PROGRAM W-1722 – Part II

When he left her office, she collapsed in fear and shock and tried to assimilate in her mind what had happened, but it seemed too incredible to be true. She must be imagining it; she must be blowing it up out of context. No executive in his right mind would say the things John said to her. She dials her friend, Louise.

“Louise,” she says with an anguished voice, “I need to talk to someone I can trust. Can you meet me at the coffee shop around the corner?” Fran asks.

“It’s 4:30 now; I can be out of here in 15 minutes, I guess,” Louise replies.

“Okay, I’ll meet you in the lobby,” Fran says as she hangs up. She puts her head in her hands and can feel the tears start to come. As she reaches for a tissue, there’s a knock at her door. Apprehensively she says, “Yes?” and Marilyn, her boss, comes in.

“Just checking. How’d it go today? Any problems?” Marilyn asks.

“Well,” Fran stumbles. “Isn’t there any way you could get him off my back tomorrow?” She hopes Marilyn doesn’t see the fear and anger in her face. More than anything, she hopes she’ll never have to encounter John again.

“I tried. He came by my office saying what a good day he’d had with you,” Marilyn replies, “and when I offered to let him observe some of my other good workers, he said another day or two with you would be best. I tried.”

“Thanks,” Fran replies wearily.

“Fran, are you okay?” Marilyn asks, as she shuts the door behind her.

Fran sends another crisis prayer up: “Lord, what should I say? Will Marilyn believe me or think I’ve just over-reacted? Will I harm my career by reporting that a Vice President has sexually harassed me?” For the first time those words form in her mind.

“Well,” Fran begins, “it was not a comfortable day, let’s put it that way, Marilyn.”

“I know John can be a dirty old man sometimes,” Marilyn says, “but don’t let that get to you, Fran. It goes with the territory. These guys that have been around for a while—well, they’re in a cultural lag, if you know what I mean. To them, a woman is still a sexual object. Just take it with a grain of salt.”

“Well…” Fran doesn’t know what to say.

“Hopefully one more day will do it,” Marilyn says. “That’s enough punishment for any woman. I put my time in with John when I was a rookie. Guess it happens to many of us. Go home and forget about it.”

“Okay,” Fran replies meekly, as she watches Marilyn leave. In a daze she packs up her attaché and heads for the lobby to meet Louise.

Louise takes one look at her and says, “Fran, what in the world has happened?”

“Let’s get out of here, Louise,” and they head down the street to the coffee shop.

Fran brings Louise up to date on how John insisted on spending a few days with her.

“Louise,” she says, “I don’t know if I’m losing my mind, imagining things, or what. . .but I believe that I endured overt sexual harassment today.”

“Oh, good grief!” Louise replies. “What happened?”

They go in the coffee shop and find an empty booth. Fran pours her heart out to Louise, telling her all the details of John’s behavior—his touches, his remarks, and his attempt to pin her behind the desk and kiss her. Louise shakes her head as she listens.

“You’re not imagining things, Fran,” Louise says. “That was classic sexual harassment. I attended a workshop on sexual harassment and I learned a lot; you need to learn, too.”

“What they told us in that workshop,” Louise continues, “is that the goal of sexual harassment is not sexual pleasure but gaining power. It’s a power play. Lots of men, especially men who’ve been around awhile, want to put us ‘up and coming’ women in our place, and that’s the way they do it. It’s their way of telling us to keep our place.”

“But maybe. . .” Fran replies, “maybe I did something or gave him some wrong impression. I mean, is there something wrong with my suit?”

“Fran,” Louise tells her, “you’re falling into a typical response behavior. It’s not dissimilar to that of an abused woman who thinks she’s done something to deserve the abuse. Certainly, you’re dressed very conservatively and professionally, as you always are, but no matter how a woman dresses, no man has the right to harass you.”

“I guess I’ve always thought that if I behaved and dressed correctly, it would never happen to me. I always thought that a really spiritual woman would never have to endure such treatment. But. . .”

“Fran, good, decent women get raped and good, decent women are harassed,” Louise says.

The tears start down Fran’s face. “It’s humiliating and I feel so powerless against him. He’s very intimidating, Louise.”

“Fran, I can come over and talk tonight if you’d like, because you need to take some decisive action quickly,” Louise offers.

“Oh, Louise, thanks so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Fran says, and gives her a big hug as they leave the coffee shop.

“Oh, Lord,” she says to Jesus on the way home, “how I long for those wonderful days of just being a mommy. Sometimes when you work in the world’s environment, you just feel contaminated.”

“Yes, Fran, you’re right,” Jesus answers her, “working and moving in this sin-infected world is not a Sunday School picnic, as they say. But, if you remember, I told my disciples that I purposely left them in this world. You are not of this world, but you are left in it to shine as a light for me.”

“Well, Lord, I need some help in this mess. Please carefully direct my thoughts and decisions. Help Louise and me to stay on track in our thinking and our discussion tonight,” Fran asks. “Please give us wisdom—there I go again, asking for wisdom. I know I’ve worn that verse out in James 1:5, but. . .”

“No, you haven’t worn it out, nor have you wearied me with your asking, Fran,” Jesus interrupts her. “I long to see my followers come to me for wisdom and strength. That delights my heart; you can never over-do it!”

“Thanks, Lord,” Fran says as they pull in the driveway.

