'He had been asking me questions about my wedding, I knew he had a girlfriend - it never crossed my mind that I couldn't trust him'
Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission called on the government to take urgent action after its report revealed ‘corrosive’ cultures of workplace sexual assault, harassment and bullying across the UK. ‘Sexual harassment has been normalised’ Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the commission, told the BBC.
At the age of 27, writer Emily Farley Diamond was walking back from a company event when a male colleague sexually assaulted her. She tells Marie Claire what happened – and why she finally decided to speak up.
I’ve felt a mixture of emotions reading the many stories of sexual harassment and abuse that have come out since the Weinstein story broke last year. I’ve felt anger and sadness on the victims’ behalf, but also a sense of liberation: for the first time I feel I can talk about my own experience without being dismissed.
I swept my story under the rug because I decided what happened to me was fairly minor. It wasn’t a serious sexual assault, I reasoned, so was there any point in bringing it up? But I’ve come to realise it’s exactly this sense of doubt that has kept women silent and allowed bad cultures to thrive for so long.
One evening in October 2013, when I was working for an e-commerce company in central London, I joined my colleagues at an after-work drinks event. I was on a high as my now-husband had proposed to me a few weeks earlier and remember standing in a circle of people who admired my new ring and asked about wedding plans.
I was living in Buckinghamshire at the time, so at around 9pm I made to leave so I could catch my train home. That was when one man in the circle – a guy I knew vaguely who worked on another team – said he was going the same way and offered to walk with me to the station.
I didn’t think there was anything odd about this. He had been asking questions about my wedding, I knew he had a girlfriend and we were going the same way – it never crossed my mind that I couldn’t trust him.
We walked out of the bar and down the road, and initially we were chatting for a bit. But when we turned onto Baker Street all of a sudden he shoved me off the pavement and into the entryway of an office block. He pushed me up against the glass and stuck his tongue down my throat. I pushed him off me and said, ‘what are you doing?’ He shrugged and said he thought I wanted it.
I couldn’t see how he could have possibly thought that. When I pointed this out, and that he had a girlfriend, he just shrugged.
After that I couldn’t think of anything other than getting home, so I carried on walking down the street. That was when he grabbed me again and tried to kiss me. Again, I pushed him off and carried on walking. These weren’t clumsy drunken lunges, he seemed sober and completely in control of himself.
When he did it a third time I started to cry. We had reached a bus stop outside Baker Street – where he was catching a train – and I was suddenly terrified that if I carried on walking to Marylebone he would follow me. He went for me one more time, but I pushed him off and rushed back to the bar where my colleagues were.
By that point I was in a bit of a state. I told a group of women I worked with what had happened and they decided to walk with me to the station so I could get on a train. When my fiancé picked me up at the other end, I told him what happened and he was furious.
Even though I knew what had happened wasn’t my fault, I felt a horrendous sense of guilt, as if there was something I had done wrong without realising. The thought that I had been forced to kiss someone other than the man I was deeply in love with made me feel physically sick.
As the drinks had happened on a weeknight I had to go into work and see the guy the next day, sitting a few desks away as if nothing had happened. My boss could see I wasn’t really myself, I had been crying in the loos so my eyes were blotchy, so she asked me to come outside with her.
When I told her what had happened she was sympathetic, but her reaction was along the lines of ‘oh God, what a dick – poor you.’ There was never any question of reporting it. Looking back, I’m surprised that it was shrugged off like this, but at the time I had no idea what other choice there was.
I had already been looking for a new job before the incident, and when one came up a few months later I jumped at the chance to leave. Before I left I had to go to another work event where I knew the guy would be. I hadn’t spoken to him since, but I’d told a few colleagues what had happened so they could keep an eye out.
Just before I left I went to the Ladies, and when I came out some friends told me the guy had come over to ask whether I was about to leave. I found this incredibly creepy. Had my friends not warned me would he have tried to do it again? A few months later, when I was at my new job, I found out from an ex-colleague that he had done the same thing to another young woman in the office – right after a work event.
I know that if the same thing happened to me now, I would speak up about it straight away. I feel there’s finally a change happening; one that’s been a long time coming. I hope it brings about a long-term shift in the way we talk about and treat the victims of sexual harassment and assault. There is no ‘grey area’ – none of this is OK.