A woman my age recently suffered sexual harassment. Her story says a lot about how we still treat women in our enlightened American society, the San Francisco Bay Area included. It also delivers a sad message about how money undermines decency.
“Evelyn” decided to move from her condo to an independent living facility. “It had all the amenities—swimming pool, gym, roof garden,” she says. “All the nice, pretty things I thought would make my life good.” The right unit became available. She passed her physical and mental exams—people with problems aren’t allowed; residents have to “graduate” to assisted living—put down a hefty deposit and moved in. A nightmare followed.
At first, Evelyn was happy. Then one of the building’s security personnel—a man—followed her into her room. The pretense was checking the functioning of her door. “He grabbed my shoulders and neck, and massaged them,” Evelyn recounts. “He told me how stressed I was. Then he pulled me towards him with a disgusting, full-body hug.” Evelyn pushed back. He left.
Shocked, Evelyn met with a woman from the facility’s human resources department and the facility’s executive director—also a woman. They told Evelyn that the employee had resigned. Then they asked if she still wanted to tell them about the incident. Evelyn said yes and related what happened. They never took notes and dropped the matter. Things got worse.
“The next day,” Evelyn says, “the support staff shunned me.” She contacted HR and the executive director. They responded that there was no shunning; they simply were short-staffed. “I said that obviously the employee who resigned had informed the other staff. They said they’d get back to me.” A week later, the executive director called. She had nothing else to say. The matter, according to Evelyn, was being swept under the rug. What would residents think if they found out?
Evidently, the residents did find out. Gossip flew. The environment grew hostile. Residents shunned Evelyn, although the staff came around after several weeks. “The word was I had tried to seduce the security man and was a woman scorned. Residents believed I’d come to live there to create an incident and sue.”
The administration became furious with Evelyn. Complaints, no matter how legitimate, were bad for business. The facility is a big money maker. What could be more important than maintaining the bottom line whatever conspiracy of silence was required?
Evelyn started looking for an apartment and wanted back her hefty deposit. Meanwhile, the executive director left none of Evelyn’s complaints or requests in her record. It was as if nothing had happened. Fortunately, a senior executive of the corporation that owned the facility helped work things out. Evelyn got her money back. She rented an apartment where she’s quite happy. Yet she’s afraid the facility might come after her—and she’s the victim.
You probably know one or more women who’ve been mistreated by men. Such unwanted attention doesn’t have to involve outright sexual assault. It could be the unwanted, “disgusting” all-body hug. Or the unwanted kiss on the lips—brief or, worse, lingering. Perhaps crude remarks supposedly humorous or well-intentioned. Too often, the woman who complains is the person who gets blamed for being a bad sport—or worse.
If you’ve been enjoying these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you’re a guy, give a second thought to that big hug.
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