have a good word with my younger self to say “this is NOT okay”

    1) Age 18, a male senior member of staff used to slap me on my bum EVERY time I wore a certain pair of trousers. He said it was my fault for teasing him. This was actually witnessed by a wonderful lady who told me at the time that he couldn’t do that and I needed to speak up. I didn’t.

    2) Age 19, a new job meant I worked alone in an office with my manager who was in his early 30s. What I presumed was harmless flirting ended up with him taking off his shirt and pinning me to the ground while trying to kiss me. Apparently he was joking.

    3) Age 26, my first real promotion at a national charity, when I was away with other staff members. Another male (more senior) manager phoned my hotel room three times through the middle of the night making suggestive comments and asking if he could join me.

    It’s ridiculous to even think that these things happened to me. Thankfully, I never came to any real harm and I count myself lucky, but looking back… HOW F**KING DARE THEY??

    The more of us that speak out, the more things will change. We absolutely deserve to be able to feel safe at work and just get on with our jobs rather than having to fight off people like pervy Barry! (Yep, his name was even Barry)

    1. Karen I think there will be many in your position (myself included) who essentially just brush things off because you think that’s just what you do, that it’s all part and parcel of “work”. Thank so much for sharing your experiences x

    2. How dare they indeed, Karen. I think that’s what is so gutting about all of this – that men dare because they know they can, and they know they are most likely not going to be called on it because society is set up to silence and de-legitimise women who speak up about these things in favour of men and the status quo.

      Even if you look at the most awful rape cases, what women have to go through to get a conviction and the fact that, unless you’ve lived as a nun, your life will be held against you. I’m really happy that things like #metoo are happening but goodness I hope things actually change.

  2. Great post, Charlotte. I’ve loved the last two posts. I’m really glad that this is being so widely discussed. I suspect it is much more difficult to deal with if you don’t work within a large organisation.

    I don’t use Facebook/Instagram etc very much so haven’t used the metoo hashtag, but I thought it encompassed all sexual harassment and assault rather than being just in the workplace. I’ve never had a job but have been sexually harassed and assaulted frequently from childhood. I think saying that this is just an abuse of power or workplace issue is slightly disingenuous. It’s an issue with men in our society. And it’s not a minority. It’s not like a few hundred men are roaming the country committing assaults against all these women. Those men that you encountered at work really believe, (and may not even consciously recognise or be able to articulate) that they are better than women because they have a penis. Women are sexual objects. It’s something they carry around in every area of their lives which also happens to come out at work, where they have the chance to use their power and act on it. I am so sick of being nice and polite about it like everybody expects me to, being female and all. The first time I saw a penis against my will, I was six. That was an older boy – old enough to know it was wrong. I’d seen a man’s penis before I’d even begun puberty. I’ve had countless assaults since then, some more serious than others. I count myself lucky to have never been raped, as so many women have, but two men have tried and I fought them off. I don’t know whether to classify waking up to find a friend having undone my jeans (with his penis out) and attempting to put his fingers inside me as assault or attempted rape. Who knows how far that one would have gone if I hadn’t woken up. Just two months ago a man followed me and my toddler down my local high street in the middle of the day, shouting obscene sexual comments at me. When I refused to acknowledge him, he became abusive and sped up, demanding my attention. I had to go a different way home to lose him, as I would be walking down a secluded road. He brazenly did that in the middle of the day and nobody said a word to him. I’ve had inappropriate comments and behaviour from male friends, and when I’ve told people, I am the one that’s been ostracised. Apparently, the guy that recently told me he couldn’t concentrate on what I was saying because my breasts were such a distraction, whilst smirking at my husband who is lovely and sweet and kind and was doing something nice for him out of earshot, is a lovely guy. Everybody just brushed that under the carpet and he now refuses to acknowledge me but angrily brushes past me. He’s the victim, you see.

    1. Thanks Jade, I think it’s important we discuss this subject on RMS. And yes you are absolutely right, #metoo doesn’t just include work related incidents. I’m so sorry all of these scenarios have happened to you, you absolutely should never be made to feel ostracised and thanks so much for sharing with us, I’m sure it must be difficult to talk about – we have such a supportive community here so I hope it brings you some comfort that you are not alone x

      1. Thanks Charlotte. I don’t mind discussing this at all, I can reel off a list as long as your arm – as many women can! I think what I was getting at is that I consider my list to not even be ‘that bad’ and it contains two attempted rapes which left me with bruising and marks. One attack was by two men (both ‘friends’ of mine). The fact that any woman would think that list wasn’t that bad because so many women ARE actually raped is shocking and disgusting. I feel guilty for even getting sympathy when my experiences pale in comparison. And, on top of that, I know I’m lucky to have been born in the uk. This is what a safe country looks like.

