I've been watching and reading the articles on sexual harassment, assault and rape in the work place for the past several weeks, like most everyone else. (I know. Can you believe I chose that as my opening image? Talk about a metaphor!) It's a melt down that had to happen sooner or later. When sexual advances are part of the work environment with anyone, you've crossed a line in the sand. It's just not acceptable behavior. It's unprofessional and it's embarrassing. And if the person is in a position of power and is using it to manipulate you or hurt you, it's obscene. But like the middle of aisle person that I am, I can also see how easily you can become an enabler to behaviors that do not belong in your work place.
So let's discuss how to say an effective and definitive NO. It's really all about personal boundaries. No doubt this is going to be a complicated situation while everything is hashed out with clear descriptions of what exactly harassment and assault is. I'm not going to try to define every possible scenario. But I do want to share some techniques for understanding the possibilities before you walk in to a situation that compromises your safety or even your dignity.
Your boss says, "Let's meet later over dinner, in my hotel room, to finalize this." Your reply is, " No, thank you. I would prefer we meet in the restaurant (cafe, lounge, library, or whatever local, public place is available.) " You DO NOT have to give an explanation why. Be specific, pleasant and polite, professional.
Your co-worker says, " Meet me in my office after hours. We need to discuss 'so and so'." You should ask another co-worker to stay with you. If you can't find anyone who can do that, you say," No. I'm not comfortable doing that. Let's talk now. " It doesn't matter where you are or who you're with, you have the right to stand your ground with a well stated NO. You do not need to give any other explanations. This goes for men and women, people. Set yourself up for success by not walking in to any possible compromising situation.
You're trying out for a part in a play or movie. It isn't unusual for trials to be held in hotel rooms. Movie directors and studios travel all the time, searching for new talent, a certain type of face or personality for a part. Go with a friend or agent. If you show up and there's only one person in the room, leave. There isn't a legitimate movie or play (musical, dance review, whatever the event is) who is going to meet with you alone. There's always a panel. Assess the room from the hallway and leave if there is no one else present. It isn't worth the part no matter who the person is waiting for you in that room.
You show up for a job interview. It's the same scenario. If the job applications and interviews are being held before or after hours, there should be more than one person present to interview you or at least a secretary just outside the door. Dress professionally and if some kind of question is asked or behavior requested that makes you uncomfortable, say " I'm not comfortable with this line of questioning. " or " No, I will not do that. " And then say, "Thank you for your time. " and get up and leave. Better yet, if the behavior is openly offensive, get up and leave without explanation or discussion and report it immediately to the people outside the door. Let the others sitting in the room, waiting for their interviews, know exactly what happened. Ask that the secretary be present while the interview is being conducted, especially if that inner voice of yours is giving you a red flag.
Good fences make good neighbors. My Grandad used to say that to me when I was a kid. He was talking in terms of farm land, crops and livestock. But it's applicable to most situations too. Set boundaries. Be firm inside yourself about how to make your fences easy to understand. Practice your 'NO' before you walk in to any situation.
One of the systems that I use with my horses uses the metaphor, for describing how to apply pressure while learning how to communicate with your horse, " Hair, skin, muscle, bone." It describes the four phases of pressure. You always want to start with 'hair', the lightest phase (which changes from horse to horse, depending on how sensitive they are) to express your wishes. It's the same with humans. Set your emotional, mental and physical boundaries (fences) before your appointment or encounter. Be polite but firm. Make no excuses. You don't have to apologize for being clear about what you will or will not do.
Let's say you're already in a situation and the person with you is making advances. LEAVE. And if they're between you and the door, use your phone. If it's moving faster than that, pick up a lamp, a framed picture, a chair, your shoe (especially if you're wearing heels), and make noise. Hit the walls, break windows, yell, scream, hit the other person. Kick, bite, scratch. Hit them in the groin or grab it and pinch and twist as hard as you can. Bite them on the neck right where the artery is. BITE as hard as you can. Poke their eye out. Don't just touch, poke it and even pull it out. Bite their ear off. Yeah, nasty ideas, but extremely effective. Grab a finger and bend it back until it snaps. Stomp on their instep. Break their knee with a chair. Hit them in the head with anything you can get ahold of. Pull their hair out. AND NEVER STOP SCREAMING. I promise you, the other people in the hotel will hear you. Hotel security will show up. They don't want their rooms trashed or people getting hurt.
Better yet, keep track of your surroundings. Avoid alleys, especially at night. If you love to run for exercise, go out while the sun is up. If that isn't possible, go out with a friend. If that isn't possible, get a big dog. If that isn't possible, join a gym. It's like driving defensively. Set yourself up for success and safety by choosing to be aware and prepared.
Sometimes things are just going to happen. Several years ago I was out riding my bike. I had several different routes that I took for exercise or just to get from one destination to another. It was a beautiful afternoon. Kids were out playing in their yards, people were working on their lawns or gardens. A jeep with four guys in it came up beside me and hit me, knocking me off my bike on purpose. I flew off, falling in to a ditch and rolling. My bike was hit by the jeep and the front wheel crushed. They drove on making obscene gestures and yelling things that made it clear they hit me on purpose.
I had road rash down one side and lost one of my shoes and was completely rattled. But adrenalin hit hard and I was up and running before my fall was complete. I don't remember where it came from but I picked up a rock and lobbed it at them as they went around the corner, hitting the door and denting it. Probably not the smartest thing to do but there were children around. I'm a Mom before I am anything else. I go in to "lion" mode pretty quickly under those kinds of circumstances.
People were very nice. They helped me to sit down while they called for help, brought an ice pack to put on the egg sized lump forming on my head. (That was when I started wearing a helmet for bike riding and horse back riding.) I and some of the people who saw it were able to give enough of a description including the dent on the door, to police and the people who did that to me were arrested and charges were filed against them. One of the boys in the jeep (and all of them were laughing and participating) had wealthy parents who wanted to "settle" with me. I refused. It didn't matter who was driving or who reached out and hit me. It mattered that all of them were part of it and I or someone else could have been seriously hurt.
The point to this story is that I had chosen my route ahead of time. I knew the neighborhoods, was out during the day. I was still knocked off and hurt but there were also consequences to their actions too. And there were people near by who stepped up right away to help. I know that not all of you are in places where that is possible, but you can still be aware of your surroundings. You can take self defense classes. And you can do your best to set yourself up for safety by paying attention instead of walking around with your forehead stuck to a smart phone.
That's a Locust tree. From a distance they're handsome in the landscape. They have a nice shape, are very useful, lovely colors and pretty leaves. The wood is strong and they grow easily. But when you get up close, beware the thorns. Be like a Locust tree. Be strong, be pretty, grace your surroundings, do your job but defend yourself and understand how to use your "thorns". Set your boundaries. Use your voice to say an easily understood, " No. " And remember that you set the terms and locations for any interactions, especially in your place of employment. I've been fired for setting my boundaries, along with four other women in the office. I went home angry and worried but I also left with my head high and aware of the fact that my dignity was intact and my territory was secure. And I found my way to being an entrepreneur too. And my employees were all treated with kindness. They liked working with me because their dignity was supported at the end of the day. They went home with decent wages knowing they could spend their time with their families, focused on them in a positive way.
Good fences really do make good neighbors.
I am, ever yours, Nancy ... wishing that no one ever had to deal with creeps. Set your boundaries!