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Victim of workplace sexual harassment speaks out: ‘I didn’t think I would be heard’

RICHMOND, Va. -- The sexual harassment a woman, who agreed to share her story with CBS 6 if we concealed her identity, endured at work may be over, but the pain of the experience haunts her.

"I have PTSD from this whole thing," the woman said.

"You're worried about if you could get another job?" CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked.

"Yeah, and how wrong is that? That women are victimized and then victimized and victimized again," she said.

Sexual harassment victim

While working in a middle management position at her former company, she said her boss wrote her unwanted love notes and made sexual advances.

"Inappropriate emails, text messages, comments started out with my hair and what I was wearing, and then it turned into my body, and oh I like it when you wear a low-cut shirt," the woman said.

She showed CBS 6 some of the texts she saved but asked us not to show them on advice from her lawyer.

"And then it came down to a very pointed message to me that was all about a request for a sexual relationship," she said.

The woman opted not to report the harassment to her human resources manager because she said he was a friend of her boss.

"I didn't think I would be heard, and I believed with all my heart that I would be fired if spoke to him," she said.

In light of the "Me Too" movement, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers wanted to get a sense of just how frequently sexual harassment in the workplace is reported in Central Virginia.

CBS 6 requested data from all local governments, a few school systems, the state, and public colleges and universities.

Between 2013 and 2017, 126 sexual harassment complaints were filed and 62 of them were founded.

That means employers found nearly half of all the allegations were true.

But attorney Colleen Quinn, who specializes in these cases, said those numbers most likely don't convey the full scope of the issue.

"It's probably under reported. We just don't have accurate numbers," Quinn said.

She said that is because of confidentiality agreements and the fact that many women still don't report harassment.

"Having folks that will actually come forward and speak that have a current claim, an ongoing case, or a case that was settled under confidentiality provision, they really can't say anything," Quinn said.

Quinn said it takes an incredibly brave person to report sexual harassment because there will be some co-workers who don't believe them, even in this day and age.

"If you take a case through litigation and you're in a profession in a small to mid-size city, it's pretty much going to just go through that whole profession that this woman brought a lawsuit and without somebody knowing all the facts and details, often times that person is looked upon as a troublemaker," Quinn said.

And that's exactly what the woman we spoke with said she experienced.

Colleen Quinn

"There's just a sense that you want to stay away from someone that is tainted in that way,” the woman said. “Rather than rallying around them, there is more of the criticism."

"So, you could understand why this woman would feel this way?  Why she would be concerned about not being able to get additional work?" Hipolit asked Quinn about the woman.

"Absolutely, absolutely and things get twisted in terms of, she brought it upon herself, it's one of the first defenses that is used, is that oh well she is the one that was making the overtures, she's the one that was engaging in potty talk or some vulgar language etc.," Quinn said.

Quinn's advice to anyone in this situation is to save the proof.

"Try to get as much evidence as you possibly can, get things in writing, preserve text messages, voicemail messages, any emails," Quinn said.

That's what the woman we spoke with did, and she said it helped her settle her case.

Now, she wants her story to be one that encourages others to come forward.

"You can survive it, it's not something that will kill you, you would be surprised how strong you are once you step up and tell the truth," the woman said.

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