Reader advisory: Some of the accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault in this story contain explicit details and strong language that some may find painful, upsetting or objectionable.
This fall, after several high-profile men were accused of sexual misconduct, we began thinking about ways to tell the sexual harassment experiences of people in the Bay Area. We launched a call for stories in November, and within days, people began sharing detailed accounts of harassment, assault and rape -- at work, at home or in their communities, at social events and in public.
Some shared in great detail the incidents, like inappropriate advances at school or harassment in the workplace ("I don't feel safe at work," one woman wrote). Some of the abuse was at the hands of strangers, while others reported experiencing it from a colleague or a loved one they trusted.
Almost everyone who completed the survey shared in detail how these encounters have shaped their lives. Some reported leaving the workforce or switching careers. Others shared how an unwanted sexual advance made them forever lose self-confidence, fear or question the motives of others, or embolden them to be stronger.
Most of the nearly 100 respondents were women, ranging in age from 23 to 78. They work in the service industry, tech, medicine, academia, real estate -- the list spans across just about every sector. They are from San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and other Bay Area communities.
"Almost everyone I know has a story," one woman wrote. "I can’t imagine living in a world without this happening."
We’ve decided to use this space to share the stories you’ve shared with us so you can learn about what others have gone through and how they have responded. They are organized, generally, by where the harassment occurred. One woman told us, "It wasn’t until I told my secret did I feel free."
Some of the respondents are named. Others have asked to be anonymous. If you submitted a story and don't see it here, contact us (information at the end of the story).
We have omitted the names of the perpetrators, locations and other identifying information, and we used italics to note where a question was being answered, and boldface for emphasis. This page will be continually updated as we receive your stories.
It happened at work
A company executive makes constant outrageous comments about women’s bodies, brags about the size of his penis, and has offered to double salaries of attractive women to move to his team.
At one point, someone did file a complaint and there was an investigation, and although the investigator found evidence of harassment, the employee was fired and the executive not reprimanded.
I reported it; nothing happened, executives make excuses, HR continually tells employees, “Oh, you just misunderstood, you should go talk to him about it.”
Now everyone is afraid of reporting behavior because they are afraid of being fired. Company morale is suffering, we are losing good people because of this. And the execs just keep covering for each other.
One senior manager spoke out and was fired on the spot. As a result, the rest of us live under this threat, with a sinking feeling of despair that employees are being negatively impacted and we are powerless to do anything. Bottom line, I would not want my wife or daughter working for this company.
To me, the difficult thing is official harassment includes some quid pro quo, i.e., have sex with me to get a promotion.
In our company, it isn’t necessarily that. It is more about executives making degrading comments about women and minorities to their faces, in group meetings and even company meetings. It creates a very hostile work environment, but harassment laws seem gray about this since no quid pro quo is implied.
— John, high-tech, executive/upper management, 53, San Jose
I was 19 and had a summer job at a small company.
Part of my job involved filing paperwork in a wall of filing cabinets. I learned to do that by squatting or waiting until the manager wasn’t around because if I bent over the filing cabinet, I would often find him standing right behind me. He never once made physical contact, and I had never heard the term “sexual harassment” at the time.
One day, my beautiful mother stopped by with a lunch I’d forgotten, and from then on he was always asking me when my mom was coming back.
Not surprisingly, that company went through a lot of people in the job I was doing (it was summer and I was the seventh person in the role).
I didn’t report it because it was just an annoyance and I was young and naive.
I have thankfully never personally encountered anything like that since. I have worked in the high-tech industry for respectful managers and with respectful co-workers.
I had one co-worker who started calling me “sweetheart” and I asked him to stop. When he didn’t, I told him I’d asked him to stop. We were both married to other people and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression of his relationship to me.
When he continued doing it, I told him that his behavior bordered on harassment and he apologized and never did it again. We continued to have a good working relationship after that.
I think all of the publicity will benefit particularly young women starting out in the workplace, so they won’t be as naive as I was. People are seeing there are consequences. Now if only that could extend to the president …
— Michelle, IT consultant, staff, 55, Campbell
At the age of 18, I started working in what was then a male-dominated industry, the restaurant industry.
