My Name is Tara

Tara experienced sexual assault and pervasive sexual harassment. When she reported the assault to HR, they offered to transfer her to another site across the country.  Tara declined to provide a photo. Photo from Pexels.

My Worst Moment: The worst moment happened just after he grabbed me and kissed me. I slapped him, and I was immediately afraid that I would be fired; but instead, he told me that he picked me because I was spunky, he knew I would fight back, and he likes firecrackers. I was lucky - when he lunged for me again, I was able to get away. 

But it wasn’t the actual physical interaction that was the worst; the worst moment was when I thought that I had let this happen to me. Over the years I had internalized so many comments and “accidental” touching, and it had happened so many times, from several people over the years. But they were just words, and I told myself to ignore them. I had become so inured to this culture, that I told myself it was normal. 

Over the years, I had colleagues comment on my looks and my body - all in front of other colleagues, who either laughed or sat silently, without speaking up for me. I was told I was only invited to certain meetings to sit and look pretty, not to speak. I had someone play a screensaver of naked women on the computer monitor behind him as he interviewed me. I had someone grab my ass while I was interviewing for a different job. I had someone stare at my chest the entire time I was interviewing him for a job (he was offered a job, despite my protestations). I was told I couldn’t report to someone, because he was a known predator and they wanted to minimize our interactions. (Instead, he decided it was okay to prey on me, because I didn’t report to him.) I was told a senior employee was supporting me not because he thought I was a good scientist, but because he wanted to sleep with me. I found out that different colleagues were alleging to other colleagues that they had slept with me. These incidents may have been the most hurtful, because some of the colleagues who were alleging these things had been nothing but professional to my face. And of course, this was accompanied by the realization that the men were all talking about me behind my back. 

The worst moment isn’t a single point in time, but the realization that this isn’t about a single physical incident. We need to recognize that sexual harassment isn’t just about physical assault, but the culture. 

I Have Given Up On: Trusting my coworkers.

I’m Afraid: The culture will never change.

This Has Cost Me: I couldn’t collaborate with certain people, and I couldn’t work after hours because I was afraid of being caught alone with these people, so I missed out on a lot of interesting projects. I changed jobs a few times. When I did tell HR about the physical incident, they offered to transfer me to another site across the country. I’m not sure how to quantify that loss.

Something You Should Know About Me: I’m still angry.

Is There A Bright Side: I eventually found a new career that I love.

Secret Weapon: My keyboard.