Like many of today’s students, I am a first generation learner. My parents didn’t go to college, and my father never graduated from high school. When I left high school, I didn’t go to college. My first real job was working as a micro welder on an assembly line. My grades in high school were pretty sad because I wasn’t thinking any further than being a micro welder. And frankly, I didn’t think I was that smart.
But I was always a hard worker. So, I worked progressively up to more prestigious jobs over the years. There was a lot of room to climb when you started out your working career in welding. I was a receptionist, then a secretary, then a personnel interviewer, and on and on, but still with little or no college.
In the middle of climbing from the ranks of the secretarial pool, I started working with a placement agency. Through the agency, I was hired at a downtown Los Angeles firm to work at a company called Far East Trading Company. We were importers of Danola Ham. One of the men that worked in the office asked to take me to dinner during my first week of employment. I can’t believe it now but I thought, at the time, it was marvelous to be asked out to dinner!
That night during dinner, after a glass of wine (or two), out of the blue (for me) came the following statement, “Let’s go to a hotel.” I was not a paragon of virtue but I declined politely. He became more and more persistent and then he commented, “If you don’t sleep with me tonight, don’t come to work tomorrow.”
I left and went home.
The next morning, I called the placement agency and explained to my counselor what had happened. She told me to go back to work and pretend that nothing had happened and to avoid him for three months. She promised if I stayed for three months, she would get me a much better job.
I thought, “Why not”? (Not sure I would make the same decision today but that was my decision then).
So for three months, I worked in the importing office, and made sure I was never alone and avoided almost all of the men in the firm. Frankly, I don’t think I had eye contact with anyone. But it worked out. The placement agency and I kept in contact, and at the end of the 90-day trial period, I gave notice and got a much better job.
But I always remember that night, feeling like a caged animal, being treated like a piece of meat.
Part of the much bigger story of my life is that now I have a doctorate degree and am a professor of rank at Brandman University. But, I still remember that dinner like it just happened yesterday.
To anyone who has experienced abuse: I am sorry.
You did nothing wrong.
This is not your fault.
Please do not blame yourself.
I was molested as a child from ages four to nine, and I felt guilty. I felt that some how I had done something wrong. It took a lot of counseling to get to the place where I realized I was a victim of a crime and abuse, and that I had done nothing wrong. I think in some measure, it is the same phenomena where women are abused at work, and somehow they feel dirty and ashamed and tend to keep it quiet. Further, I think the things that we keep "under wraps" are often the things that haunt us in our subconscious. The things that bother us are just under the surface, like a boil. And once we expose it to words and more thought, we realize the truth is that we were abused and didn't do anything wrong.
There is a whole undercurrent of domination that is occurring and has occurred in our country, that kept us voiceless for too long. Many women (and some men) have had life-changing experiences at the hands (and more) of entitled men (and a few women), and it is time that this be exposed for what it is: bullying and abuse.
I know a weird way to look at abuse, and maybe not even healthy (and I never want to give a pass to abusers), but to quote Nietzsche: "If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger."
As I mature and I look back, all things good and bad have shaped me, and both have made me stronger. The bad things maybe even more. I think my bi-polar mother, and my abuse and the neglect in my home gave me compassion, kindness and patience that I may not have gained otherwise. I don't wish for evil for anyone or myself, but I do think that we are the total sum of our experiences and our beliefs and I like who I am today. So, in a philosophical sense "all things led to good."
Today there is an increasing light on women and men who have been abused by those in authority at work. And this day, and all days, we are all working with those who have had similar and much worse experiences.
I don't feel like a victim. I feel like a victor. So now is my time to add my voice to those who have said “Me too”.
Helen Eckmann, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies who specializes in strategies, innovations and supply chain.
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