Back in the 1960s, a niece, then a 16-year old, gained a casual position on the floor of a well-known menswear store in suburban Melbourne. Jane (actually one of her secondary names) was pretty, petite and possessed of a delightful figure. The store manager, who was a director of the parent firm that owned the store, wanted to try a new direction, the employment of young women as members of the sales force.
The position suited Jane, daughter of a single mum, for she could work her way through years 11 and 12 with after school and weekend work before going on to uni. Jane and the manager got on especially well. He was a grandfatherly type, keen to see her succeed and for his new idea to work. It did, and she managed to gain bonuses, despite her junior position. It seemed men of all ages were keen enough — perhaps it pandered to their egos — to be attended by an attractive young female. There were times they queued up to be served by her.
A few weeks into her employment, Jane mentioned to her mum that the senior salesman was a sleaze. He hadn’t actually tried anything on with her, but she didn’t feel easy about the way he made such a show of running his eyes up and down her figure whenever they passed. There was more to come.
Jane arrived home in tears one night and her mum finally got it out of her that the senior had entered the tea room while she was in there, bent over the table preparing a cup of coffee. He thrust his groin hard against her and said something like, “How’d you like that, eh?” The next day, mother and daughter fronted the manager. They might as well have saved their breath because, much as the manager made sympathetic noises, he said he’d known the salesman for 20 years and simply couldn’t imagine him doing anything like that.
To cut a lengthening story down, it became worse. The senior obviously felt he was getting away with harassing someone young enough to be his daughter. He began to get touchy-feely and even came up behind Jane hidden by a clothing rack in store and cupped her breasts. She ran out of the store, crying, and refused to return on any account.
My sister took it to a lawyer friend (she did medico-legal secretarial work from home; the lawyer was both friend and client). Mark, the lawyer, had the police begin an investigation and, lo and behold, there had been at least two prior complaints lodged against the salesman, although not at the menswear store. There was enough evidence for it to go to court.
During the judge-only trial, the salesman had his wife and two teenage children in court with him — good family man that he was — and gave sworn testimony that at no time had he molested Jane or any other young female, ever. Jane gave her evidence and the judge, in summary, said he doubted he’d ever had a witness of any age provide him with clearer or more compelling testimony. He said the salesman was not only evasive but unable to look him in the eye. He found the case proven, fining the salesman and placing him on a 12-month good behaviour bond.
Thankfully, the little girl had sense enough to realise that, although there would always be some men who’d look upon females as lesser beings, or even playthings, the majority of those she’d work with would be decent, courteous human beings. Jane went on to marry a lovely young accountant and had the four healthy babies she always wanted.
Nowadays Jane spends time as a volunteer helping women at a shelter. She has the first-hand experience from 50 years ago to help her understand.