It is one thing to lose your job due to incompetence, and another to lose it because you have been coerced to.
And yet, that is exactly what happened to Jane (not her real name).
Against The Law
28-year-old Jane had been a lawyer at an unnamed firm when her boss began making advances on her.
As she shared, she was once called in for a 2-hour meeting when he began “pouring out all his sexual fantasies about her”.
The experience freaked her out so horribly and she was “shaking so badly” that all the water in her cup splashed out.
When Jane made it clear time and time again that she was not interested, he abused his authority by assigning her “menial and administrative tasks”.
People she confided in told her to keep quiet, and a founding partner brushed the matter off with “such things happen when you are a pretty girl”.
To aggravate matters, her boss told everyone that she had “made up the allegations” after being scorned by him.
After a year of suffering, she finally decided to go to the police, when the firm compensated her with a year’s salary and a non-disclosure agreement.
She no longer had a job.
Picking Up The Pieces
“After I left the firm, I was very shaken,” Jane shares with me.
Despite having evidence of her boss’s indiscretions, she was repeatedly called a “troublemaker and liar”.
Instead of receiving punishment, her perpetuator was instead “promoted internally within three weeks of her formal complaint”.
The appalling conduct of senior management and human resources in the firm should be highlighted.
The experience caused her to lose confidence in herself, she reveals. It was only with the support of friends and family that she managed to regain it.
It definitely helped that she had “strong female friends” who had been through similar experiences.
After that, she threw herself into studying and job hunting. Fortunately, she managed to find a new opportunity quickly.
“Lawyers in Singapore tend to be quite transient so no one asked too many questions.”
Starting work again wasn’t easy but thankfully, her new company had a healthy work environment.
“I was very unsure of myself, it took me a while to settle in and to trust people. I have been very lucky to land somewhere that invests in and supports young female lawyers.”
After a year of bullying and intimidation, working in a truly professional environment was what really helped me through.
“I know many in the industry (and outside of it) are not so lucky. It is for them that I created Heartochange.”
Jane is determined to push back against society’s warped outlook on sexual harassment.
And so, she set up Heartochange where people can share their anonymous stories and the reception has been “fantastic”.
“I received many letters of support and people have written to share their stories. There is always the odd naysayer, but it’s the internet, you can’t avoid them!”
Her motivations were also in part, fuelled by Harvey Weinstein.
“There were so many [victims] who had been through this but are unable or unwilling to talk about it, myself included. When I was going through the harassment, I felt incredibly isolated. I would not have been strong enough to share my story publicly.”
If there was a community where she could confide without being stigmatised, it would have helped her understand that what was happening was not acceptable.
“I know now and back then that it was unacceptable, but when [people] tell you to ‘get over it’ and that ‘these things happen’, you start to rationalise it.”
The anonymity of the site helps too as “people are mostly afraid of judgment or disbelief”.
“You are removing part of the personal element, so it feels safer to speak up,” Jane explains.
It is however, not a panacea.
“Society is only slowly waking up to how prevalent sexual harassment really is.”
People might not know how to react when they are in the position of confidante, and this can lead to hurt and confusion for the victim.
Heartochange is part of building a wider acceptance of the reality of sexual harassment, and I hope that we can really change the dialogue.
“Victims cannot and should not be blamed for the actions of their harassers, and they should not feel shame about having been harassed.”
“It is time we flip the focus around, and turn the shame on the perpetrators themselves.”
The Heart To Change
“I have for a long time felt a sense of injustice as to how [people] are treated for reporting harassment,” Jane shares. “Setting up Heartochange helps me feel like I am making a difference – even if it is in a small way!”
As the site is still in its infancy, she is still considering its future direction, possibly with articles and commentaries.
“I aim to both bring light to sexual harassment and its problems [and] lend support and guidance to victims. There is much more to do, and much more that I will do, to try to bring about change – this is just the beginning.”
Here’s the link to heartochange stories.
If you simply wish to find out more, visit the Ministry of Manpower’s website on harassment: http://www.mom.gov.sg/faq/workplace-harassment.
Featured Image Credit: @benblennerhassett Unsplash, Heartochange