‘Sexual harassment is never acceptable in the workplace.’

PSS responds to a young female pharmacist’s account of being sexually harassed by a colleague while she was an intern (warning: this article may trigger distress for some readers)

A pharmacist has spoken out about being sexually harassed by a colleague in a blog post published this month.

Bria Lacy, originally from Brisbane, was 21 years old and working as an intern in a discount pharmacy in Australia at the time of the conduct.

“I was excited, yet nervous. Confident, yet naive,” Bria wrote on her blog.

“Being bottom of the ranks, I mostly worked the dreaded night shift. It was made that much worse when a male pharmacists in his mid thirties started working nights alongside me. He was rumoured to have been moved to our store because of complaints at his prior location.

“At first, it started with him complimenting me about my appearance. It progressed to questions about my boyfriend. After that he started making inappropriate statements about my figure. Then there was the touching on the hands and arms. Which progressed to the upper, then lower back,” she wrote.

“By now it was apparent that things weren’t easing up. I was extremely uncomfortable. Confiding in my family and friends, they lovingly suggested to tell him to leave me alone. Although I didn’t feel comfortable making waves so early in my career. After all, I was an intern and he was a long time employee of the company with a close relationship with management.

“Thus, I did what most girls in my situation do. I didn’t feel strong enough to tell him to leave me alone, so I started blaming myself instead. I felt that I had betrayed my boyfriend for not standing up to him. I thought that my family would look down on me if they knew how weak I really was. So instead of speaking up, I shut down.

Bria Lacy was 21 years old and working as an intern in a discount pharmacy in Australia when she experienced sexual harassment from a colleague. Photo: Supplied.

“I stayed silent when he started moving me out of his way by touching my ‘hips’. I pretended I didn’t notice him staring. I laughed it off when I would catch him quietly sitting behind me as I worked, with his face inches away from buttocks. I took a deep breath when he stroked my legs when bending down to the safe. I rolled my eyes when he followed me down pharmacy aisles, lingering with that creepy smile until I asked him to move,” she wrote.

“If there was any chance of me standing up for myself, it was squashed when management continuously looked the other way. You see, unfortunately I was not the only female this was happening to. By this stage, multiple coworkers had made complaints about his inappropriate behaviour towards them. Management just made things worse by telling him exactly who had made a complaint and what was said.”

Bria said she “felt completely abandoned” by the company she worked for. She eventually left the role.

When the full gravity of what had happened eventually hit her, she wrote a letter to the company about everything that had happened to her, asking what procedures they had in place to ensure this wasn’t happening to any other women.

“Their response, to summarise, was too bad, so sad,” she wrote.

“Unfortunately as it was so long ago, it would be ‘too hard’ to investigate and would therefore be ‘unfair to the other pharmacist’. Apparently, 3 months is this pharmacy’s maximum time frame for investigating sexual harassment.”

She said that with the help of family members, she filed an official sexual harassment complaint about 9 months ago.

“It has been a gruelling process that ultimately led nowhere. There is a 12 month statute of limitations on sexual harassment cases and unfortunately I was too late.

“But all of the pain experienced from picking at old wounds was not in vain. During the complaint process, I had the opportunity to tell him and the company how they had failed me. Everything I have ever thought and felt was put into words for them to read. I released the guilt I had been carrying around for 5 years and placed the burden back on them.

“You’ll also be happy to hear that he has since been asked to leave the company. Apparently his past had caught up with him and I like to think I played a small role in that.”

The pharmacist encouraged “any pharmacists out there going through a similar situation” to reach out to the PSS. “I know it is easier said than done but the sooner you start talking about it the sooner you can understand you are not to blame,” she said.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) has applauded the pharmacist’s courage and bravery in speaking out.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable in the workplace (or anywhere). PSS understands that people experiencing sexual harassment may feel powerless, particularly if they are being groomed by the perpetrator,” said Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer of the PSS.

“The risk is especially high for interns and students who may be reluctant to complain as they ‘need their job’ for both financial reasons and to complete the hours needed for registration.

“We encourage anyone experiencing sexual harassment to ask the perpetrator to stop the behaviour, for example: ‘I do not like to be touched like that please stop’ or ‘I find those comments (or that joke) offensive please stop’.

“In addition keep records of the behaviour and when it occurred. If the behaviour continues then it is important to speak to someone about it. This could be a trusted friend or a colleague in the first instance, or PSS. It is also helpful to find out if it is happening to others in the same workplace.

“Then take the matter to a higher authority such as a manager, the pharmacy owner or the human resources department if working for a larger organisation. Employers have a responsibility to investigate the situation and take action to stop it from continuing,” said Ms Dunkley.

“If you are not satisfied with the response of the employer and the behaviour continues then take the situation to an external body. An employee union (e.g. Professional Pharmacists Australia) will assist anyone experiencing sexual harassment. In addition there are external bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, noting that there are also equivalent state bodies which will assist such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that you can lodge a complaint with. People experiencing sexual harassment can also seek independent legal advice.

“Whenever possible it is important to take action promptly to protect yourself and others from further abuse.

“Employers manage these situations best by taking any complaints seriously and investigating promptly. Find out if there are witnesses and if others are also experiencing the same behaviour.

“Handle the matter discreetly while you are undertaking your investigation. Seek advice from your industrial relations advisor, for example your local branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. Employers also need to set the standard for behaviour and ensure a clear message to all staff that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” she said.

“The Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) provides anonymous and confidential support in any situation, including sexual harassment. We will support any caller and assist them to take appropriate action according to their circumstances. We are available every day of the year between 8am and 11pm EST on 1300 244 910.

“If you are finding it hard to talk about what is happening or something that has happened we are there to listen and we will not judge you. Our aim is to empower you to take the next steps in resolving the situation.”

Bria encouraged “any pharmacists out there going through a similar situation” to reach out to the PSS.

“I know it is easier said than done but the sooner you start talking about it the sooner you can understand you are not to blame,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small the harassment is. It doesn’t matter if it was a comment, a rumour or a touch. If it impacts you and makes you feel powerless, talk about it.

“Sometimes our brains like to trick us into thinking we are overreacting and reaching out to our support network will help you see the truth. Don’t blame yourself for being a victim of someone else’s actions.”

Read Bria’s full blog post here. Bria writes about mental health on her blog and works to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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