Unfortunately, I did wait a long time before writing this, so I won't remember as many details as I did a year ago, when it happened. I'm prepared for some denial and negativity and claims of "you were totally asking for it!" But maybe some of you will actually get something out of my experience. This is how the harassment started, how it continued, and exactly how it stopped.
Last year, I picked up a second job waiting tables for extra cash. All of my coworkers seemed very friendly and welcoming, so my shy self-warmed up to them fairly quickly. I remember meeting this male waiter. He was early to mid-40s, very strange and scrappy looking, for lack of a better word. But he was fun to talk to. He had somewhat of a "theatrical" personality since he was a performer back in the day, and I'm a naturally giggly person, so it seemed like a natural pairing. I didn't always find his jokes funny, but I laughed anyway because that's just kind of what I do. One night, he asked for my phone number and I gave it to him. This may have been me being naive, but I honestly thought he was just being a friendly coworker. He's so much older, he couldn't possibly be romantically interested in an awkward 24-year-old girl. That night, I got a text from him:
Want to come cuddle ;)
I politely, but clearly, said no thanks, I don't see you that way. And honestly, I thought that would be the end of it. Because why wouldn't it?
The next shift I worked with him, he confronted me. Constantly. Literally followed me around my entire Friday night shift asking "Why? Why don't I do it for you? Am I ugly?" I kept brushing him off, politely saying that I'm trying to work and we don't need to talk about that. He didn't stop pestering me. Finally, I told him half of the truth. I was trying to be gentle, as inappropriate as he was being. So instead of telling him that I found his personality unpleasant (and wasn't attracted to him physically), I told him that there was an age difference, and that I also was not dating anybody at the moment because I'd just had a serious breakup (in retrospect, now that I know how things would escalate, I wish I had been more blunt with him. It's just in my nature to try to spare their feelings). Well, how did he respond to that? He said "age difference, huh? We can work around that." And then I snapped slightly. I said "No, no, no! You do NOT get to decide whether my reasons are good enough for you!" He mumbled something like, "Yes I can, because I'm a human with opinions," and left.
Over the next several months, he became increasingly awful to work with. He would try to flirt with me, and at first, I would clearly let him know that it was unwanted. Either by turning away, ignoring him, or actually firmly saying "don't do that." I quickly discovered that doing this made him angry. If I let him know, in any way, that his advances were not being enjoyed, he turned into a bully. Saying rude and cruel remarks at me through the entire shift. I'm a sensitive person and he seemed to know exactly where to hit me. So I decided that work would be more bearable if I just tolerated his inappropriate remarks.
This is the point, looking back, where I should have reported him. At the time, I rationalized it by saying
"I seem to be the only one who's bothered. He says things to the other girls too and they don't seem offended. I don't want to be that stick in the mud who can't take a joke."
So I let it continue. Then it gradually got worse. He started saying gross things, about what he'd like to do to me, or have me do to him. He'd touch me (nowhere "sexual" really; usually the elbow or something) and moan in pleasure while he did it. On multiple occasions, this would happen:
Him: "Can I nibble on you?"
Him: *bites my arm anyway*
Me: "What the hell?! Stop!"
Him: "You liked it."
Again, I tolerated it sometimes, in favor of keeping the "peace" at work. But often, I did tell him, in no uncertain terms, to stop or please don't. He still turned nasty if I did that, but sometimes it was worth it. The fact that I felt the need to play along with his sick game infuriated me, and I couldn't stand to give him the satisfaction of my pretend compliance. Every now and then, he'd smile at me and say,
You'll say yes to me someday.
Then, the final straw. Valentine's Day. Everybody was required to work because we get so busy that day. The whole shift, he was being more pushy than normal. The remarks, the touching - he was clearly in a more amorous mood than usual.
I was in the back, boxing up my table's leftovers. He shows up. Gets behind me. Grabs my ponytail. I say, "Um, can I help you?"
And he says, "ssh." And proceeds to hump me from behind while holding my hair.
I froze. I was too shocked, too embarrassed, too panicked. I wasn't prepared for something like that. I didn't know what to do. I said something to the effect of "Are you done now?" and hurried out.
That's when another male coworker stepped in. He said, "Why do you let him do that? Why don't you tell him to stop?" I just helplessly said, "I tried that. It only makes it worse." He was furious. He said "I'll go say something to him." I quickly said "No don't do that. Then you two are just going to fight." They were both very hotheaded, confrontational men, and I didn't want an actual fist fight to break out. So he said, "Then I'll tell a manager tonight." I agreed to that.
The next shift I worked, my manager pulled me into the office and told me that coworker #2 had said something to him. We talked for a long time about what coworker #1 had been doing, for how long, and how he reacted whenever he'd been told to stop. Manager said that he would talk to coworker #1 that night (without using my name) and basically, how he took it would decide if he still had a job or not. I later learned that he had gotten defensive and angry - claimed that everyone was out to get him - but they did not fire him yet.
The following shift I worked, the general manager pulled me into the office. He had the employee handbook opened to the section about sexual harassment, and he asked me to tell him which parts of it were done to me. There were two sections, each with multiple subsections. The first section suggested that coworker #1 was an authority and was using it to intimidate me into submitting. So that wasn't it. The second section covered everything else, from remarks to touches to name calling to anything you could think of. I told the manager,
It's section 2. But, like, all of it.
We talked for a while. He tried to get details out of me, but I was too embarrassed to tell about the Valentine's Day incident. So after some pressing, I told him about the biting. I still clearly remember seeing my manager's face change. His eyes dimmed, his face got very serious, and he repeated it to confirm: "Bites you." I said yes. He scribbled some notes on a paper and said he's going to take care of this. As he was about to let me out of the office, I suddenly confessed that this felt awkward and I'm sorry. He stopped me and firmly said that I have no reason to feel embarrassed and he's sorry that I've been dealing with it and he didn't know.
That day, he called my coworker to let him know he'd been fired. And the next day I worked, he pulled me into his office. He said he knows how I am and he wanted to make sure that I didn't feel guilty about this guy losing his job. I told him, "At first I did, but then I remembered the kind of worker he was." Honestly, apart from the months of harassment, he really wasn't a good coworker in any sense of the word. He was hot-tempered, complained constantly, wasn't a team player, and was rude to guests. I knew, from the bottom of my heart, that the restaurant wouldn't miss him.
Work was infinitely more tolerable after that. It was such a big difference that I can't believe I didn't report him sooner. I was lucky to receive the support of my remaining coworkers. Nobody blamed me for him being gone. However to my surprise, one guy - who is actually a really nice guy - did say to me, "I know [coworker #1] sometimes went too far, but he really is a good guy." I kindly said, "Good guys stop when you tell them to."
So that was my experience. Yes I know, I was too gentle and let it continue for far too long. It's something I always thought I'd be able to take control of if it happened to me. I've had girls tell me that if their coworker did these things to them, they would go crazy and physically hurt him. It's easy to say what you would do in this situation until you find yourself actually in it. But I learned a lot, and I feel more prepared to deal with this in the future if I have to. Hopefully, my perspective will help others out there too, so maybe they won't have to go through what I did.