Bringing CASS to the Workplace

People often tell you not to mix your personal life with your work life, but today, I made an exception.

I work at Community Forklift, a nonprofit reuse center for home improvement supplies located just outside northeast DC. The Forklift accepts donations of building materials, antiques, appliances, and architectural salvage, and then makes these items available to the public at low cost. The mission is to “lift up our community” by making repairs greener and more affordable, creating green jobs, and donating free materials to our neighbors in need and other nonprofits.

In short, Community Forklift is fantastic and the “Forklift Family” spirit among coworkers is one of the main reasons I chose to work here; however, sometimes our interactions with the outside world fall short of the ethos that we promote in-house:

“I’ll answer a call, and it turns from ‘What are your hours?’ to ‘Hey, you sound real cute. Are you married?’”

“A woman grabbed my bicep while I was just trying to get a ceiling fan down for her.”

“Customers have gotten mad at me when I refused to give them my number.”

So what did I decide to do? Bring my volunteering with CASS to CF, of course!

During our Tuesday staff meeting, we facilitated a workshop on how to respond to public sexual harassment. Staff members shared stories of the types of interactions they had witnessed or experienced themselves before diving into practicing direct responses to harassment. We also discussed bystander intervention and how to read our coworkers’ body language when they’re caught in tough situations. Our CEO spoke up to add, “This type of training is important to ensure not only the safety of all of us in this room, but also the well-being and sense of community that we build for everyone who comes through our doors.”

Overall, the workshop brought new awareness to the staff and offered those who are often targeted a sense of hope:

“I used to think these interactions were normal and sexual harassment didn’t happen much around here, but I just haven’t been paying close enough attention.”

“I didn’t think that what I went through would ‘count’ because I’m a guy, but now I know that [harassment] can affect anyone.”

“I thought it wasn’t going to get any better than hiding, but after this workshop, I feel like my coworkers know how to better support me.”

Want to bring CASS to your own place of work? Email us at workshops@collectiveactiondc.org!

Workshops are just one way that CASS works to empower people in the DC metropolitan area to build a community free from public sexual harassment and assault. Support our work year round by becoming part of the Collective Action Circle!

“Stop the Silence”: Sexually harassed at work

Location: FAA offices, 12th & Maryland, SW
Time: Daytime (9:30am-3:30pm)

I’m really surprised to see so much buzz about Liz Gorman’s experience. In my experience, when a woman gets groped, nobody cares. Perhaps the difference is that it happened in public, rather than at the office. You see, when it happens at the office, you can’t talk about it because it ruins your credibility. Even if you have a Ph.D. Especially if that Ph.D. happens to be in engineering. Because that means all your coworkers are men. And if you mention something to them, you’re ignored, then ‘laid off’ at their earliest convenience. I know of this happening to three women. One of them is me. The day after a coworker masturbated in front of me, I was fired. I talked to a few lawyers about it, but nobody wanted to take my case. I was a subcontractor and I could be let go without cause. So I produced a web series about what it was like working there. You can see clips at http://BudgetJustified.com. I hope you will forward the story and stop the silence on how women are treated in STEM fields.

Submitted on 7/14/12 by “Lisa Schaefer, Ph.D.”

If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system:
Please consider reporting to Metro Transit Police; www.wmata.com/harassment, on Twitter at @WMATAharassment, or 202-962-2121.

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

“How you doin’, gorgeous?”

I work at a military installation and have always felt safe and respected by my coworkers, other employees and service members at the installation. Until last week. I had dropped off some paperwork at one building and was headed back to my office when I crossed paths with a man who says to me “How you doin’, gorgeous?” This alone wouldn’t have bothered me as much, but it was what he said and did next that infuriated me. As I looked at him in what had to have been obvious anger, he looked me up and down, leering at me, and asks, “Do you need anything?”

I was so furious and I responded with, “How dare you talk to me like that! It’s disrespectful! Don’t talk to women like that. They. Don’t. Like. It.” He looked back at me sort of stunned and continued (thankfully) walking the opposite direction from me. Part of me wanted to follow him and find out which office he worked in, but I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

The other part that enraged me was that there was another man, a little bit older, who had to have overheard this interaction, and just kind of looked at me like I was a crazy bitch when I responded. It reminds me of just how far we have to go in educating our communities on bystander intervention and appropriate ways to support people who are being harassed on the street (or victims of any other sort of crime).

