Personal Finances and Sexual Harassment

TG = teen girl

Last week, I found out that a teenage girl I know quit her job at a restaurant because she was being sexually harassed by the owner. He was married, had children, and was twice her age. I’m in contact with many teen girls because of my position as mother, aunt, high school teacher, and church member,  but I won’t identify who this person is in relation to me. I’ll call her TG for “teen girl”. TG is lovely, and I was profoundly outraged by the details of her experience, particularly since I personally know the restaurant owner involved.

Here is TG’s story of sexual harassment:

A promising start

A high school student, TG had a part-time job she didn’t like. The workplace atmosphere was sterile and cold. She was trying to save up for post-secondary schooling though, and she liked having money to go out with her friends too.

TG found out that a restaurant nearby was hiring. The place was small, cozy, warm, and casual. She really hoped she’d get the job. And she did.

The first few shifts presented a tough learning curve, but before too long, she had it down pat. TG grew into her role as an efficient, pleasant server. She learned how to deal with busy times, cranky customers, needy customers, and the multi-tasking that came with take-out orders in the mix. She learned how to manage debit, credit, and cash payments. She cleaned and even cooked.

TG gained the confidence that comes with learning new skills and being liked and respected. She was earning twice as much as she had at her previous job because of tips.  “You’re 100% now!” her boss (the owner) told her. “You’re part of the family.”

The rationalizing begins

By this point, TG knew that her boss was having an affair with one of the waitresses. It was not hidden, and it was casually accepted. This didn’t sit well with TG. The owner was a married father, and the waitress was more than 10 years younger than he was. TG dealt with it by thinking (as most of us do when we know there’s a workplace affair), It’s none of my business. It has nothing to do with me.

Soon TG was further invited into “the family”. The boss offered drinks to workers on their shifts. Wine, shots of harder stuff – and joints to pass around as long as the back door was opened. TG was under-age, but she too was welcome to put back a shot. She did, and it helped her get over her initial shyness in dealing with customers. Being included in the ritual made her feel grown-up.

Trouble in “the family”

The waitress in the affair with the owner broke it off. She’d found a boyfriend. The quiet privileges she’d been receiving  – like too much pay – ended. The owner started to find fault with her work and her character. “The family” wasn’t so cozy anymore as there was gossip, conflict, yelling. The waitress told TG she quit. The owner told TG he’d fired her. TG was just glad the drama was over.

More rationalizing . . . and more . . .

The compliments came on strong (and who doesn’t like compliments?) “You’re beautiful.” “You’re going to be running this place before long.” “You’re my best waitress.” But somewhere, it all took a turn. “You’re sexy.” “I can’t wait to see you in a short skirt in the summer.” “I’ve booked a hotel room New Year’s Eve. You should come by.” There were odd comments like, “If you’d had a boyfriend, I never would have hired you,” and TG remembered that right at the start, he’d asked her if she’d had a boyfriend.

She had grown adept at rationalizing the situation as it deepened. The work-place affair, the drinks, the joints, the gossip, the yelling, the evident lies . . . She accommodated more and more. I’ll gently refuse, she thought. So she laughed as she said, “No thanks” to invitations – and as she distanced the hugs he tried to give her – and as she pushed away the hand travelling too far down her back.

When she realized her pay was too high, she let her boss know. “You get special treatment. You’re the best waitress.” It left her feeling an uncomfortable combination of flattered and creeped-out. But the job was still great, and the money was too.

The ugly end

“You should have come to the hotel. We all had fun,” he told her in the New Year. “You and I could have got together.”

That was it. She said it loud and clear: “I will never have sex with you.”

Her pay went back to normal. Her boss became frustrated with her work and her character. He started to yell at her. Words like “slow” “stupid” “retarded” “handicapped”. To her friends and family, TG seemed unhappy, distant, preoccupied. She had trouble focusing on her school work.

Last week, she quit her job.

The aftermath of sexual harassment

Now what? Anger, fear, confusion, Why didn’t I see it earlier? self-blame. No law was broken (apart from serving alcohol to a minor and smoking joints). Standards weren’t respected, but what proof was there? Others have been harassed, and others will be harassed. TG was quickly replaced. “When it’s hot in the summer, will you wear a short skirt?” was the first question the owner asked a pretty girl who applied for the position. She said she would. She was hired.

What lessons has TG learned?

  • That the world is still biased against women.
  • That good looks can be powerful but also dangerous.
  • That you can’t trust charm.
  • That there are snake pits all around.

