It all started when I realised I was making up excuses to skip work. I was working a lot from home, I was constantly getting sick, I would often wake up feeling a bit off. Then I stopped dressing nicely, stopped wearing make-up, stopped wearing necklaces and earrings. At that point I was questioning myself all the time, doubting my capabilities as a professional and as woman. I was insecure about my appearance and in my personal relationships. Then the panic attacks started. They would come every now and then in the train on my way to work, they would come at night before going to sleep, they would come every time someone around me talked about work or harassment cases. I had stopped being myself completely.
I took me six months, long discussions and a lot of self-reflection to realise what was happening. It is not an easy process, I will tell you that. I was ashamed and embarrassed for not having come forward before – ‘a self-called feminist who did not have the nerve to step up for herself? What a disappointment…’ – this was in my head all the time. I felt like I had let down our sisterhood and all the female community. I felt responsible for not speaking up for us, for me, and for the movement.
When I finally spoke up I was genuinely hopeful. In my mind, he would be heavily punished and let go, and the work environment would be safe again for me and other women. However, not everything goes the way we plan. The company opened an investigation of the case, and after analysing what had happened, they concluded ‘the incident’ did not come from a bad place and therefore, he got to keep his job, his position and nothing really changed for him. As for me, they offered reallocating me to another team (but yes, I would still see him in the office every single day), so if that was not an option they ‘would understand if I wanted to go seek other opportunities outside the business’. A nice way of saying ‘please, go’.
So I did. I could not work for a company that would cover up for harassment anymore; and even though I was pleased with my choice, I also found myself at my lowest. I had no job, and the sentiments of guilt, embarrassment, shame, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, self-sabotage were still there. Strong and sure.
The psychological consequences of a harassment case are various and can affect people differently. Even though the scars left behind are deep, since the wound is not visible to the eye, cases that do not present physical engagement are often disregarded and not taken seriously enough, dismissing all the emotional and internal stress that are going on inside our minds and bodies.
I know people who were able to work on this by themselves. They are rare examples. However, in my case I needed a LOT of help. And fortunately help came from everywhere in different forms too. I had the support of my partner, closest friends and family. I had legal advisors, I went to therapy with a professional, I had the SACC Aware programme checking on me constantly and supporting me. I was lucky, I was well backed up.
Sadly, not everyone has the same kind of support available, and that is why keeping the movement alive, promoting equality in all spaces, and encouraging other women to come forward is so important. Unfortunately, the ideal outcome is never guaranteed, but we need to keep fighting for this change. Men (or any perpetrator for that matter), should be held accountable for their actions.
I am well now, but I still carry a lot of mixed emotions with me. I do not believe that is a bad thing though, but I am still learning how to deal and manage them better. Sisters, if you are going through something similar, be kind to yourself. Remember this is not your fault, remember you are not alone. If you are ready, come join fight! If not, we respect it too, everybody has their own time. We will be here for when you are.