I worked in the kitchen, and most jobs I was either the only woman -- or one of two. It was "normal" kitchen behavior for men to be sexually harassing. I had to have a thick skin and basically continue to tell people to F-off. I would go through this cycle with each new job until everyone got the picture that I was not taking it.
As a woman, I had to work twice as hard and never show any weakness to be accepted and to advance in the kitchen.
I worked for a French man who didn't think women belonged in professional kitchens, and he would hit me on the forehead if he walked by and I wasn't slicing the apples all the exact same thickness for the galettes. I did not see him do this to any men.
I eventually became in charge of a kitchen and was able to create a female-respected environment where we had no tolerance for such behavior. That was at the age of 44!
I didn't report it out of fear. I was in an abusive relationship and being manipulated.
It has impacted my life in that I am an advocate for other women.
I think most women in the restaurant industry, either back of house or front of the house have experienced sexual harassment -- it is rampant in that industry.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience.
-- Michaela, pastry chef transitioning to paralegal, manager/supervisor, 47, San Francisco
It was the late '80s and I was a 20-year-old working as an engineering aide. A lead trained me and another young woman. Unfortunately, our lead became very interested in me (even though he was married).
At that time, I had no car and rode the bus for transportation. He would stalk me at the bus stop, asking if I wanted a ride home. He was so persistent, so I accepted rides from him several times. At work, he started flirting with me and making suggestive comments.
The other woman noticed he was stalking me and became worried. We decided to ignore him.
The next time he asked if I wanted a ride home, I declined. He became irate and would make crude comments to both of us like, “What’s the matter? Is your tampon crammed into you too hard?” and continue to follow us around work and make suggestive/lewd comments that everyone could hear.
We finally had enough; my co-worker and I reported it to management. They took our complaint kind of serious: I was moved to another department and my co-worker still worked in the same department as the harasser but in a different cubicle.
Everyone knew we reported him and most made jokes behind our backs. My only option was to leave the company and seek employment elsewhere. Three decades later, I’m still bitter about how it was handled and honestly wished I never said anything.
To this day I'm a little uncomfortable around men managers.
A few years back, I was interviewed by a woman and man. The man interviewer told my reference I wouldn't look at him -- only the woman. I never noticed my behavior toward men. I was glad for the constructive feedback my reference shared with me!
-- Jill, tech, staff, 50, San Jose
I had gone to brunch with my mentor, whom I’ve know since I was 15 years old. I am, at the time of this story, 33. Every so often we would go catch up, have a meal and talk about my work and family, him being recently retired, and his family.
We were sitting there and gabbing away (when) he out of the blue said, “Ya know what, I could get you pregnant. It’s the only thing this old man could give you because you are a successful, good-hearted person and able to take care of yourself with your own career. So let me know if you would like to take me up on that offer. … It’s the only way you’ll ever get to have a baby. … You don’t have time to date.”
I was floored, to say the least. I was hurt, shocked and really beside myself. I stopped speaking to him after that. I didn’t know how to look a man in the face after those words.
I didn’t report it because … Who was I going to tell??? His wife or his girlfriend??? I don’t think anyone would have believed this story anyway.
I did later tell a friend and she just laughed it off: "How do you meet these people? That’s so rude of him to tell you, you’re drying up!!!”
My life was impacted by the fact that I felt I couldn’t have a professional and platonic relationship with a person without it ever turning sideways. I do not socialize with people of the opposite gender when I do have work things or when I am invited out by former co-workers to celebrate others' achievements. I just remove myself from the situation altogether.
— Teacher, manager/supervisor, 34, San Jose
Various men (customers, not colleagues) have made comments toward me, unprovoked: “sweetheart,” “nice legs,” “hello gorgeous,” whistling, making kissing noises.
I reported it to a male colleague who has a good rapport with customers and behavior stopped. However, one particular customer now glares pointedly, which I believe is a reaction.
This affected my life/career in that it makes me feel “less than” or like I need to take up less space and sink into the background.
— Marleah, librarian, manager/supervisor
It happened at home, in my community
Raped at 16 by a 26-year-old that I met at a party.
2) My aunt’s husband exposed himself to me at age 10.
