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never too old
by lucy lediaev
11.16.11
general

I never thought I’d be dealing with sexual harassment at the age of 67. Recently, I moved to a new community, and I’ve attended a number of senior events to meet people. I’ve met many kind, generous, and polite men and women. However, there is one old guy—88 years old—who does not understand that “no” means “no.”

During my years in the corporate world, I attended many workshops—both for staff and for management—on prevention of sexual harassment. I also had to deal personally with sexual harassment. I also had to mediate or mitigate occurrences of sexual harassment when I was a manager.

I remember one event in the late 1970s before sexual harassment was discussed in the workplace. I had to go to work early to the registrar’s office at a major university. A Veteran’s Administration advisor was housed within our offices, and he was the only one there when I came in. Although he was married and his wife was due to give birth soon, he prided himself as being quite the lady’s man. That morning, he backed me into a file cabinet, where I could not easily move away from him. I was raised with two younger brothers who quickly grew bigger than me. My automatic response was to punch this guy hard in his rather ample gut. He never bothered me again.

Later, when I was working in a software company, I was a witness to a married manager with a drinking problem making suggestive remarks to a pretty young employee. He was also calling her at home and stalking her. After an investigation by the human resources department, the company quickly took action—suspending him and requiring an alcohol treatment program before he would be allowed to return to work.

One of the things I learned over the years is that the target of the unwanted behavior has a responsibility to make an attempt to firmly stop the behavior as soon as it occurs. A quick and strong response can often stop the behavior without the necessity of escalating the issue within an organization. Of course, I would never recommend physically assaulting anyone—unless there is no other recourse. A strong message indicating that the unwanted language, touching, staring, or stalking is unacceptable often stops the behavior cold.

A few days ago I found myself counseling another woman in her 60s on how to stop unwanted behavior. The 88-year-old man lives in the same senior apartment complex as she. He has been stalking her—hanging around the door to her apartment, inviting her over to “help” him with fabricated needs, and, finally, grabbing her and kissing her on the mouth. Despite her words, he has persisted. She had been strong in her rejection of his behavior, and it had quickly escalated. Finally, she lost her temper and unloaded on him verbally. Finally, he has backed off and, for the most part, is ignoring her. I asked her why she had not told him firmly that his behavior was unacceptable when the behavior first started. She answered that she had not done so because he is “old.” My response was that old age is not an excuse for unacceptable behavior.

This man is a widower. He is both articulate and physically strong. He does not exhibit any signs of memory loss or other indicators of dementia. He does seem to be a bit lonely, but he has family nearby and access to many senior activities—both at his apartment complex and across the street from his home at the local community center.

Now, he has shifted his attention to me. He has already invited me three times to visit his apartment and see his parakeet. I have politely declined. I am the driver to a weekend dinner dance, and he will ride with me and two other, somewhat older, women, who live in his apartment complex. I hope I have been sufficiently firm in telling him that I am not interested. However, I doubt he has fully received the message. I am anticipating that I will have to walk him away from the dinner (our group has an assigned table), and let him know unequivocally that his behavior is unacceptable. I do not want to embarrass him in a social setting, and I certainly do not want to punch him. Nonetheless, I think it is time that he gets the message that sexual harassment is not acceptable anywhere, anytime, or at any age!


ABOUT LUCY LEDIAEV

A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

more about lucy lediaev

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COMMENTS

juli mccarthy
11.16.11 @ 11:19a

His "parakeet"?? So that's what the kids are calling it these days...

On a more serious note, sinc ethjis is not a workplace situation, what legal recourse (if any) do this man's victims have?

lucy lediaev
11.16.11 @ 12:59p

Juli, that's a good question. The woman who has been grabbed and kissed against her will can go to the police and report assault, but because of his age she has chosen not to do so. She lives in the same senior apartment complex as he, and she finally threatened to go to the apartment management and he backed off. A couple of incidents reported to management would probably have him evicted--another outcome she did not really want for an 88-year-old widower. Taking action is really difficult in this case.


[edited]



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