I work for a very large health insurance and health service provider. One day at work, I walked past a woman who works in the department across from mine. I know her from my past and started having awful flashbacks and panic attacks.

About 10 years ago, when I was 17 or 18, this woman's boyfriend sexually assaulted me after a party, and then she punched me repeatedly. My recollection of the incident is vague as I was going in and out of consciousness. The next day, she and her friends repeatedly called me names.

The whole experience was traumatizing for me, and I was so upset and ashamed of what happened that I did not call the police. I didn't see her again for a few years. When I did see her, I didn't say anything because I didn't want to bring up this horrible memory, and it had been too long for me to do anything about it. I had a career and children by then, which I couldn't jeopardize for an old revenge.

I now see her at work, and each time I see her telling her friends about me while pointing at me. I cannot work knowing she is in the same building, and having to relive the traumatic memory every time I run into her. I spent the entire rest of the day reliving the memory, regretting that I did not call the police, and being so anxious I was sick to my stomach, jittery and feeling useless. I feel like I shouldn't have to work in those conditions.

I know the incident occurred 10 years ago, before either of us worked for this company, but I cannot forget that she assaulted me and then harassed me about it. I also don't want to spread this story at work.

I was thinking about asking HR if they could transfer her away from me. They have done this in the past when they hired a guy who turned out to be an employee's ex-husband. I am hesitant to bring this up to my boss because it's embarrassing and I also don't like involving my personal life with my work.

I want to know if bringing this up will achieve anything. Can my company help me, or am I just stuck having to relive these memories every time I see her?

  • If the other individual is harrasing you, you should absolutely get proof of it and bring that to the attention of HR I'm written format. Harrasment is illegal. Harboring harrasment is illegal. However, from what you've said, it seems possible that she is not actually saying bad things about you to other people. You don't know what she's saying. Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 6:50
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    I don't think this is as such work related. If that traumatized you so badly, i guess you should first look for personnal help through therapy and/or seek legal advice on what could be done. You might also get things straight by going directly to that woman for a discussion. People change, as you said yourself, so maybe she will actually be understanding and show some compassion... On the other hand, if shés spreading rumors about you at work, this could be a case of harassment at work that you could report.
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 8:19
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    First, I am sorry for what happened to you in the past. Second, psychotherapy might help to control your reactions, specifically treatments aimed to resolve traumatic stress reactions, e.g. EMDR.
    – michi
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 12:52
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    Can I just say for whoever happens to see this in future, if you're ever in this type of situation, call the police, without reservation.
    – Möoz
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:50
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    Is it possible to go to the police now? In some places even if the assault happened 10 years ago you can still report it. Unfortunately you probably don't have any proof, only presumably some witnesses where saw you at the time. But in some cases that can be enough.
    – user
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 9:01

7 Answers 7


I find many of the answers listed here troubling as the advice is fairly poor and generally lacking of compassion.

I too was the victim of an assault around the same age (though mine only included physical violence). At a time in my life when I was quite vulnerable, I was befriended by a group of older adults, taken to a party and gotten very intoxicated at which point I was falsely accused of something, summarily beaten unconscious by an older man and left with permanent physical scars as a result. I experienced the similar taunting and alienation the morning after the incident and I too refused to go to the Police because of the embarrassment and personal responsibility I accepted for putting myself in the situation.

It's been two decades since the incident and it still enters my mind from time to time. Unless you have been the victim of some physical violence, you really cannot understand the trauma that it puts on a person's mind. My assault was only physical and so I cannot even begin to imagine the intensity that the sexual aspect lends to it.

So I think the first thing that someone needs to say is: The feelings that you are experiencing are absolutely and completely reasonable. Being unexpectedly confronted with this intensely painful event from your past at your place of work is not something you should be forced to deal with. You do have options available to you and you are not powerless - though to the other poster's points - you will need to tread extremely careful so as not to be seen as the aggressor.

Talk to your manager. I cannot disagree more with the poster who said not to do this. If you have a halfway decent relationship with your boss, then describe to him/her your situation without going into any of the detail you listed above. Focus on the facts only - you were the victim of a sexual/physical assault some years ago, a person related to the incident just joined the company, you are having extreme difficulty focusing on your work with them in close proximity. I would strongly recommend keeping the other woman's identity anonymous. Tailor the message around this being a problem with you and this environment. There are a few options available to your manager at this point and most likely he/she will get HR involved (after all this type of situation is exactly why HR exists). As a manager myself I would absolutely want to know if one of my associates was struggling with something like this. Pending this conversation, some possible responses that immediately come to mind:

  • Work From Home - We live in virtualized workplace and if you are in the medical/insurance industry (hey, me too!), it is not at all unreasonable to see if you can try to minimize how much physical time you need to spend in the office. The lifestyle is not for everyone but this would remove you from the immediate point of conflict.
  • Transfer/Relocation - Does your office have more than one location? If so you could possibly work out a transfer to a different department or perhaps your boss would be willing to let you work remotely from another site?
  • Counseling Services - I'm not sure who specifically you work for but most medical/insurance companies are networked fairly well and so your company might offer you free counseling to help you try and work through some of the raw emotions that this reconnection has triggered.
  • Severance/Leave to find new employment - If the company is unable to accommodate you (something for which you must be prepared) and you cannot stand to continue in that environment (I certainly could not), then a good manager will do all they can to ease your transition. Companies, at least in the US, commonly have small severance packages for professionals who are terminated. If you are in good standing at your company and act in good faith with this dilemma, I could see this being an option where your boss tries to do the right thing if they cannot directly accommodate your situation. I should stress.. do not ask for this directly but be aware that it is something that may be offered.

