Have you ever read something that took you back to a place in time where you didn’t feel safe? Where you don’t recognize the person who you used because you changed to survive in the moment?
That’s what happened to me this week. I clicked on a link that took me back to April 2014 where my boss sexually assaulted me. Until reading the NPR article about the company that protected my attacker, I had not written or tried to think about what happened to me. I have been so afraid of writing any it because of the possible backlash and blackballing in the industry. Still, it’s kind of hard to worry about this anymore when NPR wrote an article airing out its dirty laundry aired. (You can read what they are doing to this woman here.)
It was April 2014, and I was super excited. After three years of working for the company Olympusat, I was finally picked to go to NAB(National Association of Broadcasters) in Vegas. NAB is probably one of the best conventions you can go to if you work in the broadcast field. They offered amazing crash courses in Adobe Premiere and, After Effects, led by experts of the software among other unique classes, and Olympusat was footing the bill.
However, there was one thing that made me worried. Olympusat had a not-so-secret reputation of sexual things happening on business trips. NAB was different. Unlike those solely meant for team building, like snowboarding in Colorado or sunbathing business trips to the DR, NAB was about learning software. The all-access class tickets cost around a thousand bucks per student, so it was an honest-to-God work function that required us to be well-rested and sober, college days be damned. I remember talking to a coworker, Eren (pronounced AARON), about how I felt uncomfortable traveling without anyone I really knew. He said, “Don’t worry. You have Shawn and Jason with you. You’ll be fine.”
Shawn was the head of my department, and Jason was my direct boss. Erin was right. Besides going with them, I would be rooming with Andrea, whom I worked with all the time. I wouldn’t be alone in a weird place with strangers. I would be fine. To further assure me, he reminded me that I didn’t fit Tom, the CEO’s type of woman. I was white, not Latina.
After it was agreed upon who was going, the HR person, Katie, brought me in to discuss my room arrangement. She was worried since Andrea was lesbian that I wouldn’t want to share a room with her. I informed her I don’t care who she sleeps with as long as we have separate beds, just like I would have if I was sharing a room with a straight female.
On the day of my flight, Andrea was already in Vegas, and not going to lie, I was a little jealous that she was already there. My fellow travelers were Jim, our colorist, and my boss, Jason. I was excited, it was the first time I was going to Vegas, and it was on the company’s dime. Our flight was supposed to leave around 6pm that Friday, but unfortunately, we ended up spending way more time at PBIA than intended. Our plane was stuck in Dallas due to bad weather. I texted Andrea to let her know that our flight would be super late, and I was sad I’d miss the initial day of fun before we had to “work” the rest of the time there.
When the flight from Dallas finally arrived, we all got up and waited for passengers to disembark. And that’s when I saw a familiar face coming out of the walkway. It was my friend Ursula. She had been in Dallas for her son’s cancer treatment and had time off, so she returned home to Florida to spend time with family. After teasing her for making the plane late, I asked her if she was going to see Andre, my future ex-husband, while she was here. She said yes, they already had plans to catch up.
When we got to Dallas, it was late and past my dinner time, CST. While I was eating, I got a text from Andrea saying, “Can’t wait for you to get here.” I assumed because she was around a whole bunch of guys who were complete goofballs and acting ridiculous, she probably needed some female companionship.
The flight from Dallas to Vegas was uneventful, and by the time we got there, it was one in the morning Saturday, and I was exhausted. Andrea met me down in the lobby with Shawn and Christian, the head of the Spanish Networks, and she looked stressed.” Thank god you’re here,” Andrea said, greeting me.
“Have they been like this all day?” I laughed. Shawn and Christian were obviously drunk and being obnoxious.
“Yeah, they have,” she answered, but there was something in her voice that told me it was more than that.
As we headed for the elevator, I asked her, “Are you okay?”
She sighed and shook her head. “Nothing, they were just being stupid.” I left the conversation at that. She was tired and annoyed, and I was about to fall asleep standing up after traveling all day. It was well past 4 am back in Florida, after all. After sleeping a few hours, I woke up feeling well-rested and ready to go, but Andrea was still asleep. Since I was up, I texted Jason. Luckily he was u,p, so we decided to spend the day exploring the Strip. I went to Ceaser’s Palace and a few other places. I don’t remember what casino we had wandered into, but I have a bunch of pictures of these life-like Alice in Wonderland plants. Before we returned to our hotel, I remember telling Jason that my dad had given me money to play the slots. I put in five bucks, didn’t win anything, and that was enough gambling for me.
