Sexual harassment in the workplace pushed me to try and take my own life
Sexual harassment in the workplace drove Venus Libido to try and take her own life – five times.
Heartbreakingly, her story is not uncommon. According to sexual abuse charity Safeline, sexual harassment in the workplace affects over half of women in the UK.
Aware that sharing her story may help other women, here, Venus tells Four Nine about her experience.
Sexual harassment in the workplace
The artist was working as a specialist decorator in London at the time. She loved the work, however, the behaviour of her male colleagues turned the job into a living hell. She tells me: "They would watch me go up and down a ladder, staring at my arse, and take pictures when I wasn't looking. Other male colleagues would just sit and laugh at me. There were so many comments that eventually just dug away at my soul.
"I didn't know what to do, or what my rights were. And I didn't want to say anything out of fear of overreacting, or being seen as someone who was moaning about getting compliments from men."
Ultimately, when she reported the incidents to her boss, he brushed it off. Instead of listening, he justified the sexual harassment by blaming it on the perpetrator's culture. Following his lack of action, a fellow female co-worker then endured a serious sexual assault. Fortunately, this was reported to the police.
"Shortly after that, I attempted to take my life," Venus tells me. "The whole experience was traumatic. I...was really just hating life." It was then that she realised she had to leave.
Social media provided support
Drawing and connecting with people online provided a much-needed balm during this time. "Talking online, and being able to connect with people who were are going through similar things helped my mental health more than any healthcare professional could. It basically saved my life."
Likewise, drawing was a way she could speak about how she was feeling in a way that was affordable, quick and immediate: "It was straight from my head to the page".
Still, the harassment that Venus suffered has stayed with her. She tells me that she had to move back to her parents' house in Southhampton because she felt so scared about going back to work. And to this day, she gets triggered when working around men. She tells me: "I find it very, very difficult to work for other people out of fear of being treated like that again."
Victims must feel able to speak out
Now, Venus recognises the need for victims to feel validated about their feelings. "It's never a compliment if it makes you feel uncomfortable," she asserts. "The big takeaway from any kind of workplace harassment is to talk to as many people as you can and not keep it to yourself, because that's what led me to attempt to take my own life. I felt so isolated.
"Depending on the severity, don't be afraid to report it to the police," she adds. "If you feel worried or anxious, and you think that something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."
Venus' experience of sexual harassment isn't just confined to the workplace. She's also faced a staggering amount of it online.
In December of 2019, her Instagram account was deleted after she exposed a man who started sending her images of his genitals. "Because I was ignoring him, he started to send threatening messages, and he said he knew where I lived."
But when Venus reported it to Instagram, the platform allegedly said that the individual's behaviour wasn't going against their guidelines, or breaking any rules. "Because Instagram was doing nothing, I decided to expose him on my stories and grid, and when I did that, Instagram deleted my account."
Facing harassment online
Venus took action by using other platforms to talk about her experience. Instagram then shortly reinstated her account. "They also gave me a blue tick of verification," she adds wryly, "We call it the apology tick".
However, the troll in question has still not had their account suspended.
Venus tells me how he has also sexually harassed other women in her community, which she says is largely a sex-positive and inclusive space. "Instagram seems to be censoring anyone who speaks about explicit content, whether that be sex educators or sex workers. They target and shadowban anyone who draws attention to it too."
Venus, herself, has been shadowbanned (a process where the platform limits your content reach) ever since her account was deleted.
'I know I'm helping other people'
And although she's now looking at other ways to share her work – through her podcast, and an upcoming newsletter – she's not put off social media entirely. "When you have a large platform, you have a responsibility to help other people and say the right thing. As long as I know I'm helping other people, I don't mind sucking some of my own energy," she says.
"I never feel drained by the conversation. I feel drained by the censorship of social media, and the lack of support that the platform has towards sexual harassment and abuse online."
Sharing her artwork online opened her eyes to the world of social media activism. And she now boasts over 120,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts her colourful tongue-in-cheek drawings.
As a young millennial woman myself, looking at Venus' drawings feels akin to speaking to a friend; a reminder that everything from anxiety to ghosting really are universal experiences.