Again, I want to stress... unless the other woman begins harassing you (and be careful here - the human mind can attribute harmless gestures as simple eye contact as an attack) I would resist all temptations to identify her in any way. This issue is best approached as a problem with you and the environment. If you present the issue as a dilemma you are struggling with and looking for help rather than as a confrontation that the company must solve, I really believe that you are going to be met with compassion and understanding rather than with anger or frustration. I sincerely wish you the best of luck.


He Said, She Said Situation

Unlike the example you give of the ex-spouse of an employee being transferred, there are no legal records here to demonstrate fact.

It is your word only.

Therefore, you would be asking your company to transfer another employee - somewhere else -- merely upon your word.

Would you like it if someone did that to you?

Possible Solutions

  1. You may want to consider forgiving them in your heart -- and letting go. Holding on to anger/hate/remorse - all negative feelings - just slowly rots you away like cancer. Let go and be free.

  2. Also consider that this person may have changed in 10 years (i.e. grown up) and may not be aggressive or mean like they were.

  3. However, if they do become aggressive or mean in the workplace, you can then take action based upon THAT - not your past - just unprofessional behavior in the workplace. The company won't care about your past (he said/she said), but will care about documented issues on company property.

This will require you to be patient and always professional in all situations, but in doing so, you will come across as the reliable, professional worker, and the spiteful person will likely be asked to leave if they do not correct their behavior.

  • 5
    It's not a he said she said situation. Accusing a co-worker of infidelity from many years ago (or even recently) would be extremely inappropriate in the office and pretty much grounds for a harrasment complaint. Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 6:54
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    @GlenPierce - I'm sorry, I missed where an accusation was made against the OP in the present time. Could you point that out? Otherwise, it is a "he said/she said" event, because it is describing things in the past before either joined the company.
    – user45269
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 14:20
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    @GlenPierce - these events do not occur at work (your own quote says as much) and occurred before they worked in the same building ("... but now we work in the same building!"). Harassment outside of the workplace is handled by civil courts - not your employer. If the OP were to go to civil court and get a restraining order, then the company would need to act. Otherwise, this is still a "he said/she said" case from the company perspective.
    – user45269
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 14:28
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    @AnneDaunted - yes, the OP should document everything. The person from the past sounds like a spiteful person and will likely do this again - on company property. It is just a matter of when, not if.
    – user45269
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 14:33
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    "You may want to consider forgiving them in your heart -- and letting go. Holding on to anger/hate/remorse - all negative feelings - just slowly rots you away like cancer. Let go and be free." seems like an easy armchair philosophy and also a bit like asking a depressed person why they don’t just cheer up.
    – user66066
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 14:41

If she harasses you, you should document and report it. If you are in a decent work place, they will take this issue seriously, no matter why she harasses you.

About your anxiety. As someone pointed out, some therapy will most probably help. Depending on where you live, there should be also organisations for victims of sexualised violence. I suggest you to search for such organisations and contact them.

If I am right, you feel guilty because you didn't contact the police back then. Well, this is understandable, and sometimes it's sadly the best you can do. In some places, victims of an sexual assault have to deal with a lot of bs from the police, and the situation could have ended even worse. What I am trying to say with this, is that no one can know if you did right or not by not contacting them.

Finally I wish you good luck. Noone deserves what happened to you, and I really hope you can find the help in real life you need :)

Edit: in case she harasses you, then it would be an idea to start searching for a new job or at least to update your cv, just in case things turn really nasty, but I hope you won't need to go that far.


First off, HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. Going to HR is about the worst thing you could possibly do. They cannot and will not help you.

HR exists to protect the interests of the company, not the interests of the individual employees. If you have no proof, no evidence, no records of anything happening, then you are in for trouble if you walk into HR.

If you report this person without any proof, at best, there will be a note in your file stating that you made an unsubstantiated charge against another employee.

At worst, this person can file charges against YOU with HR for harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Worse still, if you ARE successful in getting any action against this person, this person could sue you for slander and defamation of character for what SHE will say is you bringing up an incident where she caught you sleeping with her BF and how you attacked HER.

Let this be and move on. Nothing good of it can come out of this for you.

  • 3
    +1 about requiring proof and the risk of the tables being turned against the OP by the other person, and about going to HR. Getting the company involved will trigger the anger of the company against the "troublemaker" - which could easily be the OP if she has no proof of harassment in the workplace.
    – user45269
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 15:28
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    +1 - Not sure why this was downvoted - it's good advice, albeit with a bit of hyperbole, and the answer I posted does not contradict it: HR (and in many cases management as well) is "nobody's friend" except the firm's, no matter how they might present themselves to you. They are trained to present themselves with a friendly and helpful demeanor, which is fine since they have to deal with difficult situations, but it's just part of their job, and the real purpose of their job is to look out for the whole company, not you in particular.
    – Vector
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 21:44
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    HR is not necessarily your enemy. But they are paid by the company to look after the company's interests not yours (other than to the extent that that is in the company's interests). Going straight to HR over the head of her line manager may also have adverse consequences. Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 15:37
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    Best possible answer, I think. And @bharal - if you actually believe that HR is there to protect the employee's interests, you're either young... or you work in HR.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 18:12
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    @bharal in no known universe does HR function as you've described it. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 18:22

As soon as I saw this woman, I started having awful flashbacks and panic attacks...

Your personal problems regarding this woman are not the business of HR or management, and you'll do yourself more harm than good by turning to them about such matters: To them she is an employee in good standing, just as you are - your personal problems with her are yours, not hers as an employee, or the firm's. You've already gotten some good advice in other answers about how to deal with your own issues.

Having said that, there is a different aspect here:

I have seen her twice now in public (not at work) and each time I can see her telling her friends about me...

As long as that's outside of the workplace, the above applies. However, should it come to your attention, either through your own observation or "through the grapevine" that she is engaging in such behavior in the workplace, then it does become your manager's and HR's business: An employee spreading nasty gossip in the workplace about another employee is unacceptable.

The caveat here is should that come to pass, you must make sure that you have solid evidence backing your claims. "My friend from downstairs told me that Ms. X was talking about me" or "I saw Ms. X whispering to her friend and looking towards me in the cafeteria" is not going to be enough. (Secretly recording, on your own, the conversations of another employee may be illegal and/or against company regulations, so you should avoid that.)

Your best bet in such a case would probably be to engage your manager if possible - if that's not viable or doesn't help things, your next step is HR. (keep all your personal issues out of it - just say you had some issues with employee X outside of work and she seems to have brought them into workplace, which you believe is unacceptable)

Whatever you do, you must line up other reliable employees as allies/good witnesses (not just more gossip and hearsay), should the need arise, otherwise, as others have pointed out, you become the problem as far the firm is concerned - you're bad-mouthing a fellow employee with no basis at all. That makes you the bad employee, not your target.

I'm repeating this because of its importance:

In all of your dealings at work - with your manager, HR, other employees, etc. - keep all your personal distress and grief out of it as much as possible - you will just hurt your own cause otherwise, by making your own personal issues the problem:

Just say you had some personal issues with employee X outside of work, she seems to have brought them into the workplace, which you believe is unacceptable - and here is the proof. The rest is up to them.

  • @RichardU - Didn't know there was one - but I'll take it. :)
    – Vector
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 22:35

So you have been assaulted, you didn't go to the police, because you were young and inexperienced, because you were embarrassed, because you didn't know who the person was who did it, because there was a witness but you didn't know who the witness was. Now you know who the witness is.

Times have changed. People have been jailed (in the UK) for sexual attacks where the victim came forward 20 years later. So it's not at all too late to go to the police, now that you have a witness you knows who the perpetrator was and who watched him doing it.

You can prepare the scene by telling good work colleagues about the coincidence that at last you found the witness to the crime. You are not saying anything bad about her, you say that she is a witness to a crime. Then you find out her name, you tell her that she is a witness in a series crime, and then you go to the police. Never accuse her, because you don't want to accuse her when you have no evidence, you want two things: You want that man in as much trouble as possible, and if people in the company "know" she was a witness that makes it very hard to deny things without damaging her reputation. And you want her to know that you know what she has done.

Chances are that by now she is not in any relationship with that man, and that she is either ashamed of what she did back then, or that she completely misread the situation.

  • 1
    The OP didn't list where she lives but I would check the statute of limitations for sexual assault in her area before pursuing something like this. Also the OP needs to determine what her overall intent is.. is she looking for punishment or to establish a "paper trail"? Certainly at the very least this will be a very hard experience for her (reliving these painful memories) so she will want to get emotional support before pursuing this path.
    – user48276
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 10:39
  • You can press charges forever. Whether this leads to a prosecution is something else. Being able to go up to the woman and say "I just pressed charges against your boyfriend for sexual assault, I hope you will tell them what he did" should be worth a lot.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 14:56

Get an Attorney

Seek legal counsel immediately. Find a good highly rated firm and get a free consultation. If there is any action you can take they will be in the best position to help you figure out what your options are, and what course of action is in your best interests.

Chances are the attorney will give your company the chance to do the right thing before they file against them. Because companies that do the right thing are both rare and relatively immune to large judgement. Conversely companies that go into CYA mode are more common and more likely to face large judgments.

If you get a long time established firm your lawyer will likely know how to expect your company to act. My advice is to follow their counsel. But in the end you will have many options. But the people best suited to tell you what those options are is an attorney not interweb pundits.

In case you are not convinced yet, please remember HR is not your friend their priority is to protect the business not you. An attorney will make it their first interest to serve you. They will also be in the best position here to help you figure out what your best interests are.

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