We went back to the hotel, and Andrea was up. We had to get ready to head over to the convention center while the big bosses went to a pool party hosted by a big-name company. I didn’t care. I wasn’t invited, so it didn’t matter. Andrea and I took a cab to the convention center. I didn’t bring it up the other night because she seemed okay after getting sleep. We checked in, got our name tags, and started to look around. The exhibit floor wasn’t open yet, but we still peeked in. There were booths after booths being set up. I was only able to see a few with giant TVs, and the closet one to the door had a giant drone, which was relatively new at the time. We were jealous we didn’t get to explore NAB and mingle like everyone else since we were here to take classes.
After an intense few hours of Adobe Premiere, we switched over to After Effects and exhausted what was left of our brains. By the time we left the convention center, we had just enough energy to pick up P.F. Chang’s and take it back to our room. We waited there for our bosses, Shawn and Christian, to be done with their business since they were taking everyone out to dinner. I can’t tell you where we ate. It was good, but nothing memorable. The most notable thing from that night was I saw Joey Fatone from *NSYNC.
Sunday was another day of classes, but they were mostly on the use of social media. We decided to skip out and head back to the pool and soak up some sun before dinner.
Sunday night, I wore a dress I bought specifically for this trip. It was a red dress with long, black and white lace sleeves. I felt cute. Andrea and I went down the stairs to the lobby and waited with Yeshua (pronounced Joshua). I was bouncing off the walls with the news I had to tell him. I had just gotten off the phone with Ursula, where she said that Andre told her he planned to propose soon.
Josh and I were about the same age and often talked about our relationships. He was happy for me. This conversation led to me asking how he was behaving in his current relationship. “Alex, you’d be proud of me. I haven’t cheated on her once.”
While we waited for the rest of our coworkers to join us, our conversation drifted to how weird everyone was that we worked with. About how Tom slept with a lot of his assistants and how we thought the current one was pregnant(she was). We talked about how so many women in different departments held jobs they weren’t qualified for. It was no secret that they were placed there so they wouldn’t sue for sexual harassment. I told Josh I didn’t understand how so many girls had slept their way to the top.
Yes, this was the type of environment we worked in. I knew the reason why I was stuck making pennies was that I couldn’t entertain the idea of sleeping with anyone to get promoted. I figured if I stayed under the radar, everything would be okay.
By the time everyone showed up, it was obvious that those of a higher pay grade were intoxicated from more than just drinks. Everyone knew that certain people are the company would indulge while out on vacation/work trips.
Tom had two young-ish-looking blondes on his arms.
“So we’re bringing guests to dinner now?” I teased Josh. “Where’s yours?”
“Alex, they are our coworkers, don’t you remember seeing them?” he teased back.
At dinner, I sat next to the two people I trusted, Josh and Andrea. On the opposite sides of them were Jim and Jason. Shawn and Christian sat further away, and on the opposite side of the table was Tom with the girls and Chelita, another coworker around my age. I was told I could order whatever I wanted, so I ordered one large roll with lobster and another yellow-tail with scallops. We feasted and laughed and gossiped about everything we saw out on the convention floor. After we settled the bill, Tom went off to a meeting, and the rest of us went back into the lobby and got a few more drinks before deciding to go out.
As we walked, I overheard Shawn badly whisper to Christian something about wanting to see my red hood. I ignored him. Everyone says stupid shit when they’re drunk. If you work in TV, you need thick skin. I stayed close to Josh. We found a spot with couches and chairs around a small black table, but I wasn’t ready to sit yet, and just then, a fun song came on, and Josh and I started to dance. Either Christian or Shawn decided that this was an invitation to join in. One of them came up behind me to dance, and I pretended to run away the way girls do at a club when they don’t want to blatantly say, “Eww, get the fuck away.”
When the music ended, I sat down in a chair in front of the couch that seated Shawn, Christian, and Chelita. On the chairs next to the couch were Jason and Andrea. We had all just agreed to go to a gay club, Andrea’s idea, and while we were talking, someone handed me another drink. It might have been from Josh. Everyone was talking and having fun until suddenly they went silent. Shawn hopped across the table and pushed me back into the chair. I couldn’t move, and I was so scared and confused about what was happening. This man, who I trusted, had me pinned down on a chair, and before I could react, or speak, or think, he shoved his small, thin, lizard tongue into my mouth. It darted around before he pulled it out, lifted his head, and bit down my neck. The asshole was laughing. He returned to his seat, saying, “Now you’ve been initiated.”
Chelita sort of cackled and said, “You got off easy.”
No one, not Christian or Jason, moved. Even Andrea just sat there staring at me.
I think everyone was waiting for me to react, but I couldn’t, not right away. It was surreal. I was no longer in my body. I instantly went from tipsy to dead sober. I got up, and before I could mindlessly wander off, Josh stopped me and asked me if I was okay. I shook my head no. Somehow we ended up sitting back down on the chair, and Shawn and Christian started chanting, “Kiss him! Kiss him!” I remember Josh saying, “Alex, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do this.” I pressed my lips on him, and I know he felt my tears, and I said, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t really a kiss, but I faked it because I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t comply.