        I’m currently applying for what will be my first ever job and have worried about this. I don’t know what to expect in terms of workplace culture and feel very naive about it all. Your list makes me feel a little more informed and confident going into it!

  3. Just one thing- you would need to be a member of a trade union prior to any problems starting. So, join one today. I’m a member and their support was invaluable when I was falsely accused of bullying. Let’s not forget those that are falsely accused. Everyone needs to protect themselves these days and keep records, think carefully about what you say (and how it could be misinterpreted) etc..

    1. Siobhan, I assume you are talking about protecting yourself from any allegations of misconduct, so commenting on joining a trade union for general workplace protection rather than commenting on the main content of this post? I find it in quite poor taste to be reminded to think of those falsely accused on a post specifically about the massive, widespread problem of the sexual harassment and assault of women. Hoping that wasn’t what you meant!

  4. Of course that was what I meant (and in context is pretty clear I think) – so not in poor taste at all. #metoo

    1. I must be too used to hearing that when discussing ‘women’s issues’ in real life. Glad to see I was wrong 🙂

  5. Bravo Charlotte.

    If you are in a small workplace with no HR department you can ask Citizens Advice for help and support.

    I just wish I knew how to deal with the daily micro aggressions- like being shouted at while out with the children. “That’s sexual harassment, stop” seems like an invitation to escalate the situation but I hate feeling so powerless.

    Every woman has a list. Every woman I know. Even if at first you think you don’t, we all do once we let ourselves remember. I hope my daughter doesn’t.

    1. I feel very much the same about Mabel Lucy – I hope she never is in a position where she feels she can’t speak out, and I hope to god that predators are far less able/prevalent in the not too distant future.

  6. Thanks for writing this, Charlotte. I too have had various incidents with men in my past and I wish i could go back in time and stand up for myself. These range from being groped in clubs, men taking photos on their phone down my top while on a night out to more recently having comments made about my top being tucked into my bra by a member of the post room at my office and a member of I.T telling me that he didn’t mind being interrupted by a “beautiful girl” when calling for help with my PC. All for these incidents made me feel very uncomfortable. None more so than my own boyfriend’s father sucking my earlobe as I hugged him goodbye after a family gathering. He was drunk. He has never mentioned it or apologised for it. I told my boyfriend on the drive home and he was angry and embarrassed so text his dad to ask what happened. His Dad never admitted doing it and brushed the whole thing off. I however, have never forgotten it and will forever feel uncomfortable in his presence.

    1. Chris I am so sorry your boyfriends Dad would behave in this way, not only in general but his own son’s girlfriend?! Honestly, nothing ceases to amaze me – and that’s what is so bloody disappointing. I punched a guy once for putting his hand down the back of my trousers in a club, looking back it wasn’t very clever – he could have done something much worse back, but it was a knee jerk reaction and I just couldn’t believe some random person would do that to someone else. I caught his Adam’s apple (not intentionally!) and he literally couldn’t breathe and fell on the floor…. Moron. Let’s hope it made him think twice about doing it again.

      Anyway, I hope your boyfriends Dad feels immense embarrassment and never tries to do something of a similar nature to anyone else. Ever.

  7. Now I am in my 30’s I would not stand for any kind of abuse of power towards myself or others, but when I was younger I had a few experiences.

    At 18 a man in his mid 30’s, married with children, kept buying my drinks – mostly shots – at the office Christmas party and then kept trying to kiss me in front of the whole office. I rang in sick the next day as I was so embarrassed and very nearly quit my job. My boss called me at home and told me to come in the next day. Despite all the witnesses I actually got a telling off about appropriate office behaviour. The man in question got a verbal warning.

    Also at 18 I ended up in a situation the same as the Ched Evans case. I told a few friends and was confronted by the people in question who asked me “why I was being mardy”. I didn’t think I would be believed. A ‘friend’ of the time later told me the same people had done the same to her and “that is just what they are like”.

