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Sexual Harrassment

KABUL, Afghanistan — “You’re ugly, Maryam, everyone says so, but I guess you’re a virgin so when you’re ready to have sex, let me know and I will be glad to …” Her male co-worker, writing on her Facebook account, finished the sentence obscenely.

It was 10 a.m. on a normal day in the life of an Afghan working woman. The journalist Maryam Mehtar, 24, said she had already that morning been harassed or assaulted at least five times: in the bus to work, on the street waiting for the bus, by a man who grabbed her buttocks, by another man who asked how much she charged and by a young boy who said she had a “pretty vulva.”

Finally in the relative safety of her own office, she opened her computer to read the Facebook offer from one of her colleagues to deflower her. ...
“Most of my friends are silent,” said Ms. Mehtar, who works for the Afghan news agency Sarienews. “They think if they talk everyone will blame them, and they’re right.”

Ms. Mehtar is one of the few Afghan women willing to name and shame her abusers, something most are afraid to do — and not just because of fear of public humiliation.

When women speak up, they take a big risk, said Shaharzad Akbar, 30, who works as an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani and says she was sexually assaulted when she was an intern early in her career. “In Afghanistan, women can’t say they faced sexual harassment. If a woman shares someone’s identity, he will kill her or kill her family. We can never accuse men, especially high-ranking men, without great risk.”
They fear not only the vengeance of the abusers, but sometimes even that of their own families, Ms. Akbar and others said.

Zubaida, 26, was a police officer whose superior groped her breasts and demanded sex. She quit her job, but does not dare give her own full name or her abuser’s. “If I said his name, definitely he would kill me or one of my family members,” she said. Worse, if it became public, she said she would fear that her own family members might carry out an honor killing against her. ...
One woman gave up on government employment after repeated harassment and started her own nongovernmental organization. She began applying for grants from the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development and various Western embassies.

“Every time the same thing: The Afghan staff would say, ‘I’ll approve your proposal, if you have sex with me,’” she said, asking that her name not be used because she still hopes to find a grant and does not want to anger potential donors. “Everyone thinks that those women who work outside the home are whores, and Afghan men can say and do anything they want with them.”
- ROD NORDLAND and FATIMA FAIZI, Harassment All Around, Afghan Women Weigh Risks of Speaking Out, NYT, DEC. 10, 2017


Ten women said that Mr. Friedman, 56, had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances: groping them in public, demanding sex or making text requests for nude pictures or group sex. Many others also said that working for him required tolerating daily kisses and touches, pulling all-night shifts at private parties that included public sex and nudity, and enduring catcalls and gropes from guests who are Mr. Friedman’s friends. ...
“We are not people who can live in cubicles,” said Carla Rza Betts, 39, who was wine director at the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and the John Dory from 2009 until 2013, when she left the company after experiencing what she said were multiple incidents of sexual harassment by Mr. Friedman. “There is a grab-ass, superfun late-night culture — I love that part of the industry. But there is a difference between fun and sexualized camaraderie and predation. When you are made to feel unsafe or dirty or embarrassed, that is a different thing.”
All the employees interviewed said that for many women, Mr. Friedman’s unwelcome sexual overtures, verbal and physical, were part of the daily routine at his New York restaurants, especially the small, intimate Spotted Pig. They said Mr. Friedman had frequent consensual sexual relationships with employees; openly hired, promoted or fired people based on their physical attractiveness; was often intoxicated at work; and pressured staff members to drink and take drugs with him and guests. ...
Many employees said Mr. Friedman was often genuinely warm and professionally supportive of women, as long as they tolerated his flirtatious behavior. In retrospect, several women said, his bursts of good-natured playfulness and generosity made it possible for them to ignore the fear, chaos and power imbalance in the relationship — sometimes, for years.

“He can be charismatic and fun,” said Jamie Seet, who worked for Mr. Friedman from 2006 to 2014, including three years as general manager of the Spotted Pig. ...
Ms. Rza Betts, the former wine director, said working at the Breslin while Ms. Bloomfield’s star was rising was so rewarding that she simply shrugged off Mr. Friedman’s hugs that went on too long, and his occasional slaps on her buttocks. ...
Tales of sexual predation at the highest levels of the culinary world have swirled for decades, but have been brought to light only recently. ...
Industry veterans say restaurants are especially accommodating to behavior that pushes the boundaries of sexuality in a workplace. Experienced servers accept that flirting is sometimes part of securing a good tip. Shifts are filled with sexual banter that many welcome as playful. ...
But late at night, after the first-floor dining room closed and the party moved upstairs, Mr. Friedman made it clear that normal restaurant rules did not apply, several employees said. In the frequently packed room, guests openly groped female servers.... ...
“We called him the Red Menace,” said Ms. Nelson, the former server. “He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend’s face.”
Mr. Batali apologized on Tuesday. “Though I don’t remember these specific accounts, there is no question I have behaved terribly,” he wrote in an email to The Times. “There are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused.”

Among employees and industry insiders, the third-floor space has earned a nickname: “the rape room.”
- JULIA MOSKIN and KIM SEVERSON, Ken Friedman, Power Restaurateur, Is Accused of Sexual Harassment, NYT, DEC. 12, 2017


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