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Bec Shale
Job title
Retail worker
Bec Shale, 45, lives in the East Midlands and works in retail. She’s been with her current employer for 15 years and is a member of the Usdaw union.

Bec was sexually assaulted by a customer while at work. She told the TUC: “I was stacking the shelves at work and suddenly felt someone grab my breasts from behind. I froze as he slowly ran his hands down my body. 

“I turned round and saw it was a regular customer who I had spoken to before. He was just standing there looking at me like he hadn’t done anything wrong.  

“After he moved on, I immediately went to tell my supervisor what had happened. She asked me if the man had “grabbed my boobs” which made me realise this had happened before to other staff in the shop. 

“I was pretty shaken, but I tried to carry on with my day. But the incident kept going round in my head – why hadn’t I said something, done something? I had always assumed if something like this happened to me, I would shout out. But I didn’t, I just let it happen. 

“The next day I asked my manager for advice about what to do and he told me to report it to the police, which I did. The police took my statement, and the customer was questioned, but he disappeared before the case got to court. 

“Eventually the police tracked him down and told me he was going to plead ‘not guilty’, so they asked me if I would give evidence in court. I told them I would as I didn’t want him to get away with what he had done to me – and I didn’t want him to abuse any other women. 

“I was very nervous about giving evidence but thankfully while I was waiting to, the CPS told me he had changed his plea to ‘guilty’ so I didn’t have to, and he was put on the sex offenders register for three years. 

Bec wasn’t surprised by the results of the TUC poll that found 3 in 5 women had experienced sexual harassment, verbal abuse or bullying at work.  

Bec herself has experienced harassment at work on numerous occasions. She said: “A lot of customers seem to think it’s acceptable to be over familiar with you. It happens all the time that they stand close to you, touch you, or put an arm round you. 

“When one of my colleagues was pregnant, we had a male customer who used to touch her belly. 

“And only the other day I had a customer shouting at me from in the queue about one of our offers in the shop. 

“It’s shocking how some people treat you when you are just trying to serve them and help them get what they need.” 

Bec thinks things need to change. She told the TUC: “Nine times out of 10 you brush off the behaviour – because otherwise you would be complaining all the time. But it’s not right, and I worry about the younger staff who are only 16 or 17. This treatment traumatises them. 

“Customers need to know that – however kindly intended – touching staff isn’t appropriate and we shouldn’t have to put up with this. 

“Things need to change. At the moment, we do that by speaking up. I would encourage everyone to report harassment they experience. But it would be great if the law changed to keep workers safe from third party harassment. 

“Every little bit of extra protection helps. We shouldn’t have to go into work and worry about who is going to shout at us or harass us that day.” 

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