3) A couple of boys trapped me in a laundry room and groped me at age 8.
4) Raped in the military at age 21 by an officer.
5) Attempted date rape at age 28, but I fought back and he fled.
6) Raped at knifepoint at age 30 by ex-boyfriend.
7) Raped at age 51 by a fireman that I met at a bar.
8) Physically assaulted and hospitalized by new boyfriend at age 51.
9) Physically assaulted while dating at age 52.
10) Physically assaulted, carjacked and robbed at age 52.
11) My mother was physically and sexually assaulted by my stepfather.
I didn’t report because I was ashamed and fearful of not being believed or retaliation.
It has affected my life or career in thatit has impacted my self-esteem, ability to trust, my judgments, general fearfulness and outlook on the world. My career was impacted during the military and caused me to not re-enlist when I had wanted to stay and retire.
— Mary St. Clair, social worker, Oakland, manager/supervisor, 55
While a 14-year-old freshman, I was raped by my boyfriend. He was a junior at the same high school and wanted me to have sex with him. I was a virgin at the time and not ready for sex so I repeatedly told him, "No."
So he, along with some friends, played a drinking game with me. While I drank alcohol, he only pretended to drink so that he could rape me.
After I was really drunk, he took me into the woods and forced me to have sexual intercourse. I don't remember much except that I was sore the next day. I stopped talking to him and wouldn't return his phone calls. He eventually "broke up with me" and started dating someone else.
I didn't report it because I was a 14-year-old teenager who had been illegally drinking alcohol.
While my life has been impacted by the rape, I don't feel like going into the details at this time. I will say that I worked as a domestic violence/sexual assault counselor for 15 years.
-- Sarah, database coordinator at public agency, manager/supervisor, 48, Oakland
Where should I begin? With the boys in my class that snapped my bra in seventh grade? With the perverted mechanics my dad worked with that always hit on me when I was a teenager?
Perhaps I should share the multitude of stories that have blurred together throughout my life. Or perhaps we could talk about the overt sexualization of women in media and how that has played into my own sense of self, style, behavior and decision-making.
Let's arbitrarily start when I was a teenager and I worked at a pizza place through the latter half of high school. At a company holiday party one year, we were all drinking and hanging out (yes, they served alcohol to minors back then) and late in the evening my manager tried to make me sit on his lap telling me how "beautiful" I was.
Despite all efforts to resist and my clear discomfort with the situation, he physically forced me onto his lap where I sat silently and awkwardly until he was done with whatever story he was telling.
Then there was the guy I dated from age 17-19 and lived with from 18-19, who became an alcoholic and a drug addict. I was young and knew I was in a bad relationship but didn't know how to leave.
As things worsened, I was no longer attracted to him, but he guilted me into sex over and over again, telling me it was my responsibility as his girlfriend. Each time we fucked, I silently complied, emotionally numbing myself so I could meet my obligations. I didn't realize until years later, but it was like being raped over and over.
How about the time I brought my car in for repairs while living abroad and the mechanic offered to ride with me to my flat and then drive my car back to the shop since the repairs would take a few days to complete?
As a student trying to save money, I accepted his offer -- only to be molested on the ride back. Luckily, I had some rather large male friends who came with me to pick the car up when it was done to protect me and get me a hefty discount for my "troubles."
I've seen men masturbate in public while looking at me and my friends.
I've been told by managers not to cry because they don't know how to deal with "things that cry, like babies, dogs and women."
I have a female friend that was raped at the university I attended in South Africa, and she contracted HIV and had to drop out of school.
And this includes the hundreds of catcalls and preying looks of men that have sprinkled my entire adult life.
Given the constant low-level harassment I experienced, I would say that the effects have led me to act a bit oversexualized in my interactions with men, believing that if I'm not pretty or complacent that I won't be liked or successful.
I realize now that I am in my mid-30s that most of my interactions with men in my 20s were unnecessarily flirtatious, that I've developed a dirty sense of humor as a coping mechanism, and I don't fully trust men to ever just be my friend.
I'm in a really supportive long-term relationship now, but I had a pretty promiscuous past, avoiding deep connections, belittling men the way they belittled me.
