The best of South African literature
I was sexually harassed. I was a young journalist, trying to forge a career. It was early days, I was still trying to find my feet. I had only worked for a niché broadcaster until then.
I then got my big break, to work on a prime time show. I was excited. I was not happy about the hours, but who really wants to wake up early?
I trusted the person who would be my boss, not knowing that he would make me a statistic. I wanted to learn, I was eager to sit at the feet of this man who was a veteran in news gathering and production.
I did not know that he was a sexual predator. He wasn’t flagged as such by anyone or by any of my experiences of him.
How does one identify such a person? I had no tools to do that. I took every small gesture and extra attention as interest in my progress and my work as a journalist.
That was until he squeezed my bum. I almost lost my mind! I screamed at him and asked what he thought he was doing.
He chuckled and asked me what I thought I could do about it.
When, in my Generation X voice, I told him I would report him to his superiors, he was not concerned, he laughed at me.
He laughed at me!
He told me to go ahead, that all he had to say was that I was a useless journalist and I wasn’t up to the job, and that I was crying sexual harassment to avoid scrutiny of my incompetence.
It was as simple as that, he had power over me.
He could discredit me, due to his experience and seniority. I was a young woman, in a male-dominated newsroom – it would be my word against his.
I was devastated. I understood at that moment that I had an uphill battle. I had an uphill battle with someone who could destroy me and my career before it had even started. I knew of no mechanisms for women in my industry that allows such people to be put on a sexual offenders register so that they were flagged.
He told me to my face that I had no hope in hell to “get the charges to stick”. He was right. I reported what he did, an informal meeting was held. I was there, his immediate superior was there, and my harasser was there. I had to tell my story while looking straight at him.
He smiled throughout the hearing, adding a chuckle here and there, particularly when I related the bum-pinching incident.
He denied it all and said that I was making everything up and that our working relationship had deteriorated and I was now making excuses for not doing my job properly. His superior took notes and said he would get back to me.
A week later, I heard that he had been promoted and was moving to another city. I heard this information from other colleagues, not from his superior.
When I queried this with the relevant people, I was told he was being “promoted away from me”.
They put him in a position where he was in an even more influential position on my career within that organisation, in what they believed would be a solution to the problem.
Except, I was not safe.
He still had some power over me, he could decide whether or not I could advance further in the organisation or not.
That was unacceptable. I resigned. Now, one could argue that I could have fought it. I could have stayed and fought and argued, I could have done that, but I chose to leave and start again.
I had lost faith in the organisation I worked for. Every time I tell this story, there is always someone who says I cowered and let him win.
My question is: what should I have done? I reported the matter.
I followed the channels that existed at that time in the organisation and this was the outcome. I was young, an unknown in the industry and I didn’t want the stigma that seems to come with accusing my boss of sexual harassment.
I was afraid it would follow me everywhere I went.
I think in dealing with such cases, it is important that the employer deal with each case sensitively. First, there should be clear guidelines and policies in the workplace on dealing with sexual harassment.
All employees must be aware of those guidelines and policies and where to report cases.
It was unacceptable to expect me, the victim, to sit in the same room with the perpetrator and be expected to relate and relive my experiences, while he stared me down.
It was equally unacceptable that the sanction he got was a promotion.
There must be appropriate punishment for such behaviour, a form of punishment that shows other potential sex pests that they don’t stand a chance for advancement in the organisation.
Until employers take this type of harassment seriously, there will be many like me, who choose to walk away.
n Mgabadeli hosts Morning Talk on SAfm between 9am and noon.