There are few things in life more nerve-wracking than a new job. Everything is new. You don’t want to stand on anyone’s toes. You want to fit in and be liked. You want your skills to be valued, and you want to be considered essential as soon as possible. You want that cloud of “have-I-done-this-right?” to lift, leaving a clear, paved way, where you know what you should be doing, and you do it well.
Starting a new job is never easy. But, sometimes, you start and get that sinking feeling, that maybe the job isn’t for you. The dread that the position is the wrong fit. Where you ask yourself, why are they doing that? Or a little voice inside is saying I don’t think I want to do this. Or something happens, maybe it’s just a little thing at first. But, sure as hell, it snowballs.
I started a new job. A new company filled with some great people. The management is a bit male-heavy, but that happens a lot in my industry. I had lots to learn and I eager to show my flair. That cloud of caution was looming over me, and I was waiting for the light of clarity to come through. Making friends with colleagues seemed natural and the perfect ice breaker appeared: end of year get-together followed by the Christmas Party.
Everything started out great. We were all introducing each other to the colleagues who had flown into town. We had a few team sessions. We did some training. We set some goals. All the usual things you do on a corporate day. Upper management had their meetings. When all the office formalities were done, we headed to a restaurant for drinks and dinner. It was lovely. I found myself chatting with a colleague from another office about potential projects we would collaborate on. I was sharing a playlist with another colleague. A few words were shared: “Great year, great team” was the apparent theme. When we headed into dinner, I sat towards the end of the table, next to one of the partners and I sat across from an investor.
Everything started fine. We all talked about our backgrounds, kids, partners, pets etc. Told stories about what we were doing. Everything was super friendly. Quickly though, it became clear that one of the gentlemen I was seated with was a few drinks ahead. By dessert, he had decided we were all going to hit one of the clubs in the area. He had called ahead and arranged for us to be on the door list. He was clearly well connected. He made a few comments that were risque’, but they were also kind of funny.
At one point during the dinner, when we had started to move around and swap seats, I noticed he was speaking with one of the interns, leaning in, almost lingering. When I looked again, one of the female partners had stepped into the conversation. By this stage, he was drunk. He held it together and wasn’t messy. But his jokes were more and more inappropriate, and his stories were outlandish.
As we were leaving the restaurant, it looked like the intern and the rowdy gentleman were getting in the same car. In an effort to “keep everything PG” I walked over to the taxi. The female partner had foreseen the same thing I had, and we both said in unison: “I’ll come with you guys”. In the meantime, a few people had mentioned they were inviting friends to the night club. One of the partners had a buddy with him; some of the directors were texting a few mates. I had mentioned earlier that my girlfriend and my sister were having dinner nearby, and one of my colleagues urged me to invite them along.
When we get to the club, everyone is having a great time. We cut the queue. We have bottle service. Our guests were on the list. Everyone is dancing and drinking. Things were fun, but tame, except for one person. He was far more inhibited than the rest of us, and his conversation was now out of line. He had mentioned wanting to go to strip clubs and insinuated going to prostitutes. I didn’t take much notice of time or just laughed him off. He had stopped paying attention to the young intern who we shared a taxi with, so I was relatively at ease.
I was having a great time, and I was super happy to see my sister and my girlfriend walk in the door. Over the doof doof of the music, I introduced them to my colleagues. So and so from design said hello. The interns saluted them excitedly. One of my colleagues offered them both a drink. They all knew that I am in a same-sex relationship, and none of them seemed to care much. But then I introduced them both to the rowdy gentleman. His drunken eyes almost popped out of his head, and he basically drooled. He immediately looked the three of us up and down and declared that he wanted to have a threesome with us.
Shocked, we exchanged looks between the three of us. I moved us on as quickly as I could, trying to get to the dancefloor. Someone was taking a photo, so we jumped into that. I was determined to carry on and not worry about it, which I did. At some point, he came over to me and said something along the lines of “girls like you just need a good dick”. I don’t even remember my response. I made my way back to the dancefloor and tried to just enjoy the rest of the night.
My earnest wasn’t paying off, though, from there, things started to get out of hand. One of the friends of the partners began to get really handsy with my girlfriend. My sister was not comfortable. The rowdy gentleman was not helping, as he told me again that I needed some dick. We had another round of drinks and called it a night. Outside the female partner was waiting for a taxi with one of the interns, whom she’d offered a crash pad to (some of the interns commute and it was too late for public transport). I already had an uber booked, and as it turned out to be a van, I offered to share the ride with them. We piled in.
My sister and my girlfriend started taking stock in the back of the van. I joined in. “Oh my god, did he actually say what I think he said?”, “He wanted a threesome, but there a three of us so I don’t get how that works”. We joked about whether he wanted a threesome with sisters or a threesome with lesbians. We also talked about a few of the invited guests who were a little forward. The female partner overheard us, and she chimed in. I don’t remember what she said, but we soon pulled up to her house, and she and the intern jumped out.
On my way home though I started to reflect.
What the fuck had just happened. This isn’t just a Christmas party getting out of hand. This is some gross man, who was on every woman’s radar all night as a hazard. The more I thought about it, the more I realised, he spent the entire night talking trash, big-noting himself and making it out like he was some sort of sex god. All of his stories ended with him making a lot of money or him banging some hot chick. Let alone the fact that he had cracked on, in the most grotesque way.
By the next morning, I was having those shuddering flashback feelings that you get when wish you reacted differently, grimacing visibly when I thought about it. My sister and girlfriend were also feeling taken aback. Later that afternoon, I received a text from the Managing Partner apologising for what had happened.
On Monday back at work, I also had an uncomfortable chat with the female partner, who asked if I was alright. I said I was fine. I wasn’t. I wanted the entire thing not to have happened. The reality is it coloured my experience in that workplace from then on. I became super defensive, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could at the end of each workday, which isn’t a great way to start. Though I didn’t have to see the rowdy gentleman again, I was informed he’d been spoken to. I remember scoffing silently thinking “fat job that’ll do”. My work suffered. I couldn’t get anything right. It became a disaster.
Let’s not mince words; my sister, my girlfriend and I were sexually assaulted at a Christmas party. We were touched inappropriately; we were spoken to inappropriately. I have come to this conclusion by establishing several absolute boundaries that were broken.
It is never ok, ever, to tell a queer person that you can somehow “solve” their sexuality by having sex with them yourself.
It is never ok to propose group sex to someone you have met at a work function just hours before.
It is never ok to propose sex to a woman as part of your first interaction with her, especially if that sex act involves incest.
It is never ok to capitalise on a power imbalance and behave badly when the person on the other end is trying to find their own feet.
It is never ok to get a little too handsy with people you work with, even if you’re dancing to Regaton (unless you are a professional dancer).
Though some people might come up with a list of victim blaming comebacks, to defend what happened or to dilute my allegation of sexual assault, it is only with hindsight that I realise the damage that night caused.
I should have walked in on Monday morning and quit. I should have gone to the police and filed a sexual assault complaint. I didn’t. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I didn’t want to believe it. Within a month of the Christmas party, I had a performance review and basically threw in the towel. I wasn’t delivering. I had become really anxious. I didn’t want to be there. I resented upper management, and I lamented any task they gave me. I had a long notice period on my contract, which I had to see out. I did. It was painful and was hard to cope with mentally.
Sexual assault is real and damaging. Pretending nothing happened is a natural response. Doing something about it is really hard. It cuts deep.