I can't make direct correlations between these experiences and my career, but I'm certainly not as successful as I probably could have been without the weird relationship I have to men and the constant pressure to be submissive, to "just be cool."
I know that men in positions of power make me uneasy, that I clam up when I have to present findings at work to upper management, and I certainly prefer to work with women and members of the LGBTQ community.
-- Sarah, data analyst, Oakland, 36, staff
I was sexually abused as a child by my best friend’s father for several years. I never told anyone until I was in my mid-40s.
I did intensive therapy and it was the best thing I ever did, as I realized how much it screwed up my life by keeping it a secret. I struggled with relationships and intimacy, and it wasn’t until I told my secret did I feel free.
In addition to telling my family, I also reported it to the police as thankfully there is no statute of limitations in Maryland. This was huge for me as I felt I was finally confronting my abuser.
I didn’t report it because I was afraid and ashamed. I felt it was my fault. I was a young child and none of it made sense.
It impacted my life in that I’ve struggled with intimate relationships. I threw myself into sports and my work to block out what happened to me. As a result, I became successful in my career.
Keeping the abuse a secret impacts victims in very negative ways. You don’t realize how much until you have gone through therapy.
Women tend to become addicts and men become abusers; it’s a cycle that needs to stop.
— Jane, legal/compliance, manager/supervisor, 55, San Francisco
Being a waitress while going to college I have way too many stories.
The first time was with a friend’s father who inappropriately touched me when I was 9. I never went back to that house.
The next time was at camp when I was 12 and the counselor was 17.
I still work in a man’s world and feel the undermining, the lack of respect and the good old boys network around me that is threatened by my abilities.
I didn't report it because I was too ashamed. I thought it was something I did wrong. I did not understand any of it yet. As you get older you either learn how to deal with it or you get married. I did both.
Even though I am in my late 50s, I just had an encounter with a 30-something man who would not go away at a conference. I go to fewer conferences and my husband comes with me.
I have been fortunate to be able to handle the shame, and to be honest, it made me stronger and I began to be more assertive. Sometimes to the point of shocking the person -- who did not see what they did as wrong. I call them out and am very upfront and blunt. I have even more confidence with confronting men who would do this to me and to other women.
I think the most important thing to realize is the shock of men when you confront them -- they laugh or don’t see that they have done anything wrong. They are the ones that need to get training. They see themselves as good people. It is the most important task -- to get them to see that what they are doing is very wrong and bad. It is crucial.
I have a son and you can bet he knows how to behave around women.
-- Educator, executive/upper management, 57
I was gang-raped by teenage boys at my family’s church. They threatened to kill me if I told. I was 9, they were 15. I moved to California when I was in my 20s to feel safe, far away from the Boston area where this happened.
I have a chronic illness of a debilitating thyroid disease from when he choked me. I cannot work despite two degrees. I have complex PTSD and doubt there will ever be justice for me. I live as best as I can and try to be kind to others.
-- Melanie, 48, Boston and San Francisco
It happened at a social event
I was a freshman in college and went to a party with a group of friends from my dorm.
One drank too much so I offered to help him back home; another dormmate came back with us. He (the other guy, not the drunk friend) started to make sexually suggestive and crude comments about what he wanted to do with me when we got back to the dorm. I asked him to stop but he wouldn’t and called me a tease for objecting to it.
My drunk friend was too incapacitated to help. When we got back, the harasser persisted with his crude suggestions and wouldn’t leave, and I was afraid to go to my room alone. I basically stuck with my drunk friend for safety and had to listen to him go on about what a prude I was for not giving in to him; until eventually other people came back to the dorm and I could go to my room with an escort.
The next day I warned another girl about what happened; she told the harasser what I said and he confronted me and told me I had no right to smear his good name with other girls. I had to live in the same dorm as him for another eight months and avoided him as much as possible.
I still see that guy on Facebook through mutual friends and at college reunions and it makes me sick to my stomach.
I didn’t report it because I didn’t think it was something anyone would take seriously; I thought it was part of the stuff you learn to handle when you go off to college as an adult woman. I’m one of countless women who have been socialized to deal with this kind of stuff.