    At 21 I worked in a small office with just one other girl – our boss was often out at meetings. The parent company insisted on one of their managers working from our office occasionally. He spent the whole time he was in the office staring at our boobs, and he just felt creepy. The two of us mentioned he made us feel uncomfortable and our boss said there was nothing he could do as he didn’t directly manage him – he was close to retirement and wanted an easy life until then. The other girl and I agreed we would prop all doors open when the manager was in and would try are best not to leave each other alone in the office. One of the IT guys once joked about ‘the creep’ so we told him we were uncomfortable and he would often call by our office to check we were ok. Once our manager retired I had to have an appraisal with the creep’s boss so I reported him at that time. I don’t know what happened but we hardly saw the creep after that.

    It makes me so angry thinking back on this now.

    1. Claire I hope this post hasn’t made you dwell on the past, it is very easy to become angry about a situation where someone in the wrong essentially took advantage – but it absolutely wasn’t your fault and age/inexperience will make anyone an easier target unfortunately.

      I find it so odd that as per your situation, someone in an office environment is known outwardly as a creep/predator and yet seemingly they get away with it. I truly believe this will happen less and less now this subject is so prevalent.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts x

  8. I was approaches at my old work to support a younger colleague who was being harassed by a much older man. Apparently (she was a cleaner), her uniform made her completely irresistible to him (wtf?) so that he could bend her over a desk and touch her. She was absolutely terrified, and there was no trade union available to her, so I helped her record everything that she could remember, then report him. He actually decided to retire before it could get to a disciplinary hearing, but I would have supported her through that too. So, my message to everyone here is that we must also stand up and support those women who can’t do it on their own.

  9. Thank you for addressing this RMS! It’s shocking that this is what we women have to deal with. Sexual harassment has become so “normalised” that it’s us women who are made to feel like we’re being boring and stick in the muds because we can’t “take a little joke”. This sort of abuse of power starts with the tiny things that are allowed and accepted as “okay” when they really really aren’t. Some of these stories (even just those shared on here) are absolutely vile – men completely abusing their position and trying to take advantage just because they can.

    I really hope that this changes for the next generation of women.

  10. Like most women I can think of so many examples. Mainly inappropriate comments at work, usually by older, married men. Always brushed off – that’s what he’s like etc. Men on the street, shouting indecent things, then calling me a bitch or worse when I try and walk away quickly. But actually my worst instances were with an ex boyfriend who I met at a vulnerable stage in my life. I woke up in his bed naked, after not even remebering leaving a club. There was no way I could walk, never mind consent. But I decided to start a relationship with him (why, 19 year old me?) and that relationship was( obviously) full of these sorts of incidents. I let him do it to me, so in my mind he hadn’t done anything wrong. It’s only now at 30 I can’t believe it.

    My sister is 23, and currently going through issues at work. She’s often put on a door at events (she’s a PA, not a bouncer) told not to wear a coat and to not say anything when the clients grope her. If she gets uncomfortable, she should go and get them a drink. that was her (female) bosses advice when she got upset about a 55 year old man grabbing her bum and saying what he’s like to do to her. I’ve tried to shake sense into her, but she says it’s the way it is and nothing she can do.

    I hope so much that the world starts to change, and my daughter never faces these situations.

  11. A bit late to the discussion today, but I too have been thinking the last few weeks about my own history and I’ve had years of men in the workplace looking at my large breasts, in such an uncomfortable way that I changed the whole way I dressed at work (not that it should matter what I wore but I’m talking about scoop neck or v-neck tops/dresses and I changed to high neck stuff)
    However last week I remembered my very first boss, in a pub. The uniform was a white shirt and I was 18. One Sunday he sat at the end of the bar and constantly kept asking me to go into the cellar for stuff. Eventually he said ‘is it cold in there’ and realised my shirt was slightly see-through. He made lots of comments about my figure. In the end the chef told him off for it and he was mortified (maybe at being ‘caught’) and apologised but I was young so I pretended it was ok and I understood it was just ‘a laugh’.
    My third job was my first in an office and I was fully aware that I’d been employed on the basis of my looks, I didn’t even have an interview. However I ended up having a good friendship with the boss. Until my leaving party where he grabbed me and kissed me on the lips without permission and told me if he was 20 years younger he’d be taking me home. I was confident enough then to tell him to f*** off and that whatever age he was I wouldn’t go home with him if he was he last man on earth. I knew the girl who was taking over and warmed him of his behaviour towards this girl.
    This has turned out long.
    I am so shocked at how many people have these kinds of experiences and I know that these are very mild in comparison to what other women have had to suffer.

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