My experience with sexual harassment while working in media

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I’d heard a lot of stories about women in media being asked for sexual favours in exchange for a job or that coveted promotion. These stories always seemed so alien to my own experience because I’d always been treated with respect wherever I went. All this changed a few months ago.

I liked to spend time in libraries. I especially like the MacMillan library because it has a kick ass reference section and I love to sit at the top floor by myself and go through newspapers from as far back as the colonial era. It was on one of these afternoons spent at the library that I met him. He introduced himself as Anthony (not his real name). We started by talking about our shared interest, which was history, and this segued to what we both did for a living. He told me he was a veteran sports journalist and that he worked for a major media house. He expressed interest in helping me with my writing and navigating the world of media. We exchanged contacts, he gave me his card and promised to keep in touch.

I went home feeling very excited. My excitement grew when I looked him up online and found out just how prominent he was. I couldn’t believe my luck. It’s not everyday that you run into an award-winning journalist who not only gives you his contact, but shows a keen interest in helping you. I didn’t waste any time and emailed him the following day with samples of my writing. He replied promptly and promised to go through them and share feedback. He told me he was currently working on a book on the history of sports in Kenya and so his schedule was tight busy. He however promised to arrange a meeting over coffee the following week.

True to his word, he called me a week later. Instead of coffee, he asked if I could come to his office as he was swamped with work. I agreed. According to him, our meeting would also be an opportunity for him to show me how a newsroom worked as well as introduce me some of his colleagues. His office was on the 5th floor of a building on Kijabe street. At the reception, I called to tell him I had arrived. After being cleared to go through, I was directed to his cubicle which was at the corner at the farthest end of the room. The newsroom was full of activity. Phones rang incessantly, heaps of paper were piled on almost every desk and everyone was glued to their computers with massive headphones over their heads. Even as an observer, I felt a rush of adrenaline from the sense of urgency that filled the room.

I found Antony editing a recording for a radio show. I didn’t want to bother him so I pulled a chair and sat next to him. After a few minutes, he put down his headphones, greeted me and offered me a cup of tea. I declined. I was itching to hear what he had to say about the writing samples I’d sent him and whether I had a shot in reaching the ranks that he had as a journalist.

Well, as you’ve gathered from the beginning of this post, that’s not what happened. Now Antony is quite old. He wore a Kaunda suit which is super ancient fashion and his neck had started to sag. From his work portfolio online, he had been in the industry a while and I pegged him to be about sixty years old. I almost gagged when I noticed a salacious look in his eye as he placed his hand on my thigh. I froze. I wasn’t sure if it was out of fear or disgust or both. As her ran his hand along my thigh, he asked me what I liked to do for fun and if I drank any alcohol.

I can’t remember if I responded to his questions. He continued to tell me that the world of media is especially cut throat for women and it wouldn’t hurt to have someone on the inside and high-ranking in my corner. The caveat was that I had to scratch his back, fulfill his needs and send him nice pictures of myself when I was alone in my room at night. He told me the only limit was my imagination and I could go as far as I wanted in my career if I wasn’t too uptight. He gave me a warning though, I shouldn’t be loose and sleep with just anyone. Discretion was to be observed. I faked a phone call and told him that it was getting late and I had to go. He insisted on escorting me to the lifts. I wanted to get as far away from this pervert as possible. Now I had to be alone with him in a lift? I must have held my breath entire time. We reached the ground floor with no incident.

Once outside, I immediately blocked his number and email. If that was the sort of help one needed to make it, then I certainly didn’t need it.

The second time I encountered sexual harassment was during a concert I had been asked to cover.

Concerts can be quite boring when you attend them alone so I was grateful for the company when a photographer walked up to me and introduced himself. He told me he was on a work assignment and since he was also there alone, the event was getting quite dull for him as well. We agreed to stick together but as the night progressed, his regard for personal space flew out the window. The concert was packed and I was pressed against the rails so it was impossible for me to push him away when he groped my breasts and waist.

At the end of the performances, I managed to shake him off when he excused himself to go the washroom. I never confronted him about it, I simply did not know where to begin. The disregard for professionalism? Him not asking for my consent? The blatant entitlement to my body?

I took a cab home still quite shaken by the incident. It was a shame that he hadn’t viewed me as a colleague and treated me with the respect that I deserved. Instead, he saw an object, there for his sexual pleasure.

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