These aren’t bad lessons to learn. They might make TG stronger and more insightful going forward. But there are worse things she might take away from this experience. Perhaps she’ll have a hard time trusting men in general. Perhaps she’ll be reluctant to look for another job. Perhaps she’ll scale down her hopes and dreams because working hard and being competent don’t seem to matter.

Sexual harassment: an impact on personal finances

And since since this is a personal finance blog, let’s state the obvious: Sexual harassment has impacted TG’s personal finances. She was paid more money in an attempt to groom her for sex. She quit after being verbally abused for refusing – and now makes no income. It just sucks.

Multiply TG’s story by the countless other women who deal with sexual harassment at work. The women who need that money desperately. The women who don’t have TG’s confidence to refuse. The women who can’t see it when they have passed the line in the steep descent of their rationalization. And those who feel depleted, unmotivated, depressed, and ready to give up on their aspirations when the wake-up moment comes.

It’s just ugly, unfair, and infuriating all around.

Any comments?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

31 comments on “Personal Finances and Sexual Harassment

  1. So sad to hear this story, but I know it’s all too common and I appreciate that you covered the topic. It’s just awful that sexual harassment can carry on for a long time with no one else knowing, or knowing how to intervene.

    As a teacher I gave a student a detention for sexual harassment. He didn’t touch anyone but his behavior was inappropriate. I got harassed for issuing this detention. The father came in, berated me for not knowing what harassment is (!) along with a number of other untrue, irrelevant accusations. And the kid’s principal just sat there and let him. I wish I would’ve stood up for myself more, but I was only 21 and it was my first quarter as a teacher. I just wanted it to be over. Fortunately that principal was let go at the end of the year because he was not doing his job across the board. It’s so unfortunate that when you stand up for someone getting harassed, you may be harassed as well.

    1. What an awful thing for a 21-year-old teacher to go through! Especially with the principal just sitting there. Your story is unfortunately typical in terms of the backlash and passive bystanding that too often come with an effort to bring sexual harassment to light. Thanks for sharing it, Kalie. There are no clear answers, and it’s SO frustrating.

  2. It’s a tough, tough lesson for a young person. I feel for TG. I hope that she learns to spot bad potential in a work situation a little more easily now so she can extricate herself before it gets bad next time. In the meantime, I hope she’s getting the support to put her psyche back together so she’ll be ready to try work again.

    1. You are bang on, Emily. The only light at the end of this tunnel is the possibility of greater confidence in discernment. And the only priority is TG’s mental well-being.

  3. So sorry to hear that TG had to deal with a terrible situation like this. Not a learning experience you’d like to face, but sounds like she handled it well. It’s certainly a fear in the back of my mind for my daughter.

    Recently a friend shared a story of harassment in the work place by her manager. When she raised the issue, it was swept under the rug and she was transferred to a different department. This all at a large company, and just leaving this issue out there to happen again.

    1. Your friend’s story is just the sort of thing that drives me bonkers. Turning a blind eye to it; remaining in denial of it; avoiding confrontation – and she’s the one to get moved out of the picture. How is that even remotely a solution?

  4. Speaking 30 years into the future, I have something to say to TG. She is wise well beyond her years. When this happened to me, I was 23. I didn’t handle it as skillfully as she did. I quit my job, no notice, and went home. Did that mean he won? Maybe, but I doubt it. The laws of the universe are always in play. Be strong TG and move on. He will tip his hand too far at some point and the house of cards will topple. In the meantime, she might consider an anonymous note to his wife. She is in danger of STDs and anyone could be the snitch since everyone knows it.

    1. I also think that TG handled it all remarkably well. You didn’t do too badly either. You knew you had to get out of there, and you did. I also believe this guy is so brazen that he will eventually go so far that even the law will notice. (There’s some cynicism in there.) I wouldn’t recommend informing his wife. I strongly suspect that poor creature already knows.

  5. Probably because I’m a guy these two topics have never crossed my mind except when watching a movie. It’s a shame this happens and she made the right decision, despite the short-term hardship. Thankfully TG still has her reputation, which is more valuable than money.

    In college I used to hear the saying, “Money lost, Money Earned. Reputation lost, never regained again.”

    1. Unfortunately, the reality for women is that usually these men are only too willing to make you lose money (firing, shorting pay, etc) AND your reputation besides. They have no problems with telling everyone that they did have sex with you and go on and on about the supposed “relationship” and all the ways you were terrible.

      In the end, women are abused at the time, for getting away, and especially for reporting it. I’m aware of a sexual harassment case that’s playing out in one of our communities right now and the harassed woman has been getting stalked, death threats, rape threats, and the whole gamut for reporting her harasser. There’s really no upside to any of this.

