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Witness #19 | Leslie*

I was working as a sports coach. I was constantly verbally harassed, bullied, and manipulated throughout my employment. The perpetrator was the employer of the sports organisation. This experience caused my mental health to deteriorate to a point where it affected my everyday life and social connections. It made me reserved, and scared to speak or interact with people. The events took place in 2014, and I only managed to get help in 2020 by seeing a therapist to help me cope with the trauma from that time.


In a particular incident after the training session, all my colleagues received their cheques handed to them except me. When I asked for it, the perpetrator told me that he had left mine at home, and that I should follow him back home to get it. When I did not respond to him, he made a joke in front of my colleagues saying it’s not like he was going to rape me. This was among the first few rape jokes he made and would continue to make during our training sessions and meetings.

For each subsequent salary payment, the perpetrator would always ask me to collect my cheque at his house. His excuse would change, e.g. he forgot to bring it, or it had not yet been prepared. However, my colleagues never seemed to have an issue with their salary payments, and were always handed their cheques after a training session. 


Our team meetings were always held at his house with other male colleagues. I was never told prior to my employment that the meetings would be at his house. Many of the meetings had nothing to do with me and did not require my attendance. He also constantly made me feel uncomfortable during these meetings with his remarks, e.g. asking me to eat, drink and/or sleep there. I also felt unsettled due to the previous rape jokes he made.


The perpetrator began calling me at inappropriate hours of the day, usually around midnight. This happened around two to three times. The first few times, I did not answer because there was nothing urgent in our line of work, and I felt uncomfortable to do so. He later made remarks in front of my colleagues saying that I would not answer his calls.


During one of the team meetings, I saw the new schedule on my colleague’s laptop and noticed I had been taken off all the teams. I was devastated and I felt like I couldn’t do anything, so I began thinking I should resign. I didn’t confront the perpetrator about it, because whenever he spoke about competitors or contract workers, he would talk aggressively and badly about them. I felt afraid that he would do the same to me. 


I also realised that I was being underpaid because as soon as the new coaches joined us, they could afford gym memberships, car loans, etc., which I wasn’t able to afford on my own pay.


The perpetrator often made a big deal out of it, saying I was offending him by not having coffee or food at his house. One day, he had an outburst and went off on me saying I was being incredibly rude and offensive by not eating or drinking at his house. He proceeded to take my own coffee mug away from me. He opened it to check if I was lying about having coffee in it. This left me feeling deeply unsettled and I again considered quitting.


One day after a meeting at his house the perpetrator insisted on walking me to my car. This was unnecessary because I would usually just walk out, and someone would open the auto-gate from inside the house. When we reached the gate, he blocked my path and turned to me. He asked me why I was not intimidated by him. Thinking it was a joke, I replied saying that I didn’t feel the need to feel intimidated by others. He became upset, didn’t open the gate, and left without saying anything else. I had to use the smaller gate to the side to get out since the auto-gate wasn’t opened. 


Then the perpetrator began increasing my workload and giving me tasks that had nothing to do with my job. I was originally hired to coach, but was suddenly asked to create media content and marketing materials. He also insisted I do these things at his house, which added to my discomfort.


While I was out with some friends on my day off, the perpetrator called me on the phone. I reluctantly answered his call. He said he had no electricity in his house and so he had gone to the nearby shops. He said he was bored and asked me to come and hang out. I told him I could not do so as I was with friends and quickly hung up.


Once I was sent on an assignment but when I turned up at the place, no one was there. I called up the perpetrator to tell him. He instead told me to go to his house and have a nap in his room, and take a shower while I was there, since no one was home. I told him I was going to a coffeeshop nearby to hang out with a friend, but he kept insisting. He then called for a meeting at his house that very afternoon. I felt afraid, and felt like he was trying to lure me to his house.


I finally emailed my resignation to the company email, and I stated that the reason for my resignation was that I could no longer stand the constant harassment. Although I didn’t name the perpetrator, I did allude to it.


A few days later, the perpetrator replied to my email denying that anything I wrote in the email had happened. He said that since I did not raise it earlier, it had not happened. In the email he also said that I did not perform my job properly and he had allowed that to happen. He ended it by saying that he hoped I could find a job that values me and my sanity.


I found out years later that the perpetrator had gone on to blame my colleagues for my resignation, saying that it must have been one of them who harassed me. He went around defaming me to my colleagues (and possibly his friends / contacts / acquaintances). He said this was why women should not work in sports, as women cannot handle pressure well and women look for easy ways out, by claiming they had been harassed.


Two years after leaving, I have heard from others that many other women he had interacted with have come forward with similar stories, but no action has been taken and he is still working within the industry.


Generally my experience working in sports has been challenging. I was often the only woman working with men in their 40s and above. I was frequently excluded in discussions, not given the opportunity to speak, had my opinions belittled, talked over or even cut off, despite being quite experienced and knowledgeable in my field of sports.

One male colleague usually pestered me to go out for drinks or about my relationship status. I was not comfortable going out with him alone as he was already married but he kept pestering me to do so. He never asked this of my male colleagues.


There was another male colleague who had many sexual assault allegations made against him by several women who had come forward with evidence. My male colleagues were generally supportive of him and often defended his wrongdoings. They would speak of him as though he was just put in a difficult position, and would drop their conversation when I entered the room. The fact that they continued to speak positively about him despite knowing these allegations and evidence, made me feel deeply unsettled and uncomfortable.


Male colleagues often made degrading comments about other women in sports. They often made derogatory comments, sexual remarks, sexualised their looks, and discredited the qualifications and experiences of women — for example saying things like, “She exposes her cleavage to get attention”, “She sleeps around to get jobs opportunities”, etc.


I am still working in the sports industry. My present workplace is a lot better and more professional, but generally the sports industry is insensitive to women.


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