Three days into her entry-level job at a local firm, Katerina says she was approached by a supervisor with an unusual question.
“What is your sex experience?” he asked.
The young mum had started the job with high hopes.
She was intimidated by the remark but she tried to dismiss it as a joke.
“I was just surprised and I didn’t know how to handle it,” she said.
But the comments got more explicit and the supervisor’s behaviour became more aggressive, setting the stage for an increasingly uncomfortable working environment that escalated to the point where she was sexually assaulted.
Katerina (not her real name) shared her story with the Cayman Compass on condition of anonymity.
She said she tried to deflect the attention from the man, making excuses to leave the room when he was around. Occasionally she reacted angrily to his remarks.
“One time he just tells me, ‘Oh, you’re angry? You will complain to HR? I am also the HR manager here’,” she said. Katerina said she rearranged their office so he would not be able to look at her. She even changed how she dressed in the hopes that would curb his behaviour. But the comments continued. Sometimes he would ask her to come sit on his lap. She said she would invite him to go to church or try to change the subject when he started to harass her, and remind him of his wife and family.
“I felt to myself that maybe I could change [the way] he was thinking about me,” she said.
Lockdown a blessing
She said she endured the harassment for months and then COVID came. The lockdown was a blessing in disguise as she could work from home and not have to interact with her harasser.
As the restrictions eased, she felt deep anxiety about returning to work. She had married in the intervening period and thought that would stop the harassment.
But the leering glances, the comments and the inappropriate behaviour just picked up where they had left off. “It is just the [way he] looks at my legs… on his body language you will see it. That’s why I was really scared,” she said.
Harassment turns to assault
A few weeks later, his overt comments and suggestive innuendo took a darker turn.
She was running errands with her supervisor in his car when things escalated.
It happened around the time Katerina got her new work permit and the supervisor suggested they should celebrate.
“We were sitting in the car and he’s just started to hold my hand and put it on his lap and I just [pull away] like ‘No… it’s not that’.
“What he [did next] is he just put his hand under my skirt. I was so shocked because I was inside the car,” she said. In that moment, she says, she was so scared, she wanted to end her life.
“We were driving on the highway. If I could really jump out the car I would [have] .”
Report went nowhere
She admitted she never thought she would be among the growing number of women experiencing sexual harassment and assault in the Cayman Islands. Katerina reported the incident to her managers and the police.
The police, she said, cannot help as it has turned into his word against hers and he is claiming it was a consensual relationship.
She said she is concerned about employers and people in higher positions taking advantage of their workers. She wants other women to be aware of what can happen but she is worried that there is no means for anyone in her position to speak up and ensure something is done. Without a recording or video, she said, it was hard for victims to prove they had been assaulted.
She is now in fear that her job and immigration status will be impacted because she spoke out.
Throughout June, the Cayman Compass Issues section is shining a light on the problem of sexual harassment in Cayman. We are providing a forum for women and men impacted by the issue to tell their stories, and examining possible solutions to make the islands a safer place to live and work. Join the conversation at www.caymancompass.com/issues/ or email Issues Editor James Whittaker on [email protected]