I Was Sexually Groomed In My Workplace — The Overt Signs I Missed When It Was Happening

Consensual sex grooming is still harassment.

bearded businessman in suit standing near attractive blonde girl in office LightField Studios | Shutterstock

He had a gregarious personality; intelligence and sexual attractiveness to die for. He fit the idyllic image that made any woman envy his wife.

I blamed myself for liking a married man who was making advances and for micro-cheating on my husband.

I asked myself how I could have been so stupid.

But in hindsight, maybe I wasn't as stupid as I thought. 

According to experts, workplace sexual grooming occurs during healthy transactions, which then go awry.


I wonder, with everybody so aware of the overt signs, if sexual harassment has become more closeted. So much so, you don't realize it's happening to you.

After all, women are also told it's empowering to emulate swimsuit models, wear more make-up and engage in casual sexual relations, just like men.

In parallel with more hedonistic, sexualized, overt feminism is the presence of the coquettish, ploying male who doesn't seem to have much respect for women at all.

Who can forget the Monica Lewinsky scandal? She was touted as the teen homewrecker who helped get President Bill Clinton impeached. But we were none the wiser back then.


There was still much of a legacy that women who consented were fully to blame, with little public insight into the nature of coercive psychology.

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However, some realized the Monica Lewinsky scandal was beset by more sinister circumstances.

While she consented to sex, she was nineteen years old and an unknown intern. Clinton was America's president at forty-eight — his face plastered across just about every media channel.

It became belatedly known that he had done similar things to a number of women. This was also revelatory.

People who consented might play a part in betrayal. However, we were beginning to see how they could be faced with an enormous power imbalance — some of the very core ingredients of sexual harassment.


In my workplace, my situation was rather similar to this.

I was not a local; I didn't know anybody there. I desperately wanted to keep my job. I was too afraid to tell anyone anything personal for fear of any kind of reprisal.

My male nemesis was also desired by most of the women there. I knew what I was up against.

Out of the blue, my groomer and I developed an attraction to each other, simultaneously. Initially, it seemed he was a nice guy and that his intentions were altruistic. Attractions happen. Married people can't pursue them. I believed it might even dissipate.

By the time I was finished, we'd had an emotional affair without me being fully cognizant. Out of guilt and shame, which had plagued me for a long time, I wanted to understand how I developed a desire of my own volition. It almost seemed to be brought forth with monumental force rather than choice.


More importantly, I wanted to understand how almost every woman seemed to be doing just the same.

RELATED: Just Saying 'No' To Sexual Harassment Never Worked For Me

Here are the 5 stages of consensual sexual grooming:

1. Connection

This is a closeted move in the context of a power imbalance. According to the HR Acuity blog on workplace relations, transactions don't seem out of the ordinary, nor are they unhealthy.

You likely don't even realize it's happening to you. The person is so subtle that you think it's just a normal transaction of no consequence. They come across you in a hallway; you might see each other out of the corner of your eyes; the boss comes around to your desk a lot for valid reasons.


Unwittingly, both my attraction and silence were considered tacit consent to go much further.

2. Trust building

This is where groomers single you out, offer information that only the two of you share, and cultivate a feeling of intimacy — another technique to try and gain standing with you.

Subtly and secretly, my nemesis began to offload about everything; making subtle insinuations about his relationship, travel destinations we'd visited, and even places from our past we'd both lived in.

In hindsight, if anybody truly likes you, they're honest and may even try to diffuse the situation.

He continually tried to display how enamored he was to the point I felt overwhelmed. Yet he'd never vocalize it. Was it just in case he got caught? Was it too intimidating? I'll never know.


But he was thinking about himself.

3. Testing

This phase is where he began extending generosity. He was extremely emotionally supportive and even helped me with tasks a couple of times.

But the ultimate was the way he looked at me once; doting on every word I said. This is the part that often gets people hooked.

He also began to stand much closer, almost like he wanted to kiss me. He pursued me relentlessly, but at other times, completely cut me off. With further silence, in his mind, I'd begun allowing boundary incursion and it was perfectly okay.

RELATED: Here's Why It's Hard To Recognize Sexual Assault In The Workplace

4. Isolation

I didn't get to phase four, which is isolation.


This is where the groomer pulls you away from your support system, in an attempt to become your "go-to person."

5. Abuse

This is where the groomer's behavior becomes far more overt and aggressive so abuse can take place.

The workplace became hostile for other political reasons so I quit before it got to this phase. But the man who once seemed so supportive didn't want to know me afterward.

Reflecting back, it scared me. Many times I thought about going out on a platonic date and or secretly talking to him to diffuse the sexual energy. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it, feeling an overwhelming sense of fear. With good reason — far worse can happen in this context.


The worst did happen to a New York TV station intern, who chooses to remain anonymous on Career Contessa.

For months "Mark," her superior, had been loitering around the office unnecessarily; always finding reasons to approach her; giving her special treatment.

This culminated in an invite for her, and even her mother, to attend a hotel dinner. He started feeling her under the table. Finally seizing the opportunity, he grabbed her hand when her mother wasn't looking and put it on his crotch.


My groomer displayed the cardinal signs of zealous sexual overwhelm.

His face was constantly flushed, he could barely speak to me, he appeared nervous, and would often avoid looking me in the eye.

I felt sexual anarchy. I blamed myself. But part of it was my instinct gleaning what was on his mind. I had the weirdest mixed feelings. I found him attractive but wanted to flee simultaneously.

It's still hard for women not to fully blame themselves for sexual grooming that elicits a sexual response, especially when an oppressor might use the opportunity to assault and or ruin you.

As summed up in a 2014 Vanity Fair interview, almost with a tone of regretfulness, Lewinsky says, "Sure my boss took advantage of me but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship."


However, "Now, at 44 I’m beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern."

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Kerry Martin Millan is a freelance writer who writes about health and wellness, often from an intersectional stance. Her work has been published across Australia, America, and the UK.