When I was 19 years old, I worked for a hotel as a front desk agent. As you might expect, a lot of weird stuff went on in the hotel. There were undercover cops sent in to bust a bunch of prostitutes, a guest was arrested in the lobby as the suspected gunman in a shooting, a patient who had escaped a nearby psych ward had a breakdown in the at the desk… These all made for good stories, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. There was one guest in particular I want to tell you about – for the sake of this story let’s call him Mr. Tovar.
Now Mr. Tovar was a weird dude. He had an eccentric and loud personality. He was a 46 year old businessman from Virginia, often in the area for meetings at his company’s headquarters. And to spend time with his sugar baby, of course. As he was a regular and he liked to talk quite a bit, I learned some things about him. He was married and had two adolescent children. And yet he would spend way too much time at the front desk to flirt with all of the female staff members. He told the most immature, crude jokes and overall acted in wildly inappropriate ways. Unfortunately, back then I didn’t know how to react in uncomfortable situations like those he put me in. I didn’t even know I was “allowed” to. I did just what I – and many other women – believed was the way to act: look away, maybe smile or laugh, stay quiet but probably don’t say anything. You don’t want to come off as rude or offensive. Mr. Tovar often would suggest that I become his sugar baby, that we should spend time together when I’m not at work. I politely turned him down every time. He didn’t seem to get the message.
I usually worked the evening shift which was about 3 – 10 PM. Because he was a regular, Mr. Tovar was well aware of my closing shifts. I was wrapping up my shift late once, around 10:30 PM when he came down to the lobby. He stayed at the desk while I did all of my closing duties and tried to make conversation. I hardly engaged with him at all. I gathered my things to leave and he offered to walk me to my car. I said “No, thank you. Goodnight, Mr. Tovar” and got in the elevator. He slipped in right behind me as the doors closed. The employee break room and time clock were in the basement through a locked door. I told him again to go back to his room and to please leave me alone. He turned as if to leave, so I headed towards the employee-only area. I punched in the key code and he pushed past me and burst through the door. At this point I was really scared. It was late, no one was around, I didn’t even have cell service to call anyone. I was alone in the basement with this guy. I yelled at him to leave. He waltzed up and down the hallway saying that the “employee-only” rule didn’t apply to him. That he’s above that. I told him that there were security cameras and he said “I know”, looked right at one and waved. After I kept yelling at him he finally came around and I made him get into the elevator. Once the elevator doors closed, I clocked out and ran up the stairs to the parking lot. I got outside and started running to my car when I heard someone call my name. Mr. Tovar had come out of the side door from the lobby and started coming at me. I kept yelling “Leave me alone, get out, go away!” anything to try and get him to back off. I was fumbling around with my keys like an idiot and he got up really close to me. He smiled and said “I hope you have a good night, Caroline. I’ll see you tomorrow” and walked back to the lobby.
Similarly to the situation in my last post, I didn’t want to get myself or him into trouble for what happened. In hindsight, that just doesn’t seem logical at all but at the time it made sense. I didn’t tell anyone what happened until a few weeks later. I met with my manager and the HR director before my shift one day and explained everything. When I began to tell them of his behavior, all of their attention was focused on what I was saying. They showed true concern. When I told them that he ended up leaving and going back into the hotel, I feel like I got the biggest eye-roll from them. They said “well nothing happened did it? Did he touch you? Hurt you?” I said no. They told me to stop being melodramatic, to not waste their time and to get out of the office to start my shift.
I was horrified and embarrassed. I was a teenager and I had been really scared. But then here are three adults who all seemed to think that behavior was nothing to blink at. So I started to think that maybe I really was crazy. This was just another reason I didn’t speak up again about any harassment for a long time. It didn’t seem worth it. Why would I say something when I could spare myself the humiliation and stress. Maybe I really was just being dramatic. Maybe I just needed to toughen up. That’s what I was told and taught for so long.
Just because that behavior it may be has become so normal doesn’t make it okay. Something like this becomes normalized when we are passive to it. Not anymore. Women are speaking out. I want to speak out. People have acted passively towards sexual harassment, assault and various other aspects of rape culture for too long. They don’t seem to understand. If I have the opportunity to talk about it, I ask “What if it was your daughter?” I have found that more often than not the response is “I don’t have to worry about that. Things will be different by the time she grows up”. Will they? Do you really believe that? How will they be different? How could they possibly be different if you don’t do anything to make a change now. Each of us is responsible.
All I know I can do now is talk, learn, listen and do what I feel is right. Sharing my experiences and my thoughts is how I’m trying to make sense of it all. I want to talk and I want to start a discussion. How can we fix a problem if we won’t even face it?