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Aug 07

Talking about harassment at work

Just so everyone knows, I started a new job at the prison as a Corrections Officer (CO). It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that the overwhelming majority of new trainees are men. Even more so that there are even fewer women CO’s that have been there for a long time. I won’t say it is in the hiring though. Right now they are hiring all the fresh bodies they can get. Much the gender gap is in the recruiting and the perceptions that CO is a “man’s job.”

But the retention of competent females is another thing all together. I bet part of it has something to do with the story a woman CO told us as a class yesterday. The story tells of her own harassment in one particular area at the prison. The basics boiled down to men CO’s making sexually explicit jokes pointed at her and in front of the inmates. That last bit is important. The other CO’s were making the offensive and harassing jokes in front of inmates, some of whom are guaranteed to be looking for exploitative opportunities. One time that someone violates a boundary to that degree in such a dangerous manner is inexcusable. However, the jokes and harassment continued after she requested they stop.

She went to her superiors and asked to move and explained why. She specifically did not want to file a sexual harassment report about it but didn’t not want to be in the same department with people who were hurting her. She was moved as requested and nothing happened to her harassers (not that I am sure anything could have happened without her request).

All would have been fine if the woman telling the story had stopped there. Everyone in the room could have imagined her reasons for not reporting officially her harassment. But she didn’t stop. Instead she proceeded to recommend to the few women and sea of men that women think twice before officially reporting their harassment. Her reasoning was clear. That anyone who brings in outside help in handling their harassment, risks being ostracized from the group. That “everyone will treat” us “different” if we don’t handle this under the table. That our coworkers will be afraid to cut up and be friendly.

She basically told us not to report our harassment. She basically told us to run from it and do what she did so we won’t be friendless. She basically said let the next woman who works in that department handle it.

The funny thing isĀ  that probably everyone knows that last damaging nugget of info she chose to share. As women many of us have always had to navigate the very narrow corridor of what is considered the “proper way” to handle such things. Most of us women don’t report, know how much we risk by reporting. Most of us women don’t need another reason to hide our harassment.

We need a reason to bring it to daylight.

This is an especially pertinent topic right now in the atheist/skeptic movement. People in our movement have far too long been stifled, silenced by all the reasons to “keep quiet.” The status quo fighters have done their duty in hiding harassment from the delicate eyes of everyone else. Now however, women and men in this movement are speaking out about this. One person risking it all and giving her peers a reason to talk was enough to start a mini chain-reaction.

I wish the woman teaching us yesterday would have been like like you all who are fighting harassment tooth and nail rather than passing it off to the next victim. I wish she would have at least said that she had our back in however we choose to handle our own harassment.

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