Darned English traffic, making a 35 mile journey as the crow flies take over 90mins as the car drives.
At least I’m not late, people are milling around two large coffee dispensing thermos flasks. This may be England, but the people in the room are from all over the world. Most ex colonies, most males. I see one excellent fellow that I haven’t seen for ages. He’s clearly pleased to see me, we hug and talk as I unpack.
Making my way to the coffee thermos involves several reunions and finally putting the body to the voices of some people I’ve only ever listened too. One loud boisterous voice announces my name. I recognise the loud volume and personality. He’s been a pain to work with. He says one thing, then I point out an alternative he says ‘that’s what I said’. He’s a bluffer, a showman, a pain to work with, a waffler. He knows some great stuff so you just have to tolerate his waffling to get to those gems. Hearing him call my name, my heart dropped. He pushed through the crowd then grabbed my upper arm and pulled me towards a space.
I was speechless. I’m not used to being dragged around like a piece of meat. I have no idea what made him think he could do that rather than ask me to move to the edge of the group for a chat about our joint work.
I yanked my arm from his grip. I over-emphasized the action to make a point of it. His facial reaction clearly demonstrated that he’d noticed my action and was surprised. Then I walked to the edge of the group and asked what he wanted. I listened to his trivia for a while then found myself an empty seat, on the other side of the room from him.
Later that day he did the same thing and I responded on the same way. Surely by now he’s recognised the pattern and can see I don’t appreciate being touched by him. I wonder if he remembers the company ‘code of conduct’ training which states that you shouldn’t touch other employees except with extreme caution. By this time I’d noticed that he didn’t touch the men in the room. This imbalance was all the more noticeable because I was one of only 3 women in a group of 28.
As I drove home in the evening I reprimanded myself for not saying anything to him directly. I trusted him to understand my body language which would have been clear to anyone watching that I did not want him to touch me. I remember what I’d read about how unreported serial rapists work. The first clue is that they push the boundaries, they test how you react to workout whether you’ll move your boundaries and keep quiet. If you do, then you’re the perfect victim because they can coerce you and you’ll not report it because you feel complicit. By not having realised what is happening, by not assuming he’s a man with a plan you take blame for the consequences. Legal processes and society tend to blame the victim in these cases.
I’m not calling this guy a rapist but he was EXTREMELY CREEPY and behaving in a manner consistent with the behaviours of serial rapists. I decided to forget about it all, except, if he touched me again, irrespective of the context, I would say calmly “stop touching me“.
After a small emergency with the car I arrived late the next day for a group work session. The only girl in a room of 10 people. The only seat available was next to creepy guy. I suspect the other fellows find him annoying too. At one point he had a mini tantrum because no-one was listening to him. Saying out loud “well I’ll shut up then if no-one’s interested“. I was interested in the point he was making so asked him to continue and I took notes – which we later used. Afterwards he leaned over to me, grabbed my upper arm and pulled me toward him. Calmly and clearly, as planned, I said “Stop touching me“.
The room went silent and everyone looked at us, then the conversation continued. Job done. I probably looked like I overreacted but now I have witnesses to my asserting my boundaries with him. I hope I don’t need to tell him again. I’d rather not have to work with him, but unfortunately that’s not really an option. This is a diary of the event and I hope it’s a single entry. But who knows, he looked about 50, his behaviours are probably very ‘fixed’ and treating women as more touchable than men in the work place is probably very ingrained. If so, there could be some follow-up entries and I’ll use them as a record of my perspective should this escalate.