I haven’t been impacted much, but it’s been something I’ve kept quiet from almost all of our mutual friends for over 25 years.
— Cynthia Castro Sweet, scientist, manager/supervisor, 47, San Jose
Nobody has successfully raped me.
When I was 12, a gray-bearded man followed me down the street in broad daylight, begging me to let him get me stoned. When I refused, he said, “Can I at least buy you some ice cream?”
When I was 17, the owner of an Italian restaurant I worked at started laughing and chattering in Italian while he mimed bouncing and squeezing my breasts in his hands. He did this behind a counter, in full view of restaurant staff and customers. I quit the restaurant shortly after that happened, but luckily I have moved on from waiting tables.
When I was in college, a truck full of angry men followed me and my friends around town one night, yelling things like, “I like them TATER TOTS!” and “What the fuck is wrong with you? I gave you a fucking compliment!”
Several years ago, I invited a man I was dating to come to my house. He was drunk and proceeded to aggressively try to paw at my roommate when she walked into the kitchen to say hello. I told him he was too drunk and needed to leave.
He started screaming, calling me a “crazy bitch.” Then he stood outside of my front door, screaming, “I’ll fucking kill you bitches!”
He did this until a passing stranger (who I guess was also drunk) took issue with all the screaming, attacked him and broke two of his ribs. The guy I was (no longer) dating later apologized, but he never really acknowledged how scary and awful his behavior was. Our mutual friends acted like nothing had happened.
A charming young EMT who I met at a rock concert invited me on a date. He bought me a nice dinner at Nopa. He kept pushing alcohol on me, and I was having so much fun that I didn’t keep good track of my intake. Somehow, he convinced me to come back to his house where he convinced me to smoke pot and do cocaine -- things I would normally never do in the house of a stranger on a first date.
He then pressured me for several hours to have sex with him. I was feeling really uncomfortable but too intoxicated to safely leave on my own. He kept saying, “Before you leave you’re gonna suck my dick.” To be honest, I was really scared of the guy. He was very big and muscular. Eventually I told him I was tired and wanted to go to bed.
In bed, he immediately jumped on me. I screamed, “Get the fuck off of me!” Then I ran out of his room. He called after me, “You’re fucking crazy.” I walked home through the Mission to where I was living in Hayes Valley alone at around 4 a.m. The experience really messed with me. To be honest, I believe it has affected my ability to be intimate with people.
A longtime and dear friend of mine grabbed my crotch while supposedly giving me a back rub. I told him not to do that and he apologized. Then he grabbed my crotch again. I yelled at him loud enough that, had I continued, I would have woken his girlfriend who was asleep in the other room.
He refused to acknowledge what he’d done and occasionally still texts me to ask how I’m doing -- as if he doesn’t understand why I’m not talking to him. It’s too bad because we had some good times.
I didn’t report it because I was never actually raped or physically injured. And the one case of workplace harassment was perpetrated by the owner of the company and in public.
— Female, data scientist, 34, Oakland
I was raped by the friend of a guy I was hooking up with when I was very drunk.
I was 20, he was 33. I didn’t find out about it until months later and then it clicked why my underwear was in his friend’s room. This man is a middle school history teacher carrying on about his day as normal. The guy who I had been hooking up with, 31, (who let his friend rape me) would also have anal sex with me when I was very drunk and I would wake up surprised to have a sore ass.
What happens more commonly to me occurs at concerts. Several forms of sexual harassment take place often. One common example is to have my butt or upper leg or the skin of my belly groped by a man as he walks by me.
Another is a man will come up behind me closely so that he is basically grinding on me, yet just far enough where I am doubting and questioning whether it’s intentional. This makes me uncomfortable and I cannot enjoy the concert when it’s happening.
If I am dancing with another girl, I have several times had men googly-eyed forming a circle around us high-fiving each other and making us extremely uncomfortable.
Street harassment of course happens to every girl. It makes me uncomfortable because I like to stand up for myself, but often feel it is unsafe to do so alone on a dark street so I am forced to keep it inside.
I have been followed on my bus route home and now carry pepper spray inches from my right hand on my backpack. The fact that I am encouraged to arm myself against rogue men at all times is a truly disgraceful reflection of our society.