Why would he tell me that I’ve been “initiated”? This wasn’t a frat. We were coworkers. There are no initiations.
I didn’t want to be in at the lobby bar anymore, I didn’t want to be wearing my defiled dress, I didn’t want to be anywhere but back home, somewhere safe around people I could trust. I wish that someone would have stood up for me or punched him in the face. I wish I had punched him in the face. Instead, I sat there like everyone else, pretending that everything was fine.
When people say they feel inhuman and not like themselves immediately after being assaulted, I believe them. When they say you’re just functioning until you can get out of there, I believed them. Because every single ounce of me wanted to run the moment he landed his hands on me, but I was so fucking scared. I was scared of how brazen this married man, son-in-law of a pastor, father of a pre-teen daughter, could physically and sexually assault me in front of a group of people. I didn’t want to be alone at all at any point with him knowing where I was going to be.
Autopilot took over, and while I was still trying to process what happened, my body went along with everyone else. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want anyone to know something was wrong. I didn’t want anyone to know what was wrong because I didn’t want anyone to possible touch me again. I wanted to disappear into the background and to do that, I went with the group and left for the bar. It was there that when whatever life force that had been fueling me gave out. I pretended to be sick and had them take me back to the hotel.
I was barely through my room’s door before I pulled the dress off and threw it onto the floor. I NEEDED to wear something that he hadn’t desecrated. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth three times, followed by a double shot of mouthwash, and still, my mouth felt dirty. It was then when I saw had a mark on my neck. I paced in that bathroom for what seemed to be forever before finally getting the nerve to call Andre and tell him what happened.
Instead of trying to console me, he freaked out and, for some reason, started debating if he should fly out to get me or simply buy me a flight home. Thankfully Ursula was with him. She was able to talk me off the ledge. I was lost in my internal chaos, I was ready to walk out the door without even a second thought, but Ursula wouldn’t let me do that. Following her advice, I got my shit together: packed my stuff, left a note for Andrea, and most importantly, started to document everything. I snapped a picture of the note I left, and the mark on my neck quickly got out of there.
I couldn’t even sit in my chair comfortably without feeling him on top of me, his hot breath on my face, his slimy tongue… the thought made me want to throw up. While standing over the toilet, I tried to rationalize his actions. Did I ever say anything that led him on? Was he so drunk beyond the ability to rationalize? But the most fucked up part of it all was the look on Chelita’s face when she said, “You got off easy.”
What did that mean?
On the plane, my emotional numbness twisted into a rage. I was flying over the Grand Canyon, and all I could wonder was, “does Shawn’s wife knows what a monster he really is?”
Landing back in Florida was a whirlwind. I already had a text waiting with a lawyer’s number by the time my phone had reception again. I talked to Andre about getting my stuff from my desk and remembered I had actual friends still there, and they were at work. I called my desk mate and had her clear my desk.
The next time I entered that building was to meet with Olmypusat Lawyer. At first, I was offered different jobs, and not a single one of them I was qualified for. When I explained to her I didn’t want to work at the company anymore, she suggested I could work with the marketing and graphic design team, and I repeated that I was not qualified to work for them. Also, that would be the worst place for me since that department works directly with Shawn, and I never wanted to see him again. It wasn’t until the end of our conversation did I divulged that I had spoken to a lawyer. After that, all interactions with her were done over email.
My two friends that still worked there kept me informed of what was happening. Suddenly people were getting promotions. I told my lawyer about this, and he suggested that we file a report with the EEOC (The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). I did, and the EEOC did an investigation, but I wasn’t expecting anything from it. Not only had people gotten promotions they weren’t qualified for? No one was discussing what actually happened in Vegas. Some of the witnesses told the EEOC that they didn’t see anything or that I was lying, which wasn’t surprising. Why would they help me now? They didn’t when it happened, and now they had new job titles. Why would they roll over for someone who was no longer there? I took their answers as they didn’t care what happened to me. All they cared about was still having a job. I told the lawyer I was exhausted and done. I wanted this all behind me and not to ever think about this mess again.
But 6.5 years later, I still know where every single person was that night. I know it was real. Just because they may have said it wasn’t. I know for 100% certainty that Shawn pushed himself on top of me and shoved his tongue in my mouth, and bit my neck.
Being able to write out those 48 hours has been therapeutic, disturbing, and cathartic. I had to forgive myself all over again for freezing. I was assaulted by someone I trusted, and it did not matter that I had spent my childhood and teens learning how to defend myself. To let go of that anger, I forced myself to stick to the facts write out precisely what happened. To revisit it, to disconnect and write out what happened without adding in the emotions and anger, really fucked up my head. I need to be clear about exactly what happened so nobody could contort my words and claim them to be false or altered because of emotions.