    2. In response to what you have to say about reputation, Josh, one of the really unfair aspects of this ugliness is the double standard involved in it. Women are shamed far more than men for equal and even less sexual indiscretion. I agree that TG showed great self-respect through her ordeal – which will hopefully end up increasing her confidence and earning her the respect from others that she deserves.
      Revanche, the story of your friend’s harassment and the responses to her efforts to bring it to light are infuriating. How can she move forward? What are people supposed to do with the anger, fear, and frustration stirred up with such injustice?

  6. Yep, that sounds like a typical skeevy restaurant manager/owner. Not that they are all like that, I’ve worked with some great upstanding ones as well, but man, the owner/manager types act like they’re God inside those walls. I haven’t been harassed to that degree – but definitely had lots of inappropriate talk/suggestions and general creepville situations with some managers I’ve worked for. Meaning in the 7 yrs I worked in restaurants it happened with 3 different managers… And that’s coming from a guy!

    Females definitely have it worse in many situations, but restaurant jobs can be the worst. That’s great that TG stood up for herself and didn’t succumb, and at least she can use that experience to find another job. Hopefully in that new job, she won’t deal with the same type of harassment, because as I said, a lot of the paces I worked for were great and none of that went on, but it just takes 1 bad seed.

    As far as telling the wife, those are some tricky waters to tread into. Granted it could come from anyone as most of the other employees knew, but it is still a dicey situation to put herself into. They could have a semi-open marriage for all we know.

    1. OK, so this happens to men in the restaurant business too. Thanks so much for sharing that, Mr. SSC. I’m sorry you had to deal with creeps too. Like you, I hope that TG manages to find a good, safe work situation. I wonder what can be done to make the restaurant industry less oppressive and prone to harassment?
      (And I agree with you about not telling the wife – at least in this case.)

  7. This makes me see red. Poor TG should NOT have to go through life knowing how to avoid skeevy, unscrupulous and horrible people like that owner. But she has to, and we all have to, because at some point in our lives, women will be harassed. It happens every day.

    It also makes me see red that lots of people act like this is just to be expected. It shouldn’t be, and if there were actual consequences, socially if not legally, then maybe this wouldn’t be as much the norm.

    But it is the norm. People hear reports about harassment and usually the first reaction I see from the general public is blaming the victim as if anything she said or did would justify that kind of slimy and rotten behavior. But when women are seriously hurt or killed, because harassment had turned darker, then we’re asked why we didn’t report it. *disgruntled sigh*

    There are good people and good employers out there but it’s just infuriating how bad the bad ones are. This has a serious effect on our finances. This is one major reason I have always put such emphasis on saving and financial independence. After working for a harasser boss when I was paying off the family debts and supporting them, I swore I’d never be in a position where I couldn’t afford to walk away from such horrible people again.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to have the opportunities that I did to build that foundation and walk away.

    1. Revanche, you feel as I do. I have noticed that the different people who have heard of TG’s experience have had very different reactions. The whole “It’s just the way the world is” reaction bothers me the most. As a society, we’ve managed to change the ways in which we deal with many ills – so why can’t we change in response to sexual harassment? I believe we can – we just don’t – or at least haven’t. I’m sorry that harassment is in your personal history, and I applaud you for responding to it in strength as you did.
      Schools have looked at research on bullying, and one thing that stands out is the power of bystanders. If they confront the bully – not with fists, but with assertive statements like, “That’s not fair” – there is a remarkable decrease in the bullying behaviour. Perhaps the same would be true with sexual harassment. If bystanders spoke up more in the moment, maybe the harassment would decrease.
      I know for sure I’ll be speaking up more. At school this week in the library, I saw a boy touch a girl – not sexually at all – and I could tell that she was uncomfortable with it. I asked her if it had bothered her, and she sort of shrugged uncertainly. I respectfully told the boy not to assume that it was OK to touch girls as he had. He was surprised, but said “Sorry” to the girl. She was gracious with him about it, but more surprising to me was the immediate increase in her confidence. I knew she was grateful. No shrugging uncertainty when she left the library. She looked straight in my eyes with a big smile and said a clear, “Bye, Miss!”

  8. This is *definitely* overgeneralizing, but:

    One thing I’ve noticed over the years in my acquaintance circles is that it is often men who call out poor behavior of other men. I think because, like Josh noted above, they’ve never had to think about being harassed or coerced based on their gender – so when it becomes obvious, they don’t hesitate to speak up.

