I’m originally from Holland, but I’m currently studying in San Francisco. Back home, when I’m not in school I work as a passenger assistant at the airport in Amsterdam. I love my job because I get to talk to people from all over the world. I also have a good relationship with every colleague, well almost.
There is one manager in particular who broke my trust. He is about twice my age, around 48 and I viewed him as a father figure. We were always talking about school, being a teenager, having a boyfriend and that kind of stuff. I thought he was just interested in my life because he has a daughter of my age and he was always comparing me to her. But obviously not.
Everything changed on the day he tagged me in a really inappropriate video on Facebook. A man was driving a car with a dildo-stick. Above the video, it quoted: “Tag someone who would drive this stick.”
This video was beyond ridiculous. Where did this manager get the nerve to tag me? I was angry and humiliated. I talked to one of my best friends at work and he said it was going to be fine and it has been taken care of already.
The duty floor manager (DMF) called me over to her office. She looked at me and then at my manager: “He would like to apologize to you,” she said. He didn’t know where to look and a few moments of silence passed by. Suddenly he said: “But what am I apologizing for?”
I was furious. “Excuse me, you could have been my father. What if an old man like you tagged your daughter in a video like this one? How would you feel?” I responded.
He had the worst response ever: “But you and your friends are always tagging each other in such videos.” Dude, really? “Uhm, first of all, you are not my friend. And second, I don’t tag my friends in such videos. But then again, even if I did, you are my manager and not my friend,” I said while my blood was boiling.
“Okay, well, I’m sorry,” he finally said. “But I honestly don’t understand what is wrong with the video,” he continued. The DMF came in between and talked to him with a strict voice that he had crossed the line and that she doesn’t care if he understands it or not. “Just apologize and don’t ever do this again.”
Since 1998, there have been more than 17 million reported files on sexual assault from all around the world. Last October the hashtag #MeToo went viral on social media as an attack on everyone who is guilty of any sort of sexual abuse. Women and even men, from all around the world, spoke up for themselves. Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement in 2006, to support survivors of sexual violence and to stop sexual assault.
With this campaign, a lot of people finally got the courage and chance to speak up what they have experienced. I was so shocked by the fact that things like this happen every single day. Even in the world of all celebrities. From people whom you had never expected it from of being capable of doing such things or keeping their mouth shut for all these years.
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has experienced anything like this. But sadly, this wasn’t the first time I had to experience something like this either.
It was around my third month at my job when another manager came up to me and started asking really inappropriate and random questions. “Do you have a boyfriend?” was the first one. “Or do you like girls?” I was shocked and before I could even answer that, he said: “But would you try it?”
I got angry and said to him that it’s all none of his business and that he needed to stop asking such questions. He ignored me and continued talking about how much girlfriends he had at the airport and that the youngest was only 19 years old. That was “normal.” I told him that I’m not interested in “old men” and it disgusts me because my father is with a girl who is only five years older than me and I don’t see him anymore because of her.
He was literally stepped on his toes and started threatening me indirectly. Whatever we had discussed had to stay between us. If he would hear something about our conversation from anyone else, I could lose my job. So, I better kept it to myself. And I did for a month because I was actually scared.
I received an email from the employment agency after one month: I needed to buy new trousers or else I didn’t have to come back to work anymore. I was confused, so I called the agency right away and asked who this warning came from and explained that my trousers were approved by this particular manager. They were as surprised as me because the warning just came from him. I got so angry and told them everything. They were going to make a case of it, as sexual intimidation isn’t accepted, ever.
I was relieved for a minute. But scared after I hang up because I spoke up and was afraid of the consequences for talking. But I’m still working over there and I never had a conversation like that with him again. So, if I’m able to keep my job while I stand up for myself, why can’t you?
Sexual intimidation is never allowed. People who do that kind of stuff should get legally punished for abusing their power. If they do it once, they will probably do it twice and we must have to draw a line somewhere.
So, whenever you’re finding yourself in a situation like I have experienced before, or you feel somehow sexually assaulted, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and talk about what has happened to you.
Talking might not be the main solution, but it helps you, or at least me, to recover a little. You don’t have to confront that person and face your fears, but even that has helped me. Everyone has their own way they prefer to deal with things. Find out what is best for you. And most important of all: remember you are not alone.
NOTE: This article was a personal piece for Opinion Writing at San Francisco State University.