Louise comes over and they finally sit down to talk.

“Fran,” Louise starts, “you should do something. This needs to be confronted and reported.”

“Right, and if I do, guess who will be in trouble,” Fran replies. “Not John; me. After all, there were no witnesses, Louise. He made sure of that. Besides, I want to be careful about playing with someone’s reputation and career.”

“That’s very true, Fran,” Louise agrees, “but do you think he was being very considerate of you in the propositions and suggestions he made to you?”

“No,” Fran says, “but I’m a Christian and I don’t treat people the way they treat me. I treat them as Christ would treat them.”

“And I agree with you again, Fran,” Louise says. “But Christ stood against wrong and for right, and he didn’t worry about people’s reputation or hurting their feelings when he knew they deserved his condemnation. He threw out the money-changers from the temple openly and abruptly.”

“Yes, but that was because they were doing something harmful to lots of people,” Fran answers. “In this case I’m just talking about the harm John’s done to me.”

“But Fran,” Louise says, “don’t you believe that if he’s done it to you, he’s done it to others, and he’ll keep on doing it as long as he can get by with it?”

“I believe we should take a stand against evil,” Fran says quietly, “but it’s not easy when it’s your neck in the noose. I did ask Pat to check him out for me, but she didn’t get back to me yet,” Fran says.

And just as she says that, the phone rings and it’s Pat, calling to report that John does indeed have a track record of this kind of behavior.

“You’re kidding! Who told you that?” Fran listens further. She put the phone on speaker so Louise can listen.

Pat relates that in the last three years, two other women have filed formal complaints about the way John talked or acted, but nothing could be proven. He was not officially punished and it was more or less overlooked. But Pat knows for a fact that there are documented records of these complaints.

She and Louise look at each other as they hang up the phone. “See what I told you, Fran?” Louise says. “The man has a pattern of sexual harassment.”

“You know, Marilyn gave me some indication that she’s had the same kind of experience with him,” Fran reports, “but her view was it just goes with the territory.”

“Lots of women have put up with sexual harassment for years to protect their careers,” Louise says.

“Well, now the question is, what should I do?” Fran asks.

For a couple of hours Fran and Louise discuss her plan of action, and agree that step one is to confront John directly and hope that’s the end of it. Louise encourages Fran to put it in writing, keep a copy at home, and mail a copy to herself and leave it unopened so the date can be verified. They work on the letter and finally come up with the finished product.

The letter begins with a detailed, objective account of the offensive behavior, then a description of how that behavior made her feel, and then what Fran plans to do if it continues. She was very clear, and at the end she wrote:

Furthermore, if I sense that my career is negatively impacted by any input from you because of this, I will not hesitate to bring it out in the open. For the good of the company and many other women who have to deal with you as well as my own self-respect, I will not go quietly, John.

You should also know that I’m keeping a copy of this letter and having one time dated so there can be no question of its validity or its timing, should that need ever arise.

She and Louise spend time in prayer for the situation, praying specifically for John, recognizing that he is a man with a problem. Quiet peace settles in, and Fran thanks Louise again and again as she leaves.

The next morning, she talks further with Jesus about her plan of action, and he assures her of his help and his care.

Fran gets to the office early and, shortly after 9:00, John appears in her office.

“Well, Fran,” he says in a cheerful way, “let’s get a cup of coffee to start the day right,” and he starts out of her office.

“John” Fran says in a voice that stops him at the door, “we do indeed need to get this day started right, and that’s why you need to read this.”

She hands him the letter and watches as he cautiously opens it and begins to read. His face gets redder and redder and he looks like he’s about to explode. Then he turns from red to pale white. When he finishes, he looks at Fran and says in a low voice, “This is garbage, Fran. You can’t prove anything.”

“You know it’s not garbage and you know I can make it stick,” Fran says without blinking an eye. Inside she’s a bowl of jelly, scared to death. Jesus says quietly to her, “Ignore those emotions; keep doing what you know you should.”

A long silence follows that feels like an eternity. Finally, John says, “I certainly don’t agree to any of these accusations. You women ask for equal rights and then don’t like it when you get it.”

“John, this is not a question of equal rights,” Fran replies. “I’m simply insisting that I be allowed to do my work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment.”

“Well, Fran, don’t expect your career to take off with this kind of attitude,” John says, as his voice rises in volume.

“Is that another threat, John?” Fran asks. “Are you telling me that I can’t succeed in this company unless I go along with sexual advances?”

At this, John stares at Fran for a long time, then says, “I can see that working with you today would be impossible. I’ll tell Marilyn to reassign me,” and with that he stomps out.

Fran falls into her seat like a limp dishrag as he leaves, her knees buckling beneath her. She’s so glad he’s gone, but realizes he does have clout and he could make good on his threats. She also knows she has done the right thing.

Later Marilyn walks in and says, “Wow, what’d you do to John? He couldn’t wait to be reassigned to someone else.”

“Marilyn, you need to know that I confronted John over what I believe to be sexual harassment which I had to endure yesterday,” Fran replies. “He may try to damage my career as a result, but I had to do it—for myself and all the other women in this company.”

Marilyn looks at her and shakes her head. “You confronted him? Well, I’ll be.” She pauses for a long time, then says, “Good for you, Fran. I should have done it years ago. And just let him try to do you any harm. Not over my dead body.” With that, she walks out, and Fran smiles.