I wrote an awful story about a coworker, and it’s following me around years later

A reader writes:

I hope you are willing to hear me out and offer some advice.

Some background. I was molested as a child and worked as a prostitute at one time. That doesn’t excuse my behavior, but I feel I don’t have the best judgment.

I moved to a very rural state to help out my husband’s parents. Things didn’t work out the way I planned. I had a hard time finding a job and the one I did find was crappy.

I was angry and wrote a sexual story about a coworker. It was a BDSM story in which the coworker was the aggressor. I was angry that we had to move to a very rural, judgmental state and wanted an outlet for the anger, but obviously this was a poor decision. I thought I posted on a fetish site anonymously, but it turned out it wasn’t anonymous. I used a different name for her, but someone figured it out by the description. People found out and I was treated like a monster, even years later.

I left the job where I posted the story during my tenure there (I literally had people spitting on me) and went to the next job, where people were fine until someone associated with the last employer from a different location came in and made sure everyone knew. People who had been very professional and friendly became nasty. I was denied any kind of promotions (people who didn’t have as good of a performance were given promotions over me and the answer I was given on why was “wait”). This was five years after I left the last position, by the way.

I stayed another couple years, thinking it would blow over, but nada. There was even a staff meeting where my supervisor told people, “Don’t set up Facebook pages about a coworker. You are bullying them.” I’m pretty sure it was about me, but I have no proof. It never got better.

I finally left in April of this year to go elsewhere. Everything was fine until two weeks ago when an intern started. Wouldn’t you know, that same former employee who stirred up trouble at the last job knows her? And all the sudden people are avoiding me here too.

The story was nine years ago. I still have trouble getting and keeping employment because these same coworkers make it their job. Do I have to basically leave my husband, not because I don’t love him, but because I made a mistake years ago?

I’m definitely sorry, but it doesn’t seem right. I can’t help but wonder if I were a man if people would have shrugged and moved on. (I should mention my husband is a trans man, I am a queer woman, and the coworker is a woman as well.)

I’ve been thinking about this letter for a while, trying to decide how to respond.

Obviously, this was wrong. It must have made your coworker feel terribly violated — sexually and otherwise.

On one hand, I can understand why you feel like this shouldn’t still be keeping you from getting and keeping a job nearly a decade later. You know it was wrong, you regret it, and you never intended your colleagues to see it. But on the other hand, this is the kind of thing that stays with people, both the victim and people around her. It was likely so upsetting to her and alarming to people who heard about it that it might not be realistic to expect them not to warn other people about it.

If people were outright bullying you about it, that’s not okay, especially years later. Spitting on you wasn’t okay. The Facebook group thing, if used to bully you, wasn’t okay.

But it’s also true that people might not move on from this. I can understand why it comes up when your name comes up; it’s the kind of thing where people might feel they were being irresponsible if they didn’t fill in others who they learned were working with you. That’s just the crappy reality of it for everyone.

I don’t know if this is helpful, but I had a dude who did some disturbing stuff to/about me years ago, mostly but not entirely written. It was scary, and it was threatening. I felt violated. It’s been years without contact from him, and for all I know he could be a different person today. He might feel deep shame about what he did. But he left me so shaken (to the point that even years later, I feel uneasy about writing about it here, because I have to worry about it triggering another wave of contact) that if I heard he was working with someone I knew, I’d feel obligated to say … something. Maybe just that I’d had a bad experience with him and to be careful. It wouldn’t be gossip — it would be a genuine desire to warn people.

All of that is to say, the damage may be done here, no matter how regretful you are about it now (and I believe that you are regretful).

The solution isn’t that you need to leave your husband! But the solution might be that you and your husband both need to seriously consider whether this warrants going somewhere where this won’t follow you. I know “pick up and move” isn’t exactly an easy answer. But given that it sounds like you’re in a small area where things spread quickly, it might be the only way. I’m sorry — I know that’s not encouraging.

{ 891 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    Given the way information is so available now, if you do decide to move it could still follow you via social media.
    For that reason you may want to curtail any social media presence and consider changing your names. Start a new last name together or something.
    If it follows you. Hopefully not.

    1. Auga*

      Yes, you’ve probably already thought of this but definitely don’t have a Linkedin or any social media which would tell your old ex-coworkers where you are now.

