(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – Sexual misconduct. It happens everywhere. Homes, schools, workplaces.
If you go out to eat regularly in Warrensburg, there’s a chance that I’ve brought you food. In the past four years, I’ve worked at five restaurants in town. I was either sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at four of them.
I was 17 years old when I started working in the service industry. I wasn’t as outspoken as I am today, so the first time a man made an inappropriate comment about my backside, I didn’t know how to use my voice and tell him he had crossed a line.
I thought being cat-called, brushed up against – accidentally of course – and objectified was just something I was supposed to deal with as a server.
The men who made me uncomfortable became regulars at the restaurants where I worked. I would deal with this attention and abuse at least once a week.
One man would come to my workplace and just sit there. Sometimes he would get something to drink, but for the most part, it felt like he was just staying there to watch me work. I would go over and politely say “hello” and have a brief conversation about something meaningless.
It made me feel uneasy to say the least.
He did this enough times that I finally mentioned it to my boss. They responded by saying there was nothing they could do about it.
Nothing they could do, or nothing they cared to do? I was stuck being stared at until he finally got bored and decided to leave me alone.
Another man openly asked me about my sexual history the first time I ever served him. The kicker is that his wife was sitting next to him. She didn’t react at all to his question. I’m guessing this is because he had done this before.
That man also became a regular, and I had to bring him meals for about a year.
Another man added me on Facebook after seeing me at work. He was cute, so I added him back, and we would have nice but brief conversations.
Shortly after that, I found out he was engaged, so I stopped talking to him. However, this didn’t stop him from sending me a picture of his genitals after he had been drinking one night.
He came into the restaurant I was working at about once a week for several months, but my co-workers had known about the incident and made sure I didn’t have to serve him or his fiance. Yeah, he brought her with him a lot of the time.
Other men have been handsy, grabbing my backside, touching me when I was facing the other way or even awkwardly hugging me for entirely too long.
Most of the time, it was customers who did these things to me, but there were a few times when coworkers made me feel this discomfort.
One of my co-workers followed me to the back of the building during a shift one night. As our boss walked by, my co-worker grabbed me and kissed me very forcefully out of nowhere and then my boss and him walked away laughing. I stood there confused, feeling powerless and wondering what the hell had even just happened.
I couldn’t even report that instance to my boss because he had already seen it and it seemed like he was in on the joke.
I wish I could say that these are the only times when I felt disrespected and harassed, but there are countless stories like these. It’s painful to think about the amount of times I wished I was anywhere but at my job – a place that should be safe for a college student to make some cash.
These stories may seem like harmless jokes or situations to be in, but the truth is, I felt objectified most of the time I was trying to make money to pay for my education.
I’ll admit that I could have probably avoided some of these situations. I could have ignored these men, yelled at them or quit my jobs. I didn’t though. I was passive and allowed people to treat me poorly.
I won’t let it happen ever again. I won’t let anyone treat me with less respect than I deserve. I won’t be passive the next time I’m sexually harassed.
Monday was my last shift ever taking beer and burgers to grabby and demanding men – I couldn’t be happier. I’m graduating college, starting a fantastic job in journalism and moving to a new place, but all I can think about is how happy I am that I won’t be a waitress anymore.
I’m thankful for what the jobs I worked in college did for me. I made friends, connections and memories that I won’t forget; I just wish some of those memories didn’t include a drunken man running his hand down my ass while his wife, oblivious, sat across from him eating her pasta.