We have all seen the news of the several celebrities lately with regard to sexual harassment/assault. For many people like me, this has been a huge anxiety trigger. The flashbacks of what has happened in our pasts and our present haunt us.
I have had several conversations with women and men over the past few months about this. I think we all know that sexual harassment is rampant in our industry. Many of us who are independent contractors and where sexual harassment laws don’t always apply. The fear that if we do speak out, our names, which is one of the main things that our businesses revolve around, could be tarnished.
I recently spoke to a woman who is on the national speaking circuit (she gave me permission to write about this if I didn’t use her name). She, one of the few women that graces the real estate stage, had been sexually assaulted at a real estate conference. The person who did this to her was also someone very well known in the industry. Notably, this is not the first time I have heard stories about the person she accused of doing this. He’s actually known for this. But nothing has ever happened to him.
I want to stress how much this happens in our industry. I can honestly tell you that it has happened to me so much that I actually have some issues with being in the public. For those who know me, you know that I have always been very social. But over the last year since the media began reporting on some of the victims, its caused a lot of therapy work to go down the drain. Things like this plague me.
My history with sexual assault began in high school. I WAS RAPED. This happened the first time I smoked weed. It caused me to black out and I woke up to a person raping me. I managed to get away and I never reported it. My father was really strict and I worried about what would happen if he found out. I’ll never forget the way home that day. Running down the street, with blood running down my legs, running into my house and getting to the bathroom. My step-mother heard me come in and asked why there was blood on the floor and I told her that I had gotten my period and it had leaked through my pants. She had to know that something was wrong. But she never said anything. I had to deal with girls at school calling me a slut because this person told everyone about ‘hitting it’. It was a really horrible time in my life and high school was the worst time for me. Only one other person knows the whole story until now. Let me just tell you how much I am stressing right now even writing this. I got through it but has come to mind over the years in moments when sexual harassment has occurred. I have been stalked by a co-worker in the past, I have been roofied at a bar and I was harassed at a conference. It has happened at work, at real estate conferences, and times when I was out with friends. I worked my ass off through all of this. But it’s far too common for some to not take me seriously. Frankly, I feel like life may sometimes be easier if I wasn’t a woman.
I have been debating my career path and what direction I would like to go. I have had some pretty interesting conversations. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments I have heard. Maybe not sexual harassment but being judged for simply being a woman. For instance, someone saying;
“Well, you must have some guy taking care of you”
“You are a single mom, you know what you need to make.”
“You are young and good looking so I imagine someone would love to hire you.”
“We should discuss your future over drinks.”
I mean….do you know what its like to be judged in this way? When I say I have worked hard my entire life, its true. I graduated college at 19. I later obtained my MBA. I have eighteen years of experience in my industry. I have had a lot of success and I have a full shelf of glass sculptures collecting dust at home. I am confident that my brain is the sexiest part of me. But everything seems like it’s about my appearance.
I have heard the following over my career:
“You should sleep with people so you can get more business”
“I turn the air down in the office so women’s nipples will get hard.”
“Skin to win!”
“Just ignore him. It’s just the way he is.”
“I bet she’s a freak in the bedroom” ( In reference to another co-worker)
“Do you wear ___ lingere for your boyfriend? My girlfriend does”
“You should come to my room so I can tear you up” (at a real estate conference)
I heard the stories where agents sexually harassed someone but because they are a top producer, companies look the other way. Or the woman who worked hard enough to land on some our industries greatest stages but choose not to speak out because they could lose that privilege or worried about the person they accuse potentially still getting hired to speak. I have just been waiting for someone to speak up. I truly wish could myself. But like many in my situation, I signed confidentiality agreements. I have spoken with three different attorney’s over the last few months. Not because I am trying to get anything financial out of it, but because I actually want to speak out and prevent this from happening to other women. I have been silenced and its the worst feeling.
To my fellow victims, I know its hard to get the guts to speak up. I know how traumatizing it can be. But this is clearly the time. This is something we can do together. This has to stop. I beg you to speak up. I hope witnesses speak up as well. Please reach out to me if you are scared. I know that its hard to relive these things. I know its scary worrying about feeding your children. I know when people hear about it, they could blame you. I know even sometimes other women can shame us. But nothing is going to change while we are silent. Nothing changes when criminals get away with it. Let’s find a way, any way to do this together.
PS- Sorry if this doesn’t quite make sense. I had no fun writing this at all.