(Sketches, by Amy Stanyon – my colleague in prison who drew them to cope)
In 2015, I worked for a private prison. Before I go on to tell you about the severity of the sexual harassment working within this prison let me say this to you on a side note; for a business with an aim to reduce reoffending and make a profit it is a contradiction when it is the very men who reoffend that make the business profitable. A lack of investment in rehabilitation such as education, accommodation, and employment, will ensure that our private prisons are always full.
On my first day, I was taking a tour of the units and I stepped over a turd that had been laid by a prisoner, I was howled at like a dog by a group of men and had a rap sung to me with the lyrics “yes bitch suck my balls”. It was a shock for short while, but my natural disposition as professional ice-queen meant that I was short-lived entertainment.
It wasn’t an easy job, but I understand that not everyone is fortunate and a great majority of these men just need a brighter path to follow. I took the job because I believe education is a successful rehabilitation method. I mentored ex-offenders in 2009 in classes where they gained qualifications to start university and their system was highly successful, and so I really thought this new job was perfect.
Due to many factors overtime, however, my tolerance towards the sexual harassment I was receiving from certain colleagues depleted and they became the very reason why I had to leave. As one colleague pointed out, though, “what did you expect coming to work in a prison with tits and blonde hair”. I could walk amongst prisoners who were locked up 23 hours of the day with only air conditioning for air and artificial light to determine night or day who were able to speak to me in a more humane manner.
“What happened to you? Did you get hit by a bus, thrown out of a tornado and dumped into a bush on your way in?” One officer asked after I had rejected a date (there had been 3 consecutive offers that morning anyone would think they had a bet on…). This led to accusations that I was purposefully luring these men into our office with my siren calls. I am not a mermaid.
When a prisoner asked, “can I suck your cunt,” and another asked “did you change your name on Facebook because it makes it harder for us to find you,” I informed my manager as standard procedure. The very colleague who blamed my lady features on the harassment I was receiving from my manager listened in and said, “oh shut up already. Blah blah blah. No one cares go away”.
Nothing happened with my complaint, as it was undermined by these derogatory comments that are deemed acceptable in this environment. This ‘man’ was not told that times have changed and that he is in fact now working amongst…are you ready for it…women! My boobs or blonde hair as he so pre-historically put it are not the problem here clearly.
I shall say this now – I am not a victim or a weak person, and I coped with this level of harassment.
The most stomach stabbing pain came from a particular encounter, however, which was actually the reason for my breakdown and I stopped being able to cope. It was constant, he sat behind me, and he was supposedly my superior. This led me into a spiral of deterioration, which many will find hard to imagine because I can be such a social butterfly.
He once told me:
“I just wondered what it would feel like if I grabbed you and kissed you.“
“Your smile is the only thing keeping me going and bringing me into work.”
“You were all I thought about while I was away.”
“I can’t wait for you to come to work with a dress on so that I can see your legs.”
This is after he walked up to me arms open and nuzzled his face into my neck.
I have never been a fan of hugs. I don’t hug people. I had never offered them out in the office so I don’t know why he thought I was someone in need of a hug. I know you’re now beginning to understand how the ice queen could work in a prison. I shouldn’t make light humour here, I know, but how else can one deal with such a mess.
When I turned down chocolate cake, he looked me up and down licked his lips and then told my boobs that I could eat all of the cake that I wanted.
When he wheeled his chair so close up against mine that our arms were softly rubbing he whispered in my ear that I needed protecting and he was there to make sure of it.
He enjoyed standing over me so that he could reach my mouse to take control of my computer, and on countless occasions told me that he loves me and my smile. So I stopped smiling.
He told my team that I was being horrible to him and ignoring him and that I had changed. So I asked if he would like me to tell the office why.
The list is exhausting, but to move on…
A colleague and I went for a drink one night and it transpired that we were not alone in our horror story! Phew; someone to prove that I didn’t ask for it. Being told that my friendly disposition and beautiful eyes gives men the wrong idea had me in some serious self-doubt. I spent a rather long time just feeling confused and angry. So if anyone asks why you didn’t report his behaviour to management sooner just remember that manipulative perverts are not explicitly predatory.
I went out out that night, and this became a predominant weekend theme in order to get through the week, but I had been taking anti-depressants to relinquish the anxiety the mounting harassment incurred and overbearing workload. I spent this particular night when I had reached an all-time low on the bathroom tiles sobbing/throwing up/sleeping while Luis told me it would be ok, put a pillow under my head, and said that we couldn’t get an ambulance and a flight to England right now, but he promised we could look at it in the morning. Not long after that I had to go to hospital.
I left the prison soon after and helped my colleague to process a complaint against him to ensure that no other woman would go through the same experience.
She was moved to a dark corner of the prison while they ‘investigated’. They asked two internal employees to conduct this ‘investigation,’ and subsequently had no external accountability. I am not brave enough to comment on the report with all of the silences we have so far had put upon us, or on her side of the story. Having misspelled her name 7 times in the report, though, you could really tell how little interest and care was invested into this investigation.
The case was closed due to a lack of malicious intent. He has endured 0 repercussions except a tiny, minuscule mark on his reputation.
We now have to buckle up and prepare ourselves for a chauvinistic future where perverts can follow a How To For Sexual Harassment and get away with it. The overnight visits to hospital because the stabbing pains have induced you to a foetal ball on the floor, therapy sessions, anxiety attacks, doctors appointments, prescriptions, 24 hour eye twitches and migraines are not enough to prove that you are not making this up. No malice and not enough evidence. He wins.
After months of sitting on the report in bafflement we were told to hold on and wait. Nothing happened. The company dragged it out for long enough that the whole thing conveniently hit a wall as thick as the blockhaus. We told the union about the harassment before this too, but they thought workload would suit a case better, and we were told not to mention any names.
We have no options left to try and seek justice against what he put us through, and so we are closing this chapter and hoping that by sharing this with you all you will be able to see how unjust the ‘lack of malicious intent’ verdict is in this case. We feel better knowing that you know this, because we know that if you’re still reading this you can hopefully see that there is a need for improvement with how cases to do with sexual harassment are handled.
I emailed the Dept. of Correction once more. They told us again that they couldn’t do anything because they were not running the prison. We couldn’t afford an employment lawyer. We went to the Human Rights Commission. She had the ‘evidence’ and my case was worse, but they couldn’t put the two together and we were unlikely to win. So, I contacted the Minister of Corrections, Hon. Judith Collins, but she can’t delve into internal matters, but I should expect to hear from the DoC shortly. Shortly is turning into yet another long time and when the DoC to get back to me it will be to say that they can’t concern themselves with this matter. The DoC have actually been very professional and they’re not wrong in their response. They were far greater at ensuring I was safe when on the units than before, and took the claims seriously.
Imagine the frustration; silenced from all directions, no one to turn to only the hope that the fight in us guides us to the right person. Why are we the ones being told to go to anger management and seek therapy when it is the very men like this pervert who should be going to a ‘How to Not Be a Pervert’ class? Why is it this hard for women in New Zealand to come forward against sexual harassment in the work place?
It has taken a year to write this. So here’s to the moment I have been waiting for: