I think everyone, or almost everyone must have a Me Too story. I know men and women who’ve been touched up, harassed, stalked, assaulted or raped. It’s never been a case of asking for it, or dressing provocatively; it’s about power, intimidation and a distinct lack of understanding about boundaries.
I have several Me Too stories, but the one which affected me the most and gave me PTSD happened in 2009. At the time I was working in a hospital. I was assaulted by a mentally ill man who I was trying to get to a different hospital where he could get the help he needed. Instead he trapped me in a clinic room and put his hands all over me, whispering filth and intimidation into my ear. My flesh crawls just thinking of it.
It was a couple of hours of my life I’ve tried very hard to forget. I speak about it infrequently; it’s not a secret but it’s an incident I tend to talk about in a nonchalant way, to try and make the horror of that afternoon much less than it was.
The incident was very much brushed under the carpet. He was whisked off by security and deposited in an ambulance, never to darken our door again. I was made a cup of tea and told to fill in a report. Nothing was ever done about it, I was encouraged not to take it further. I was told things like this happen all the time to nurses so I was making a fuss about nothing. They told me to put it to one side and get on with my life.
I tried to forget but I couldn’t.
Over the next few weeks and months I developed PTSD symptoms. I swallowed them down, ignored what I could and tried to normalise the rest. All of which were the worst things I could have done.
When my husband and I got pregnant some months later, every instinct I had to protect the life inside me kicked in and my PTSD and anxiety went into overdrive. I’d walk through the corridors of the hospital measuring my breath to keep the panic down. I’d be physically ill at the thought of being duty manager that day and putting my unborn baby at risk if I was attacked again. I was hyper vigilant and scared the whole time at work.
I sometimes wonder what I could have done differently. Was I dressed inappropriately? I don’t think so. My work wear would usually make Pauline Fowler look glamorous. Did I encourage him? No, I was friendly and helpful but it was my job to be friendly and helpful. I stepped back, moved away, did what I could to indicate his attentions were unwelcome. I said no, I said stop. He didn’t.
It was not me, it was him.
Did he do it because he fancied me? No, I don’t think so. He did it because he could and because I was new and unsure and easy prey and he was very ill. I can almost forgive him. Almost.
Ultimately it was my employers responsibility to protect me and they didn’t. It was their job to give me aftercare and make sure I was ok. They didn’t. There was a lot of wrong and not much right about the whole situation, which is a shame.
There should have been a slightly happier ending for me, but there wasn’t. After I finished my maternity leave I went back to work. The daily panic attacks returned but were much worse. I went off sick with stress and knew working there would be impossible. I had an incredibly unsupportive new manager who bullied me out of my job, and that was it, my once promising NHS career was over. Over because a man put his hands on me and triggered a course of events I couldn’t control.
So yes, me too.