Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Step by step harassment

Today I was harassed by a person in the shop.

I find that it is important for me to share this experience, because even though I have worked in sex shops for numerous years and have been hit on multiple times, it never stops affecting me. I am an advocate for safe spaces and respecting others, and am very passionate about sex worker rights. I believe that sex workers deserve the same respect as any other "normal" occupation, and that harassment is not something that should be brushed off. I've had a few people tell me that since I work in the industry, I should get used to this type of treatment.

I will never get used to it, and I will never be silent about it happening.

Here's my story:

Guy comes into the store and asks if it's okay for him to be in here. He is a local "street person" who hangs around the downtown shops asking if any of them would like to have their windows cleaned. He carries window washing equipment with him, hence why we call him "The Window Washer." He has been in the shop a few times before, and is known to go into the back book section, read a little, and then leave. The last time he was here he told me that he liked seeing all the people in the store, but especially couples. While his comment did register as odd, I didn't think anything past it. This time when he came in, he went straight for the register that I was at. He smiled and commented on how I looked, which I passed off with a smile. Then he started looking me up and down and asked what time I got off work. I told him that wasn't an okay thing to say and he smiles and laughs and says he's kidding and I should know that. I am taken aback, as this guy is usually harmless. He tries to get my name out of me, and I try to shut him down but am extremely flustered since I was caught off guard. He laughs and walks over to the book section.

I am going to break in here and make note that anyone can get caught off guard, no matter how much experience they have with sexual harassment. Even though I tend to consider myself a tough cookie when it comes to handling sex remarks during work, it doesn't always happen the way I plan. Sometimes I crumble under pressure.

I see that there is a middle aged woman already in the book section and I get worried that he's going to talk to her in the same manner that he talked to me. My co-worker is also looking concerned, so we both walk around the area to keep an eye on him. As I am standing in the middle of the store, he walks over to me with his hand in his pocket and says he has something for me. I actually find myself stepping backwards, preparing myself for either a knife, or his penis. He knows I look uncomfortable and shocked, and smiles. He takes out a pen and then motions on his hand that he would like my number while smiling at me. He moves in closer, and I finally gather myself to tell him that he is being inappropriate and I am not okay with his behavior. He looks puzzled and says "What, you don't like nice guys?" He stumbles away and I move to go back to the register so that I will have a counter in between us in case I need to do anything. I notice while walking that he is following me, and I make a loop around the store just to make sure. Yes, he is definitely following me. Suddenly he turns around and walks out, leaving his belongings in the book section. He returns a minute later to grab his things and makes sure to come very close to the counter so that I know he is there.

I find myself feeling like I didn't do enough. Like I needed to throw him out, or tell him off. That I should do better next time.

In reality, I do not have to do better. He does. I am not to blame for this incident. I should not have to feel guilty about my reaction to being harassed. Just because I work at a sex shop, doesn't give him the right to hit on me or make me feel uncomfortable. I am a fucking sex worker and a person. I am not your target.

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