Saturday, December 7

TAKING A BOLD STEP TO SILENCE NO MORE



 “I have been dying in silence. I have tried to find ways to share my story but have found it hard to trust anyone”, said one young woman in a closed interview, on her experience with a boss who is a sexual abuser.  

Some years back, a young lady called Sheman (a name chosen for the purpose of this essay), was recruited at one of the most prestigious Law Firm here in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Where, she worked as an administrative assistant for one of the country’s top ranking attorney. By then Sheman was just 22 years old and had just had her Advance Levels Certificate (A/L) but couldn’t enroll into the university because her parents couldn’t afford to pay her fees.  

Sheman was raised in a devout Christian home. Growing up, she was taught that sex before marriage – is a sin. At 20, she was still a virgin and vowed never to engage in any act that would destroy her relationship with God. 

Her dreams have always been that of an innovator, creator and inventor. At home, school, wherever she was, everyone knew she never loves doing the easy things or ‘works considered for female’. At a very tender age, Sheman had begun challenging gender stereotypes – both at home and out of home.  

Passionate and zealous to further her educational career, Sheman needed to generate income. So, she began searching for a job and after several turn down, Sheman finally had her first job offered as an administrative assistant at the prestigious law firm.
When she was granted this opportunity, Sheman said: “I prayed and thank God for having heard my cry and answered my prayers.” 

But “little did I know”, she added: “While I thought it was God, it was the devil that stole my joy and happiness”.

In her own voice and words, Sheman says:

“Just 3 days after my recruitment – I remember sitting at my desk and typing. And directly opposite to where I sit is the door to my boss’ office. I recalled clearly all what happened that day. It was around 9am, on a certain Wednesday. Everywhere was quiet and cold. The weather was beautiful. Our office was clean and fresh too! I loved the serenity of that day. I knew all was well and that I was going to love my job.
But one thing I didn’t see was that – I was with the devil himself. 

That same day, my boss came in and on his way to his office, he stopped by my desk – vividly he looked through what I was typing and smiled. Then shake my chic with one of his right fingers.  When he did that, I thought and felt probably, he was just been nice, friendly or gentle. I also smiled back at the gesture. Then, continued to type once he left.  All was fun! I didn’t know what harassment or sexual advances meant…

Minutes after that incidence, he called; I abandoned all what I was doing and went into his office.

So humbly, I asked: “sir, you called. Is there anything I can do?”

Again, he just smiled, sitting there at his rolling arm-chair, steering at me to the face and tapping gently the table with his designer pen; while, I stood at the other end, opposite the table facing him – waiting to get his orders.

In there, I noticed I had suddenly developed ghost pimples all over my hands. Suddenly, started feeling scared. I was so scared! I don’t know where that frightful feeling came from.

At times, when I sit and reflect I ask myself whether it was because that was my first time working or was it the sight of his authority and power that made me feel so intimidated or were my other senses warning me against the job excitements?

While there, I couldn’t even look at him. All along, I spoke faced down, crossing my hands behind my back.
Still standing and him saying nothing, he left his seat, came real closed to me and pad me at the back. Then he asked: ‘how are you doing today?”

In a trembling voice, I responded: “I am fine Sir!”

Again he asked: “are you sure?”  “Sure you are fine!” he said while touching my breast, robbing his head on mine and telling me to ssssshhhhhh (that be silence)

Oh good God! That was my first time, I was having a man getting so intimate and closed to me. I felt so helpless and confused.

And that was the beginning of an unending act….

That was it! The beginning of my nightmare. Each day, each time, my boss calls for me into his office, I know it’s not just work. There are days I will leave home in a dress and return in a skirt and blouse or a different wear, simply because he got into a fight in the office and my buttons or zip went bad and he had to replace my dress… It continued for several months, until, one day, he called me to his office and offered me a gift and asked me to open it in his presence and try it on. I thought it was something like a bracelet, necklace…something basic. Behold they were underwears…some ‘G-strings’.  
When I opened it, and realized they were underwear. I told him, I can’t do such a thing in an office. It was weird! I gave him all the excuses, and how it was time consuming for me to try 12 panties. But he insisted and I also maintained my stance on No!
He kept insisting and then I just got up and told him: ‘you know what Sir…I am done!” then I said: “No No No No and No” several times while walking to the door.
That was the day; I made a decision – to finally leave. I dammed everything, the money which I wanted to save for my education. Inasmuch as it had not reached the amount I wanted. I told myself: “It’s enough!”

Normally, I was put on a payroll of 50 000 frs/ month for the 1st three months and to a subsequently increased to 150 000frs, but what happened was each time, I reject his sexual desire, my pay drops…at one point, he paid me 25 000frs.

Broken Silence finally

I have been dying in silence. I have tried to find ways to share my story but have found it hard to trust anyone. Until, recently when I decided to share my story for the first time in years on the press.

Having read through other peoples stories, many of whom have had worse experienced, some far more painful than mine. I took the old step to speak up

Even though my perpetrator is free and is still out there enjoying his life – and probably continuing in his malice acts on his female employees. I know one day, he will be brought to Justice. And I hope that my story inspires and empower many girls/women subjected to same situation to be strong and to find the strength to say No to any of such advances from employers. 

I used to think, if I say No, I may not meet my goal which is to save for my fees but I was wrong. It was just an illusion. The 8months spend at that firm was 8months of torture and misery. 

Today, I am a business woman, and I have a bachelor’s degree and hoping to pursuit my Masters and PhD. I didn’t sponsor myself through the petit saving from the firm. So, if I can. I strongly believe you too can!

In my prayers, I hope for that day, when men in authority who use their power to abuse women will be called to justice”.

 Seventh in the #KnowHerStory Series 
This story has been carefully investigated. Friends to the victim interviewed to confirmed the story. But for some reasons and also for Sheman's safety and security, she requested her name be kept anonymous as well as the name of the firm.
Unidentifying the perpetrator is not a decision by me but Sheman's. she asked me not to and that I respected. Hopefully, someday, she finally denounces the names of her perpetrator.