Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Women speaking out: My manager's sexual abuse towards me led to suicidal thoughts and alcoholism



WARNING: This article contains real-life and triggering events. Please proceed with kindness and by putting yourself first if you can't read right now.

They say 1 in 3 women are sexually harassed, but never exactly how many times she is - and believe us, the answer would horrify you. 

A very brave VavaViolet Magazine reader has reached out anonymously to share her story of how she was sexually abused by her manager over a course of many years leading her to a serious drinking problem, depression and suicidal thoughts.

We are very grateful to this individual for being so courageous and sharing their story as in doing so you help highlight the issue to the world of what women and little girls go through daily, you encourage others to speak up, you prove to others they are not alone and it is a weight off of your chest, isn't it?

Here's her heartbreaking story which, most tragically, every single woman and girl in your life likely has a similar one to tell too...

Links and phone numbers are at the bottom of this article if you need help and/or support.

They say it is easy to speak up, or just say something if you’re uncomfortable. Personally, I didn’t even realise it was happening to me and I can tell you, it is not easy to speak up on your own behalf.

A flaw I need to work on is that I’m too trusting. So, maybe people would say this is all my fault, what has happened to me over the last three years but it's not and it is not your fault either if you have experienced sexual abuse in any form.

I know a lot of women go through similar experiences to me and are too afraid to speak up. So I am going to.

It started nearly four years ago. I had just started my new job and everything was so new and exciting. The team I worked with was very male-dominated, with me being the only female. I have always got on well with men so this wasn’t a problem for me. I'm not keen on drama or arguments and consider myself a bit of a tomboy so I found I settled in really well as I wasn’t afraid to get grubby and keep up with the work banter.

My manager was very nice (here I go trusting people again). He’d take me to pick out a new office chair and make my coffees every day. I felt really welcomed into the team. 

It was during the summer when I started and anyone that knows me, knows I hate English summer. The humid, thick heat doesn’t do me any favours. 

I wore pencil skirts with cute shirts tucked in, finished off with a cute pair of dolly shoes. I’d ask my mum for advice before I left, asking "is this too sexy?" Or is it "appropriate for work?”. Why do women do this? Why can’t we wear what we want without men panting at us like a dog in heat?

After a few months, and a very long hard week, I excitingly told my manager I was going out that night with my friends. He opened his drawer and took out his pencil case and slipped me £20. "A thank you for all the hard work you’ve been doing," he said. I didn’t take it. But for some reason, after that, I was made to feel like I owed him the world. 

Spoiler: my trusting self didn’t think anything of it. As time went on, I’d get comments from team members such as "Are you the secret mistress?" and "do you know he hasn’t told his wife about you?". 

Of course, I thought it was just office banter and laughed it off however one day, the bigger boss let slip that his wife really didn’t know about me. Why was this? I shrugged it off as maybe his wife was just insecure. I couldn't help but think, 'Why do we blame women?'

After a few months, I started to open up to him. 

One day, I found a lump in my breast and explained that I needed to see a doctor as I was worried. He hugged me as I sat crying in my chair, stroking my head and telling me it would be ok. 

He has a daughter the same age as me and I thought it was just his paternal instincts. I needed a hug and he knew it. From that day on, he expected a hug from me every morning, calling it a "cuddle". I thought he was trying to be kind because of what I had told him. 

There were days where I’d be so busy and he’d question "why have you not given me a cuddle?". So, I’d get up and hug him. While he’d be constantly looking at the window in case someone would come in. 

Suddenly the hugs weren’t so paternal, his hand would slowly move down to my bum and I would feel a squeeze. "Oops, I slipped," he’d say. We would laugh it off as 'banter' but really I knew it wasn’t. 

Next time it would be my breast or a slap to my bum, again to him it was 'banter'. 

It's worth adding, this was my first proper job and I began to question was this normal? He’d ask me to do the filing just so he could stare at my bum while I was wearing a tight fitted skirt. 

"You will make an old man happy," he’d say before directly insinuating I had turned him on, "I won’t be able to stand up in a second without hiding". We all know what he meant by that. So I never wore that skirt again.

The tight-fitting clothes weren’t working for me clearly so one day I thought I’d come in in jeans and trainers. Surely he’ll get the hint then. I was forced to go home and get my heeled boots. I laughed it off with the team, but he wouldn’t do that to anyone else.

So as well as being very trusting, I am a huge people pleaser and I do everything I can for people to like me. This also means A good trait of mine is that I treat everyone with respect and will be friendly to everyone. 

When deliveries came in, I would go and speak to the drivers. I would offer to make them a coffee or help check what has come in. If my manager caught me speaking to another male and especially laughing with them, he would not speak to me for the rest of the day. 

My manager would make me feel like I had done something wrong. I’d start apologising until he’d say "it’s okay" and give me one of his cuddles. 

One day, we had a visit from someone from another site. I’d never met this man before but we got on like a house on fire. Not romantically, but we just clicked - as friends and new friends are allowed to do. We’d talk about anything, even our favourite crisps! 

If you would like to read similar articles please check out:

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He came back with a packet of crisps for me, a little something which brightened up my day. Boy, did I make a mistake? I may as well have been walking down the street naked with people shouting "shame" at me (Game of Thrones reference alert). 

For the rest of the day, I was shunned and ignored. Pandering around my manager trying to apologise.

Finally, something clicked in my head. I knew this was all wrong. 

Our big boss came in and asked us what we thought about sexual harassment and what would we do if we saw it. 

Now, I believe this company knew my manager had been doing this way before I started. I instantly got a look from my manager, a look that was full of guilt and begging me not to say anything. 