    Women, on the other hand, are groomed from birth in our culture to be submissive, so they will support each other directly but aren’t as likely to speak up due to retaliation being very probable.

    (again, all generalizations based on my personal acquaintances)

    And for those of us who consider ourselves non-submissive — pay close attention the next time you walk in a crowd. How often, as a woman, do you ever so slightly adjust your position to avoid bumping into someone walking toward you? If that person is male, did they change their course at all? There are fascinating studies with lots of video evidence that women in the U.S. almost always move out of the way of men, who don’t move off course, without anyone realizing that’s what is happening. It’s subtle, and because it’s not intentional it’s something we wouldn’t necessarily equate to a demonstration of power but that’s exactly what it is.

    (I find the differences between genders and how they play out culturally in different societies interesting, both the good and bad aspects). TG’s story is extremely maddening but is sadly extremely common. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced harassment in some form (thankfully not always as blatant as TG). Good for her for leaving, and if something this awful was going to happen in her lifetime I’m glad it was early enough in life to regroup and hopefully learn how to detect and establish healthy boundaries and relationships. As well as rebuild her finances!

  9. A fellow teacher talked with me about the whole “women move out of the way” phenomenon, and ever since, I’ve noticed that I fit right in. I find it very uncomfortable to call out bad behaviour. For me, it’s the imperative of politeness that’s such a powerful force (good Canadian that I am). I’ve consciously made efforts to overcome it, and I’m glad to report that politeness and calling out can work together.
    Like you, I hope that TG’s experience ends up making her stronger. I think there’s a very good chance that will be the case.

  10. Sending many hugs and prayer TG’s way. Having had to deal with this myself as a younger woman, I get it. But it’s not just a problem against women. When I worked in the banking industry there were several high powered women that did the same to men. And a friend of mine, her husband is dealing with it currently. He’s told her in no uncertain terms that he is in love with and devoted to his wife and to God, but the challenge is just too much for her to resist and she keeps coming on to him. It’s a lust problem, not a man problem, and it’s so sad that it is so very prevalent in today’s society.

    1. Thanks for that example, Laurie. I think I have never really seen an example of sexual harassment by women to men. (And I assumed – perhaps wrongly – that the harassment Mr. SSC experienced was by men.) I wouldn’t say it’s just lust on its own. It seems to be a corrupting power latched onto lust. Clearly, by your friend’s example, some women with power are just as corrupted and lustful as some men with power. Equally ugly. I hope your friend managed to escape that situation.

      1. Oh, good point, only one was a guy and he was way more understandable and non-harassy after I brought it up. Evidently he didn’t realize how strongly, overtly, and consistently he’d been flirting with/harassing me, but he was way better afterwards. The other 2 were women and were more like Laurie’s friends example. They did not like rejection and then lorded it over me – it was crazy. Yes, corrupting power latched onto lust would be the best way to describe it. 🙂

  11. I, too, think TG handled this with dignity. I wish her the best going forward.

    When I was a young waitress, I was sexually harassed by the night manager. This was just before Anita Hill; I had never heard of sexuall harrassment. I told no one. Then it happened to another waitress. She told her father, who told her to file a complaint with the state Labor Board. She and I talked to the other waitresses, and we decided to walk out if the manager was not dismissed. Thanks to my friend and her father, a humiliating situation turned into an incredibly powerful one.

    1. Oh, that’s a great story! And pre-Anita Hill? A whole lot of things had to go right for that situation to work out. I’d like to know more. What the manager dismissed? Did you all walk out? Thanks so much for shining a bit of light into this discussion. Elements of you story could serve as a prototype for others – like TG – in dealing with their situations.

  12. I think the girl who wrote the big story of having an FU fund was dealing with harassment at work. I think this is a good enough reason too. Obviously every circumstance is different, but it goes to show you that you need to look out for yourself first!

    1. I don’t know the story you’re referring to, but I can see how a FI fund can serve as an FU fund if you just need to quit because of harassment. If just sucks that it’s the victim who loses income instead of the perpetrator.

  13. In the business world, at the last place I worked I noticed how many male managers talked over my female coworkers and I in meetings but did not interrupt other males, even those without PhD s. Not harassment but it revealed their attitude towards us.

    1. I too think of harassment of women as being part of a continuum that includes the lower value some places of work ascribe to contributions made by female staff – despite their position and qualifications. I’m glad you’re not working there now! And I hope that in your current situation, your voice is being valued as it should be. Thank you for your comment, Jacq.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *