When I Learned My Daughter Was Sexually Harassed At Work

by Lisa Benson
A woman working and being sexually harassed by a man who's touching her shoulder
Scary Mommy and baona/Getty

As a professional woman in the corporate world for the last 20 years, I’ve experienced plenty of #MeToo moments.

As a 17-year-old high school senior, I worked in the shoe department at a large department store. While all of us working rushed around one Saturday morning, an older male manager used a ticket gun to place a pricing sticker on my butt. I brushed it off as good fun.

As a 28-year-old communications director, I attended my corporation’s Christmas party. The president of the company stood next to me at a high-top table. I had a wall on my right. On my left, his body pressed tightly against mine from thigh to shoulder. Thankfully, one of the other women at the table MOVED the table so I could escape. I rationalized that he had too much to drink, and it was a complement such a powerful man hit on me. (So sad — I know!)

The list goes on…as a 33-year-old, I started a new job at another Fortune 500 company. The first day on the job, the Vice President gave me a giant slobbery kiss on the check with a warm hug. I thought about what a great leader he was for being so welcoming. (Gross!)

Last week, when my daughter was the receiver of repeated, unwanted physical contact at her job, I took notice, but I didn’t know what to do. I went to trusty Google to search for “my child is sexually harassed at work,” “teenager sexual harassment,” and other similar terms. I was disappointed to find very few resources.

As I stumbled through this new parenting situation, I found it helpful to:

1. Help define and understand what sexual harassment is.

Harassment is not about flirting, not about having fun, not about being welcoming. It is a show of dominance over another person. It is about taking another person’s power away.

2. Reassure them they are not to blame.

My daughter feared she did something to provoke the behavior. I assured her she did nothing wrong. Her shorts were not too short. Her lipstick was not too pink. The people to blame in her situation were the perpetrator and the manager who failed to stop it, even while witnessing it.

3. Empower them to stand up for themselves, without fear of reprisal.

My daughter was afraid she would be fired if she reported the situation and feared being yelled at by her manager. Yes, she could have gotten fired or yelled at, but she didn’t.

4. Be ready to step in.

My daughter is 14. While I wanted to empower her to stand up for herself, I ultimately decided that it was my parental duty to step in. More than that, surely my daughter was not this guy’s only target. We had a responsibility to speak up.

5. Allow them to leave the situation.

After I talked to the main director about my daughter’s experience, my daughter was hysterical and afraid to return to work the next day. While I have always encouraged her to be responsible and fulfill her commitments, I fully agreed with her that she could call in sick the next day.

6. Plan a safe re-entry strategy.

I worried that my daughter would not want to have a job after this experience. Luckily for her, she was scheduled to move to a different department the following week. She received reassuring phone calls and emails from her direct supervisor and others. She returned happily the next week to a fresh start.

With no clear road map, I was transparent with my daughter — I didn’t know the right thing to do. I had doubts that I was over-reacting, that I was making it worse for my daughter. Now with this experience in the rear-view mirror, I think I did OK. My hope is that the next generation of would-be harassers will be stopped sooner than later. That the next generation of would-be victims will own their power and clearly say “No more. Not today.”

We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners,) daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook pageis here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all.)