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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Taking It Too Far

Back in the 90s, I worked for a guy who took his sleazy gestures that one step too far.

From 1990 through to 1995, I worked for a real estate company. I worked with some great women who gave me so much support and sound advice at times. However, one of the Directors - although supportive and encouraging of my work also - never failed to make me feel slightly uneasy.

It's not true (even though the common thought that it is so) that all real estate agents are "sleazy". They are not. I can attest to this, as I worked with some really great agents over the four and a half year period I was in the industry. However, if any agent could give real estate agents a bad name, it was ex-boss, Jono*.

Jono was probably in his late forties when I started working at his real estate firm. I was about 18 when I started there. Fresh faced and eager to get stuck in to it and impress my colleagues and bosses, my eagerness to impress Jono was no different. He seemed a fair boss. After all, he even employed his ex-wife as a Property Manager, and he was kind to us all. His partner was older than me, but younger than he was - and so very nice. I felt bad for her when I soon realised that Jono was a huge flirt. HUGE. There's no better way I can think to say this, other than that Jono had tickets on himself, and no one really escaped his attempts to charm them. Including me. 

He started by making sly, slightly crude comments to me. I would just laugh it off and roll my eyes in exasperation. I never took it seriously. I figured this was just 'his way', and that he meant no harm. 

One evening at a work dinner, and seated next to Jono, the conversation turned to exercise. I made a comment that I didn't really do any formal exercise (at the time), and Jono placed his arm around my waist, squeezed me close to him and said, "Hmmm, Jodie. You don't need to work out. You're a lovely little thing." And then his hand moved down to my behind, which he squeezed and then patted before adding, "Oh, I'd forgotten how good a young, firm arse feels." 

I shifted uncomfortably and attempted to smile, but I felt extremely uncomfortable. At the time, being about 19, I didn't think it was my place to say anything. Sexual harassment certainly wasn't discussed in my work environment, and I figured that as Jono was my boss, I would just have to learn to laugh it off. After all, until that night in the restaurant, it hadn't gotten physical. I figured, this was just a one-off. He'd had a little too much to drink, that's all.

After that night, the comments and gestures continued, but for the most part, I thought them fairly tame. 'Just an "old guy" trying to recapture a bit of his lost youth,' I reasoned with myself.

Then one late afternoon, just as the offices were about to close for the day, I got a call from Jono asking for a key to a property he was selling. I grabbed the key and raced downstairs to the Sale office on the ground floor. As I approached the glass door to the Sales office, I saw Jono standing on the other side. "It's locked," he called out. "Just push the key through here," he said, pointing to the slot in the door for key returns. I did as he asked, and as my hand reached through the slot, key in hand, Jono grabbed it, and pulled it towards his groin. With his hand holding mine, he pushed my hand in to his groin briefly and made some remark like, "Oh yeah!" Then he laughed.

I didn't find it funny. At all.

I quickly pulled my hand away, dropping the keys as I did. Jono laughed and picked up the keys before waving goodbye, and turning and walking away. 

After that incident, I found Jono's gestures and comments far less amusing. I couldn't help but feel a bit of a sucker. I still today like to think that he just didn't realise how inappropriate he was behaving, but after the key incident, I knew what he was doing wasn't right. In fact, a male colleague once witnessed Jono making some comments to me, and said, in front of me, "Jono - you've got to stop that. You're going to get yourself in to trouble some day." He was quite serious and upset witnessing Jono's behaviour. And yet, I still, for the most part, chose to just ignore it.

After I left the firm, I heard that another young girl, whom I had helped employ, had found Jono's behaviour quite unbearable, and had eventually left. When I was told about her situation, I felt sick to my stomach. I should have said something to her. Warned her. In fact, I think up until that point, I had assumed that my situation was different, and he wouldn't necessarily do anything like that again to anyone else. How could I have thought that? Denial? 

I should have known. 

I'm not sure if she reported him, but from what I heard, she was quite upset about it all. I can only imagine how he treated her. I hoped and prayed (and still do today) that it was nothing more than what I had experienced myself.

I haven't seen Jono for a long time now, nor am I in contact with anyone who knows him these days. As time has marched on, I have come to realise more and more how unacceptable and inappropriate his actions were. I just hope he eventually realised that what he was doing was so very wrong, and that he stopped using young office girls as his pawns for pleasure. 


* Real name not used.

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