As I completed high school and started college, I got a job in a law office. This was the late nineties and computers were around, but we were just starting to learn how to use them and were still very much using typewriters for office tasks. My boss (who was also my uncle) thought it would be great if we could use the computer for court forms instead of a manual typewriter. So he set me to work. I created all the family court forms with a program that was like an early version Adobe Acrobat. It was tedious work. The fields didn’t expand. You had to set all the text in the correct font. And if you changed computers it would sometimes change the alignment of all the boxes. But I liked the challenge and the rhythm of the work.
After I finished the family court forms, I went on to Small Claims. And with my uncle’s permission, I set about selling the software. The payout wasn’t huge, but I made enough to cover a portion of my tuition. But because the fields changed positions on some of the computers, and I wanted happy customers, I offered an additional service: I would attend local law offices and make manual adjustments if necessary. And this is how my #MeToo almost happened.
[bctt tweet=”We’ve all had the little #MeToo moments. But I almost had a big one. Was I just lucky?” username=”LiveBySurprise”]
I headed to one of the lawyer’s offices after work one day (because I didn’t want to disrupt business by using the computer while his administrative staff was using it). I knew the lawyer I was visiting as he’d dealt with my uncle on a few different files. He was a tall man. Thin. Older. In his mid-fifties to mid-sixties at the time. He had a very apparent British accent and smelled of a musky cologne with a faint hint of cigarettes. His practice was in an older century home and he had one secretary. An older, matronly woman with a sour face. She had family pictures and graduation photos all over her desk.
The lawyer was busy when I got there, but his secretary moved away from her desk to do filing and allow me to work on her computer. I got in behind the desk and set to work. After about fifteen minutes, a client came out of his office, they shook hands and the client left. The lawyer came over and hovered behind me, making small talk and seemingly interested in what I was doing.
The job should have taken about 15 minutes to complete, but I was having some issues with a couple of the fields and really wanted to get it done right. The secretary had been set to go home—but she hovered. The lawyer suggested that we’d be fine and she could go. But she protested that she had filing to do.
The lawyer insisted again that she could go. And as I was oblivious to the undertones of the conversation and wrapped up in what I was doing, I said much the same. I’d be fine. I didn’t anticipate being too long.
Still she hovered. As I was finishing up, and readying to leave, she gathered her things too and said she’d walk me out. The lawyer offered to drop me home—but I had a ride waiting. He was insistent that he didn’t mind—and I was just as insistent that my friend was already outside.
Fast forward five years later—that very same lawyer was charged with sexual assault. By several of his very vulnerable clients. And although I’d had conversations about it with friends, it wasn’t until then that I truly understood the context of that meeting. The secretary knew what would happen if she left. She had protected me. She stayed so I wouldn’t be alone with him. Because she knew he was a predator.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that she did what she did in my case. But from what I understand, those women were very traumatized. I have to wonder how much the secretary knew? And if she could have prevented what happened to those other women. And if she could have but didn’t, why did she protect me? Was it because I was an upper-middle class white girl like her own children?
As it turns out—getting arrested and charged and jail time didn’t stop his behavior, as those charges were almost twenty years ago and just yesterday, I learned that he’s been charged again. This time there are two more women who have come forward and multiple more charges have been laid.
So I guess the question is now…where does it stop? If he couldn’t be stopped the first time, how can they stop him now?
Holy smokes, Liv. I’m so glad the secretary was there. We do not know nor can judge what this woman may or may have not known, what she could or couldn’t have done. What we know is that she did have the courage and wherewithal and thoughtfulness to protect you and thank goodness that she did. I wonder where she is now? <3 My heart and love go out to you and to her and to all of the survivors. 🙁 🙁 🙁
I wonder how long she had been there. She probably had a story too and maybe needed the money? Who knows? I think its great that at least she didn’t leave you there. I like to think that although we have a long way to go, that this situation will become one with consequences should it come up in different places.
Maybe you were the only one she *could* protect. I know it’s said again and again as a crappy kind of defense of those who stayed as silent onlookers, but things were different back then. There weren’t the protections there are now. Things weren’t as black and white (legally), and women’s voices were (even more so) frequently dismissed.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad she did protect you.
Very true. And all things being said, he was also a source of income for her and who knows if she was dependent on it.
Back in the 90’s (can’t believe we’re talking about something that happened 20 years ago) she couldn’t speak out against a well-known attorney. She probably had a suspicion of what was going on but no proof so she might not make a great witness if she got called on in court. She’d not only lose her job but she’d also be blackballed from ever working in a law office again. The secretary probably knew who your Uncle was too and that was why she was protecting you and that poor woman probably lives with a lot of guilt about what she couldn’t stop from happening.
That’s all very true. I was lucky to have her there. My story could have very easily turned out differently.