I didn’t report it because of self-blame and because women who report rape suffer even more and rarely do they see justice. Especially when alcohol is involved.
My life hasn’t been impacted by the rape specifically because I don’t remember it. My body has, however, stored the trauma in my ass, so I sometimes have a panic attack and start crying during anal sex with my current partner. We are working through it together.
In terms of sexual harassment at concerts, this affects me by making me feel closed off at concerts, like I can’t wear what I want or dance the way I want without inviting creepers. This happens at some concerts more than others, and the difference is so palpable.
When the men are being allies, it creates a safe space and it is clear that the women are having a much better time and feeling free.
I haven’t heard much from the men’s side: how they are reacting to #MeToo and what they have noticed inside themselves. I want to hear what they are doing to make changes when they perpetrate rape culture and see it happening around them.
— Becca, 25, San Francisco
It happened in public
I have two stories I would like to share.
The first was a physical assault, the second workplace harassment.
When I was 25, I was a preschool teacher at a school in the Outer Mission. One night I was locking up the building by myself. As I was leaving and locking the front door from the street, (the door was in a little alcove), I was grabbed from behind by two men. One put his hands on me as if to hold me in place (I was so scared I didn’t move anyway). The other man put his hand under my coat and grabbed me between my legs. Full crotch grab. It only lasted 30 seconds or so, but it was enough time for me to feel completely vulnerable and at risk.
When they let go, they walked down Mission laughing. They were intoxicated. It was only 6:30 p.m.
I ran across the street and walked parallel to the men on the other side of the street. I was so angry and felt so violated. I wanted to do something.
After about a block of shadowing them, I flagged down a passing cop car. I told them what happened and they had me sit in the back of the squad car. We followed the men and they ducked into a bar when they noticed they are being followed by the car.
The cops go in and bring the two men out in cuffs. It takes 20 minutes for an interpreter to arrive after it is established that neither man speaks English and both are in this country illegally.
While waiting, one officer fills out a report with me. After we are done going over every little detail, the cop informs me that it would have been “better” if the man who grabbed me had made contact with my skin, as that would be an entirely different and more serious charge.
After the report was filled out, I began my commute home for the night, case number in hand. I was told I would have to testify against the men and that someone would contact me “if the case went anywhere.” I never heard a single thing about this case and to this day have no idea what happened to the men.
Another experience I had was a very toxic work environment with rampant sexual harassment.
I worked shortly for a company that connected behavioral therapists with families with children on the autism spectrum. When I was in the interview process, some semi-inappropriate language was used. I didn’t think too much of it.
A friend of mine worked for the company and got me the interview. I was told by the hiring manager that my friend had put in a good word and had said that “I was cool” and “could hang,” on reference to the inappropriate comments. I was being tested to see if I would say anything. I guess I passed because I was hired.
The company was very small and the employees were tight-knit. It was quickly clear that almost every person within the office (excluding my friend) had very inappropriate relationships with each other. Employees were sleeping together, constantly talking about their sex lives and making inappropriate sexual jokes about each other.
The jokes, stories and culture was spearheaded by the CEO. He was the most inappropriate, unprofessional person I have ever worked for. I was so uncomfortable every day. Interactions ranged from the CEO guessing what I “was like in bed” to hosting “staff meetings” at strip clubs on Broadway.
The staff consistently went out to lunches to drink together (with the CEO paying). It was a mess. I was never physically touched or propositioned, but I still felt very uncomfortable.
I was often made fun of for not drinking at these meetings or joining in games like “never have I ever.” I left the job after a few months. I felt like I couldn’t “hang” after all.
In the work situation, I never told anyone how uncomfortable I was because I felt like I was the odd man out, so I left.
As a result of the first incident, I often feel nervous about walking alone at night or locking up at work. I feel like I look over my shoulder a lot more than I should, just feeling like at anytime anyone could put their hands on me.
These are just two stories that come to the top of my mind when asked about this subject. As a woman, I have experienced and witnessed harassment countless times. I’m glad we’re finally talking openly about it.
-- Kate, 28, San Francisco
The content has been edited for format and clarity.
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