This column was published in Business Bhutan on 6th February 2016.
I travel alone, and frequently. Often, my travels are at odd hours, and they take me to places where I am picked up from the airport and dropped to my destination by men I don’t know. I have never found such travels to be problematic. Well, that is until recently when I was picked up from the airport by a very sociable driver at 2AM. I believe life is better-lived when everyone you meet is given the benefit of the doubt, so I was nice to the driver. After a few minutes into our travel, the driver began complimenting me on my friendly disposition and physical appearance. He asked me if we could be friends? I said, of course.
That was a mistake.
The conversation become more and more personal, and his questions more and more inappropriate while my replies dried up into monosyllables. As I felt my personal space contracting, I started panicking. My driver had slowed the car to 20kms/hr on an isolated road. There were no other cars or humans around. I knew no one that I could call for help at that hour if the situation were to worsen. The situation did worsen. I was not raped or molested, but I felt violated. It was harassment. I do not want to get into the unpleasant details of the dreadful ordeal. That is not the point.
After the longest and most terrifying 30 minutes of my life, I found myself in my hotel room. Relieved and crying, I started messaging loved ones about what I had gone through, and if I should report the driver? I knew I did not need anyone’s permission to report the driver, but I still asked. I lacked the confidence to believe that I was right, and had been wronged. I was in denial that someone as independent and as strong as myself had experienced powerlessness. I was hesitating to report the driver because I was worried he would lose his job. It was only when my family and friends became enraged that I accepted that the driver himself was responsible for the consequences of his actions. Not me.
I reported him- for myself, for other women in the past and in the future. He has been fired.
It is not easy to speak up about, and against such misconduct. It is not easy to not feel guilty about disempowering someone else. It is almost impossible to not be scared for yourself after speaking up. But it does get easier after taking the first step, which is acknowledging that you were wronged, not wrong. Then speak up. No one else will do it for you.