He knew he was doing something wrong and he knew that I realised it too... I lied and said I wouldn’t know what I would do as I haven’t been in that situation. I thought about going to the big bosses office and telling him the truth but I knew they were very close. 

In honesty, I felt trapped and I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. This was my job and I did it well. Why should I have to leave? I was too worried to leave anyway due to the fear of being left without a job or money coming in.

So I started drinking my worries away. 

It made me feel better at that moment but I began abusing it, binging on nights out with friends or binging at home. It’s a cycle really, you drink alcohol to forget and block out the pain, but then start feeling more pain and worry due to its consequences. 

Suddenly you don’t know how to stop drinking. I suffer from depression and anxiety and have an addictive personality. A recipe for disaster. I became angry at everyone, taking bottled up emotions out on the people I loved and cared about the most. My relationships with everyone was becoming frosty and distant, so I started drinking even more.

But... I still went to work everyday, silently suffering with what seemed to be my new normal. I felt like there was no escaping.

Our Christmas do was at a little pub near work. 

I was originally supposed to go straight from work but I decided to go home to change and get my boyfriend to drop me off. When I got there I felt the tension between myself and my manager, he didn’t even look at me or say hello. I immediately became uncomfortable and wasn’t enjoying my time. 

That night I decided I was only going to have one drink with my meal as I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my co-workers. He offered to buy me a drink when I was standing at the bar and I politely declined. 

It was then while I was still waiting to make my order that a male colleague came over and offered to buy me a drink. He was already putting in the order before I could say no. I laughed and said I’d get the next round. 

My thoughts were racing. I couldn't help but think, 'He’s gonna be even angrier now'. 

Laughing away with everyone I began actually starting to enjoy myself but I could see my manager was just sitting quietly and drinking. 

By the end of the night, everyone was tipsy so we all decided to go somewhere else. Our big boss offered for everyone to go back to his to have a drink and listen to some music. He got in the car with his wife, some others got into another car and we took the three-seater van. 

It was just me, my manager and another co-worker who was driving. 

Quickly I jumped in the passenger seat next to the driver. My manager sat next to me close to the window. The van started to move and I could feel his arm going around me pulling me in close, I sat there stiff not being able to move and too frightened to say anything. I tried to make eye contact with the driver for help. 

He started stroking me and kissing my neck. I could smell the stale beer coming from him and I cringed. There was no getting out of this. As soon as we reached our destination he climbed out and I instantly jumped out and quickly ran to the front door of my other boss’s house. 

As soon as the door opened I went in and immediately ran to the bathroom and grabbed a cloth to scrub my neck. I sat by myself for a moment just reliving what had just happened. 

Alcohol solves everything, I thought, as I poured myself a large vodka and begged everyone to do shots. I was a girl on a mission to forget what had just happened. I tried my best to avoid him for the time I was there. He sat on the sofa not talking and demanded one of the colleagues to take him home. Was this because I wasn’t paying him any attention?

The Monday after the Christmas party, I came into the office as normal. There were no good morning exchanges from either of us.

We sat in silence all day until I asked him what was wrong. He told me he would sound silly for saying it. I thought he was going to apologise for what he had done in the van but no. 

This man had the nerve to say he was upset that I didn’t go to the Christmas party with him and he thought I would sit next to him. He mentioned me declining his drink but letting my colleague buy me one. He was making me feel bad for my actions and I apologised. I started to feel even more alone and too embarrassed to speak to someone about what was happening, I was worried someone would blame me and at the time I thought it was my fault.

His son started working for the company and I was told by a co-worker that his son was strictly not to tell his mum that I worked there.

A few months later, I was in the hospital for surgery and was signed off for three weeks, later to be told they employed a temp whilst I was off. He clearly didn’t know how to do my job, even though he’d been doing it before I started.

I received no phone call or text to see how I was, even after being admitted for a week. Two further surgeries later, I was back at work. I was back to work way too soon and everyone knew it. 

Despite being not well enough, I was still made to climb the stairs to the office, to make the coffees and walk them back up to the office. He was annoyed at me for being signed off work for three weeks. As though I asked to be unwell? 

I knew it was because they had to bring in a temp, showing everyone he couldn’t cope with my role and then my manager ended up being suspended for other reasons. 

Finally, I felt safe to come into work. I could finally shine and show the company what I could do. I ended up writing out a list of all the tasks I do, which they weren’t aware of, so I could get a pay rise. That list was three pages long.

He was gone for months but one frightful day, I walked in and he was back. My heart sank. 

The shame, the worry and the guilt came flooding back. However, this time was different. He didn’t speak to me at all. 

He would get someone else to pass me notes with tasks that needed doing. Had I done something wrong by declining a man who was 30 years older than?? I dreaded every day. Soon, he got moved over to another site. 

I left during the pandemic and finally told my family. I was still reaching for the bottle every night and abusing alcohol. My mum supported me and signed me up for therapy the next day.

It has now been four weeks without needing or wanting a drink. I find myself doing other things like getting my sketchbook out in the evenings and having some time for myself.

I’m sharing my experience as no matter how big or small, sexual harassment is still sexual harassment and it affects people in different ways. 

I was suffering alone and felt so ashamed. I wanted to end it all and if I carried on binge drinking I might’ve done. 

Other factors played into my suicidal thoughts but sexual harassment was one of them. 

Please remember, you are not alone. Speak up and talk to your loved ones rather than hold it all in. 

Believe me, talking to others saved my life.



By anonymous VavaViolet Magazine reader.

Edited by VavaViolet's Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Sophie Blackman.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


If you or somebody you know has been affected by this story, contact Alcoholics Anonymous for free support on 0800 9177 650 or email help@aamail.org.

For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.


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