Ask Fiona: My colleague sexually assaulted me and now I have to go back to office
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman struggling with the impact of sexual assault, and another who's upset her ex didn't come clean about his new relationship
I AM writing for advice as I have a small problem that I’m not sure how to deal with. Just before lockdown, I was working late in the office and was assaulted by one of my work colleagues. He pinned me down, tried to kiss me and exposed himself to me. I wasn’t raped, but the whole thing left me feeling very vulnerable and dirty.
Since then, I haven’t felt able to have sex with my husband, as I can’t get the incident out of my mind. He knows what happened and is being very kind and supportive – he says he’s prepared to wait for as long as takes for me to get over this. However, as things stand, I can’t forget about it.
Being furloughed was brilliant for me, as it gave me a chance to try and recover from the experience, but now my employer wants me to start work back in the office. I play the incident over and over in my mind and feel guilty that I didn’t fight back more. Why can’t I put this behind me?
FIONA SAYS: This is no small problem – you have been through a traumatic sexual assault. On top of this, sex with your husband has – on a mental level for you – become associated with the guilt and fear this assault has created, which is very normal and understandable. I am not surprised you are finding it difficult to move on, as anyone would.
You say you haven’t been raped, but what you have been through isn’t something you can just put behind you and forget about. Are you worried about going back to work because you are afraid you will have to see the person who did this to you around the office? I rather get the impression that you haven’t reported what happened to anyone – but I would urge you to consider it.
While it is sometimes hard to prove after such a long time, there may have been other complaints about the same person. It’s also possible there is CCTV footage – if not of the office where it happened, perhaps of you leaving the building afterwards.
Of course, it may be that the reason you haven’t reported this incident is that the man concerned is your boss. If that is the case, then you need to think carefully about whether or not you want to go back to work for him. While you shouldn’t have to be the one to find a new job, if you can’t avoid interaction with someone who has abused you, it might be better to do so.
You have shown great courage in handling this on your own for the past few months, but I think the time has come for you to get some professional help. What happened was not a ‘small problem’ – it was a very big deal, and still is, and none of it is your fault.
I’d encourage you to contact Victim Support (victimsupport.org.uk), who will help you look into the options available to you. They are not a counselling service, although they do have a support line and chat service you could access. I’d also suggest you contact Rape Crisis (rapecrisis.org.uk) because although you say you’ve not been raped, you are a victim of sexual violence. You can also talk to your GP, if you feel comfortable doing so, and ask for a referral for counselling.
I am glad to read that your husband has been kind and supportive, but that probably isn’t enough to help you process this fully. People can, and do, manage to move forwards from experiences like this, but for that, I do think you need counselling.
WHY DID MY BOYFRIEND LIE WHEN HE DUMPED ME?
MY BOYFRIEND and I were together for two years and I really loved him so, I was devastated when he broke up with me. He was very gentle about it, saying he needed to concentrate on his studies, and couldn’t do this if we got too serious with each other.
I accepted what he said as there was nothing else I could do – but now he’s changed his Facebook status to say he’s ‘in a relationship’. There’s a picture of him kissing some girl and they both look really happy. I feel so hurt and angry – why couldn’t he have told me the truth?
FIONA SAYS: It may be that your boyfriend did genuinely care for you and didn’t want to hurt your feelings. He may not have even known this girl at the time of your break-up. And even if he did, it sounds like his intentions were to be kind.
You could, of course, confront him and ask him why he can be in a relationship with her and not with you – but what would you gain if you did?
Sadly, it’s clear your relationship with him is over, and all you will do by digging for an explanation is prolong the agony. It’s never nice being rejected – for whatever reason – but I think you know you have to move on now.