Fischer: Not just a statistic — Taking safety, dignity into my own hands
Producer Harvey Weinstein, actor and comedian Bill Cosby and U.S. women’s gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar were just three of the several well-known men convicted of sexual misconduct as part of the #MeToo movement back in 2017. Statistically, most women in this world could have jumped on that bandwagon. A recent national survey analyzed by the University of California San Diego reported that 81% of women and 43% of men over the age of 18 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. In fact, I could have jumped on that bandwagon myself, except I don’t generally join bandwagons, nor do I hashtag. Either way, I am part of the 81%.
Sexual harassment can be defined as behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation. It happens in every profession. Even real estate. In fact, as Realtors, there is an inherent vulnerability that comes along with what we do. Many times, we show empty or vacant homes to people we have never met. While Realtor safety programs are offered, they are not mandatory. Knowing the definition of metes and bounds in a legal description of a property is mandatory (something nobody really needs to know), but safety is not.
Our industry is structured so that most agents are independent contractors. In other words, we work for ourselves. This means we are not protected under Title VII, which is the federal law prohibiting discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. We don’t have a human resource department to file a complaint. In fact, as agents, if someone does harass you and you complain, you simply lost the opportunity to make the commission. For me, it is a chance I am willing to take.
Personally, I have several safety precautions that I have put in place when meeting someone for the first time. I like to believe most people are inherently good, but I am also under no illusion that this is always the case. Unfortunately, meeting people in vacant homes is not the only danger we face. There are dangers that we may not be able to prepare for or prevent.
Several months ago, for instance, I received a call from a former client. She had a relative who needed to sell and the family was here helping him pack up. She asked if I could come out and do a market analysis. I met with the family that afternoon and the seller agreed to list his home as soon as possible.
Not long after the home was listed, we received an offer. I called my client and explained the offer. He agreed that he would accept. Shortly after talking to him, he texted me. “You’re amazing,” he said.
Assuming he was referring to getting the home under contract quickly, I agreed that I was (tongue in cheek, of course) and thanked him. Later that evening … much later … I received another text. “I need you baby,” he said.
“You have the wrong person,” was my reply. When he continued to reiterate and assure me he didn’t, I did not respond. Instead, I spent the rest of the night in a complete state of trauma. This wasn’t my first rodeo, except the first time, I was a long way from being able to have a choice in the matter. By morning, I was fully aware of what I needed to do. While I didn’t have a choice as a child, I do have a choice as an adult, and I chose to empower myself.
“You do have the wrong person,” I finally replied, “Because I will not tolerate the inappropriate talk. In fact, I will not be talking to you anymore at all.” That was it. He left a message later apologizing, but I refused to respond.
That night, I slept well. While I may not have been able to prevent it, I took back the control and made my way to safety.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.