First, I am allowed to share my story. It has most recently been determined that my NDA is lenient enough for this purpose. It is still very scary to share.
I was sexually harassed and solicited at work by a person who had a great deal of power and control over me. A person that I trusted. A person who took away an opportunity when I refused his repeated advances.
I didn't report to be silenced. I wanted to stand up for myself, and I wanted to make sure that it wouldn't happen again to someone else. It wasn't my fault. There is no reason for me to be ashamed. There was no reason for me to be silenced.
It was more than a year from when I filed the complaint to when the NDA was signed. There had been a failed attempt at mediation five months earlier; I alleged I was shamed and blamed until I dissociated, but eventually I snapped back, and I stood strong and said no.
Then, monthly, I put into writing what occurred. I wrote that I wouldn't participate in mediation again; that I wouldn't sign an NDA; that an NDA would be bad for my mental health and that I planned on sharing my story if it would help another woman. I asked for my own lawyer which I would retain at my own expense. (I was a former union member and didn't own the carriage of the grievance, and although I felt the union was partly responsible, I was not allowed either a support person or my own lawyer, even at my own expense.)
We met (the company, union and me) for what I thought was arbitration; but when we gathered, the arbitration never started. I didn't think I could just walk out of this meeting. I said no to mediation and no to an NDA for more than 8 hours. After 9.5 hours I was broken. I wanted to go home. I was afraid of dissociating. I thought they would never let a hearing start. I was hungry. I was tired. I was traumatized. So I signed the NDA.
The next day I asked to be released. I said they knew I didn't want an NDA, that I had said "no" enough times and that I was pressured into signing it. I was not released.
I tried to break my way out of the NDA. I thought if I break it before I am given any money then I just won't receive the money and that will be that. I didn't care about the money, but the NDA made me feel dirty and gross. What happened the day that the NDA was foisted on me felt like non-consensual sex, it felt like an assault. It felt like I was violated. I felt like the NDA covered me in filth and I wanted desperately to get it off of me. I broke the NDA and told them, they ignored me and so I did it again.
I never owned the carriage of the issue of the breach of NDA. I was summoned to a closed-door labour arbitration and forced to provide all the evidence against myself and then some. I had no standing. I wasn't allowed to know the pleadings. I was not allowed a defence. I was not invited to all of the hearings.
I received the decision by email, regular mail and mail I had to sign for. The consequences were harsh. My NDA was not supposed to be strict and suddenly everything was deemed to be a breach. I became more afraid. It felt like the NDA was not only gagging me and dirty, it felt like it was choking me.
I tried to have my NDA declared to be unconscionable due to having been made under duress, but I lost--not because my claims were found not to be credible but because it was decided that even if my version of events were true what I endured was an acceptable amount of pressure. Even though to me it felt non-consensual and like an assault and a violation, the law apparently said that the NDA was not unconscionable and invalid.
I felt a huge weight on my shoulders. I felt like that this decision put women's rights back ten steps and that this was my fault. I considered taking the decision up the ladder, but found that this would cost me an arm and a leg. I felt re-traumatized every time I had to relive what happened. I had developed c-PTSD, and between the cost of continuing to fight and the toll on my mental health, I decided to throw in the towel. I felt like I had to choose between getting stuck in the past or moving forward with my life. I chose to move forward.
I am proud that I tried to have the NDA declared invalid. I did make mistakes when trying to avoid the NDA after it was made, I hit back when I got hurt, and I was not the perfect victim (but who is?). I was stuck in a fight trauma response. I should have sought help to start the duress claim right away. Hindsight does no one any good.
I am proud of how vocal I was about not wanting an NDA; I am proud of how hard I fought to avoid one. I don't blame myself for giving in at the end. What happened to me may not have been found to be duress, but it was past my personal threshold for endurable pressure, and I think I am strong.
This experience has changed me forever. I have c-PTSD. I am afraid to have LinkedIn. I am afraid to write a resume or to answer questions in a job interview. I am afraid of talking to my counsellor or to my friends about what happened to me (including people who already knew and were my support on this journey). I am afraid of running into a former co-worker. I am afraid of finding out it is happening to someone else and of not being able to warn or comfort them. I am afraid of being sued. I am afraid that if I am sued it will take place in private labour arbitration and I won't have standing.
I have done my best to make lemonade out of all these lemons. I went back to school (got an advanced diploma with distinction and a diploma with high honours) and received two professional designations. I am now a member of a helping profession. I want to be a part of making this world a better place. There are so many ways in which I cannot be silenced.
There is so much more I want to learn. I have become interested in feminism (intersectional) and examining patriarchy in our society. I have become interested in transforming the justice system and trauma informed legal services. I have become interested in the links between trauma and offenders and in studying psychology and false confessions. I have become interested in studying pressure, stereotypes and discrimination. I am also interested in movements to defund the police and in prison abolishment. There is just so much more I want to learn. One day I will pursue these interests, and I will put what I learn to good use. I am already starting to use what I have learned for helping people.
Our lawmakers need to step it up! I hope and pray that someday soon where I live a law is passed like the one in PEI. I know it is not enough to hope and pray, I have to ask my government representatives to do something.
Thank you to Can't buy my silence. Keep up the good work.
This was really scary to write, but I can confirm that nothing in this is a breach of my NDA. It is still scary. I am supposed to be allowed to tell my story, with a few limitations. Still scary.
Thanks to all who have taken the time to read this. I hope I have made you feel normal and less alone.