The room fell silent seconds before Science Center mail clerk Johany Pilar spoke at the panel discussion on gender inequality on “rape culture” on Wednesday.
“Maybe you don’t remember me,” she began softly. “But I have been here for a really long time.”
Pilar clutched at her throat, which was hurting, and asked the more than 20 students who had gathered in a tiny Boylston classroom to be patient with her. Though her every word required obvious effort, she wanted to be heard.
“I am here because what happened to me could happen to you tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t want that.
”Late last February, Pilar said, she became the victim of sexual harassment by one of her co-workers in the freshman mailroom. She said her co-worker, “bigger and older” than her, grabbed her face between his thumb and pointer finger and said that he wanted to kiss her.
Pilar said that she felt uncomfortable and immediately told her co-worker not to touch her again. Despite apologizing after the first incident, she said, the man repeated the same behavior again just a few days later.
“He did it again. He grabbed my face,” Pilar said, mimicking the man’s grip on her face with her own hand. “He did it again!”
Pilar said she then contacted a female manager of University Mail Services about the harassment by email. Pilar said that in response, the manager told her to stop hugging people and to try to be nice and work professionally. No action was taken against her co-worker, she said.
In April, Pilar said, the same co-worker grabbed her hand twice. She reported that incident to another mail services supervisor, who said that he would reassign the man so he would no longer come in contact with her, Pilar said.
Overcome by stress due to the harassment, she said, she started seeing a therapist and was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital after a panic attack in May. She felt that she was being pressured by managers because she had reported the harassment; in September, she said, she received a written message informing her that she could be fired for an unreported absence.
“I’m not going to shut my mouth. I’m not afraid,” she said. “I’m not doing this for me to be in the mailroom working, but for justice.”
Wednesday evening marked the first time that Pilar spoke about her sexual harassment experience in a public forum, and she plans to continue to make her story public. At the panel, hosted by the International Women’s Rights Collective and several other organizations to discuss gender inequality, Pilar asked students for their support. A flyer handed out at the panel said that on Oct. 18, students will gather at the Holyoke Center to support Pilar and “stand up against gender discrimination, sexual harassment, & for their right to fair and equal treatment on the job.”
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers representative Geoffrey Carens, who is helping Pilar make her story known, was also present at the event.
“Johany has really taken it on the chin for what she has done,” he said. “She has been incredibly, incredibly brave.”
Carens said that he helped Pilar file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination at the beginning of the month. That complaint will be assigned to an investigator in the state office.