A workplace assault survivor finds justice

CLAIRE WOLTERS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Content warning: This story includes details of sexual assault that might be upsetting to some readers.

They always ask you what you were wearing when it happened. Not only the people who doubt the veracity of your story, though you can always hear the disbelief in their voice, but also the people who have been through it too.

The other survivors want to compare scars, they want to hear your story because then it’s not just them, they’re not alone in their pain, it’s bigger than them. It wasn’t their fault. Let’s get one thing straight: It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t my fault.

What was I wearing? My work uniform: khaki pants, a polo shirt and tennis shoes. Did it matter what I was wearing? No. My assailant didn’t choose me because of what I was or wasn’t wearing. He didn’t choose me because he thought I was acting flirty that day or acting standoffish. In reality, he didn’t really choose me at all. He chose someone who was vulnerable, a person who wasn’t in a position of power, someone people may or may not believe.

He chose well.

He was my co-worker. Our supervisors chose to believe his story over mine and fired me when I refused to continue working with him. They promoted him a week after firing me. The police chose not to bring up charges against him because it was his word against mine, and maybe I had been flirting with him when I mentioned in passing that I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the police report, my transparency was an invitation that I was now trying to take back.

He also chose poorly.

A worker’s compensation lawyer took my case and fought for the wages that I lost when I refused to work with my assailant. The lawyer listened to my story, believed me and fought for the money I owed in medical debt from years in therapy and a trip to the emergency room after a suicide attempt. My family believed me, gave me a safe place to stay and took care of me as I learned to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Some of my friends didn’t believe me, but I gained friends from all around the world, people who shared my pain and stood in solidarity with me every step of the way. And with the money I gained from my case settlements, I was able to move across the country to Philadelphia, a city I’m so proud to call my home.

It will be six years since I joined the #MeToo movement in September 2012. My traumaversary doesn’t elicit the same feelings of fear, sadness and anxiety that it once did, though I carry the burden of what happened and the aftermath every single day.

Whether it just happened to you or it happened to you a long time ago, I will say again: It wasn’t your fault. I believe you and I will always believe you. I’m sorry we have to meet like this, but I hope that my story will be a light in the darkness, a dim spot on the horizon of your survival.

Ellen Taraskiewicz
Ellen can be reached at ellen.taraskiewicz@temple.edu. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews.

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