The allegations against former Lib Dem chief exec Lord Rennard have brought back some unpleasant, unwanted memories of a time when I was a vulnerable young woman hovering excitedly, uncertainly on the first rung of the career ladder.
He was an ugly old man (they usually are, aren’t they?), in his late 50s, with a huge pot belly, red, flaky skin and tiny snake-like eyes. He had an even uglier wife, (they usually do, don’t they?) enormous with a moon face and rotten smoker’s teeth.
I respected him a lot for his knowledge and was eternally grateful to him for giving me my first break in journalism. I wanted so much to please him.
It was after an office party one night. He insisted on driving me to a pub where we would all meet up for a nightcap.
My subconscious flashed red alert signals, but I ignored them. He was my boss and my ticket to the only career that ever interested me.
Five minutes into the ride, a fat little hand with podgy sausage fingers and nearly transparent skin landed on my thigh. I froze.
He just kept talking as if nothing had happened. I moved away, his hand moved higher.
I did nothing…
By the time we got the pub, he was all over me – in front of all the staff members and his wife. Nobody said anything. He was literally pawing me like a big bear, laughing merrily all the time, while I sat motionless, tears stinging behind my eyes and bile rising in my throat.
The next day I went into the office, shaking uncontrollably. He pretended nothing had happened. I sat staring at my blank computer screen, unable to type a single word. Every time I looked at him, I flushed, remembering his sickening sweet smell and sweaty hands on my legs. I knew I would never respect him again and I was devastated.
After a few days, I told my dad, an accomplished businessman, who instructed me to confront him. It was the scariest thing I ever did.
I told him that if he’d ever touch me again, I would go straight to the police.
He exploded with rage, his face turning blood red and he shouted at the top of his voice so that everyone in the office could hear: “You think you’re God’s gift to men. I’ve never touched you and I would never want to touch you.”
It was terrifying, but even as he said it, I could feel the emotional distress of the days since the incident dissolving, the shift of power. I was in control. This would never happen again.
From that day on his behaviour towards me changed, as did his wife’s. They became businesslike, hostile, but very careful around me. He never touched me again.
Of course, I knew this would be the end of our working relationship, but there was no way I could have stayed there any way.
Eventually, after a few weeks, I found another job and left with a glowing reference. I bumped into him a few times after that – and every time he treated me professionally, with respect.
As pointed out by many women in the past few days, these type of incidents, which are sadly very common and typical of a certain generation of older men, are not about sex but about power.
The only way to deal with them is confrontation.