I was thankful for the self defense classes I’ve been to that have helped me have smart little “comebacks” prepared, but I still hate that I always come up with a clever retort hours, or even minutes, later. In this case, however cliche it might’ve been, one “afterback” I imagined was – yeah! i need you to leave me the fuck alone! Afterbacks get me every time!

Submitted by ECR on 2/14/2011

Location: Military Installation

Time of harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.

Groped by a Security Guard

Back in 1999, I was an 18-year-old working for a tech support company contracted to the government. We were contracted for 24/7 support, so on holidays someone had to be in the office to operate the systems and help users who might be there.

On Thanksgiving, I arrived for work and went through the metal detector as usual, then took the elevator down to our offices in the basement. Everything was fine for a few hours — I surfed the web, chatted with friends, and generally just relaxed because nobody was there. In the early afternoon, the door suddenly opened. We had swipe cards to get in, so I assumed it was a co-worker and got up to say hello. To my surprise, it was the security guard from upstairs, a big tough guy. I asked if anything was wrong, and he came around my desk and tried to fondle my breasts. Remember, I was 18 years old. I was also newly out as lesbian, newly in a relationship (which I am still in), and I was all alone in the basement of an office building. I remember everything else crystal clear, so it surprises me that I don’t remember what I did in response.

Somehow, I got him to leave, but I spent the rest of Thanksgiving Day — and the rest of the weekend too — in absolute terror that he would come back. I never reported him, and I never told anyone but my partner and my family (when I saw them for belated Thanksgiving the next day). I wish I had said something. Men who are put into positions of power, especially positions that permit or require them to carry weapons, are far too often under the impression that they can do whatever they want with that power. They can’t. Being trusted with power doesn’t make it okay to abuse it.

To this day, over 10 years later, and about to turn 30 next month, I am still afraid when I am alone in an elevator or other space with a man. If it’s more than one guy, I usually figure that at least one of them WON’T be dangerous, and will help me if something happens, or that a dangerous guy won’t pull anything in front of someone else. But anytime I am alone with a guy, and can’t escape, I am still scared. I tell myself it’s irrational fear, but it still enters my brain. I will never forget that security guard.

Submitted by MMP on 12/1/2010

Location: 810 7th St NW

Time of Harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.

“A fine-looking lady.”

This isn’t something that happened to me, just something I witnessed, but I thought it was the best way I’d ever seen to deal with a harasser when one is at a customer-service-type job. I was waiting to get a permit approved for a sign (lengthy process.) The DC permit center is full of people, mostly small business owners, contractors, and home-owners who are looking to get construction/renovation/Certificate of Occupancy permits.

There is a long curved counter with little stations for each department (Historical, Structural, etc) with a DC city employee at each to look over permit applications that relate to their specific areas. A man was sitting at the structural engineer’s station, when the engineer had to get up to get some form or other. The man had been staring at the woman sitting at the next cubicle, the Historical station, from around the partition.

When the engineer left, the man wheeled his chair back so he could see her better, and started saying things to her in a strange monotone. At first I thought they must know each other, since he didn’t introduce himself and was saying things like, “Oh, what a fine-looking lady, you look really nice today…” She ignored him and moved her computer screen so he couldn’t see her. He wheeled his chair further back, so she pushed the screen aside, looked directly at him and said firmly, “You’re staring at me. This is a professional setting; please stop.”

The man immediately wheeled his chair back to the desk and stared at his permits till the engineer returned. I was awed; the woman had firmly, but politely, shut down unwanted attention from a stranger without even raising her voice. However, I was irritated as it occurred to me that the man probably wouldn’t have respected such a rebuke if it had come from, say, a waitress or a bartender, instead of a city official. I was also shocked to see someone hit on a city official so blatantly, apparently because he was bored.

Submitted by KS on 7/16/2009

Location: 941 N. Capitol St. NE at the DC city government permit office

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.

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