Her former boss made life at work hell for her after Mary, a 28-year-old lawyer, repeatedly rejected his romantic advances.
Once, he summoned her to a two-hour “breakfast meeting”, when he started pouring out all his sexual fantasies about her.
Mary (not her real name) said: “What he said was very graphic, very disturbing and very creepy. I was holding a glass of water and I was so freaked out and shaking so badly that all the water spilled out.”
Her repeated rejections infuriated her boss. Mary said he started to bully her by making her do menial and administrative tasks, instead of the legal work she was hired to do.
She told a senior female colleague, who told her to keep mum. She approached a founding partner of the firm but the man told her “such things happen when you are a pretty girl”.
However, he spoke to her boss, who admitted to taking an interest in Mary. Her boss later told everyone that Mary had made all the allegations up as he had scorned her. He did not face any disciplinary actions.
For a year, she cried almost every day, feeling trapped and afraid to go to work. She finally confided in her father, a criminal lawyer, who told her she could go to the police as her boss was harassing her.
She had previously lodged a formal complaint with the human resources department about the harassment, but it had told her “not to make a fuss”.
But when she wanted to go to the police, the firm paid her a year’s salary in compensation and asked her to leave. In return, she was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement and told that she could not report the matter to the police or talk about it at all.
She was afraid her career prospects would be derailed if she went to the police and the case was reported in the news.
She said: “I don’t want employers to think I’m someone who causes problems. Will I get another job after that?”
Last Sunday, she started a website, heartochange.com, for people to share their experiences of sexual harassment anonymously.
“I am not someone who is shy and not someone who doesn’t speak her mind. But when I spoke up, I was told I was a liar and I made things up,” she said. “So I hope the more people can speak up even anonymously, so they don’t have to feel all alone and they can find some support.”
This article was first published at The Straits Times.