      1. TheTomatoInUrFruitSalad*

        and if you’re worried about linkedin, I don’t have one. never have, never will. No employer has ever been upset about this, and only one potential employer asked why I didn’t have one. I shrugged and told the hiring manager I was secretly a Luddite (this was for an IT position, so I’m not recommending you use this, but treat it as if it’s not a big deal and the hiring managers shouldn’t either). I was offered the job regardless. More important to focus on references for the last 9 years and who can speak to your character/work ethic without bringing this incident up.

        1. Bonky*

          I don’t have LinkedIn because I had a stalker – I don’t have any identifiable social media at all (which is kind of funny, given that I run a comms department). The moment I mention the reason for my lack of participation, people are very sympathetic – I’ve never had any pushback or suffered any negative consequences.

    2. The Grey Lady*

      I agree with changing your name. I know that’s a PITA, but it’s really the only way you’re going to be able to cut ties with anyone who knows you, even if you move.

    3. RZ*

      I was thinking of suggesting that the OP adopt her husband’s last name in a professional setting (or resorting to her maiden name if she uses her married name). Or perhaps go by her middle name or something if that is too much work.

    4. I'm just here for the cats!*

      The problem is that in some states if you change your name you have to disclose it by putting it in the local papers of everyplace you’ve lived in x amount of years. It’s meant so that if you have creditors they can still find you. But the problem is that people can track you down.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yeah, but with the internet and the death of local newspapers, it’s easy to get around this requirement by picking whichever site/publication satisfies the requirement and also is the one least likely to be seen by anyone.

        1. PJ*

          There’s also the case that most jobs will ask you what you prefer to be called, and LW could ask to be called [whatever name that isn’t the one others know].

          That doesn’t make the risk of people finding out zero, but it limits the number of people who would know the full legal name to HR and maybe the manager.

      2. Ominous Adversary*

        They can, but it will solve the problem of people hearing her name and immediately recognizing her.

      3. Web Crawler*

        Yes, that’s technically true. But 1) not many people read the local newspaper in that depth. (My name change was in a paper that nobody around me was aware existed, in some back page that I’m sure 4 people ever saw.)

        And 2) your coworkers are highly unlikely to be doing that deep of a google stalk on you, especially since all they know is your new name. If you google me as “Web Crawler”, you’ll find my current social media and the history of every other “Web Crawler”. You’d have to know my former name to know my history. And the only things that require my former legal name now are pretty confidential in nature- something where gossiping about me would be a pretty big ethics breach.

      4. Dasein9*

        Laws differ in various states, but this is not usually a big deal. The name change has to be published, yes, but there are publications that can be used that make it a mere formality. The new and old names will be a matter of public record, but that is not something many people go looking for.

        The old name will show up in a background check.

        In court, the judge will ask a question or two and may remind you that changing one’s name for the purpose of committing fraud is illegal.

        1. Mama Bear*

          When I changed my name, it was published in a small local paper in my new state (the paper was one of the court’s choosing – they handled everything) for 90 days. It may be possible to do a fairly quiet name change.

          However, what I haven’t heard from OP other than remorse is therapy. If OP hasn’t sought therapy to deal with impulsive behaviors, anger, and the fallout thereof, it might be worth doing, both for OP’s own sake and to show a good-faith effort to change and grow as a person. OP needs to own this and I get the feeling that this is a much bigger deal than described in the letter for there to be this much angst nearly a decade later. We know what impact it had on OP, but what impact did it have on the coworker? Is the coworker still dealing with the fallout, too? Did it ruin her career or family/social life?

          OP might also consider a different career since the professional circle seems to be very small.

          As for if OP needs to leave their spouse – that’s between OP and the spouse, but I again suggest therapy to determine if it’s a valid option/path or just an impulsive response that really won’t fix the crux of the matter. OP is over it, but other people are not and OP should think about why.

          1. Person from the Resume*

            I’m under the impression that the “leave my spouse” is because the couple moved to this small town for the spouse’s family and the LW is saying that she needs to leave town but can’t/won’t ask her spouse to leave his family. Frankly wording it that way sounds a bit melodramatic to me. Although LW owns a lot of the blame, that bit there rubs me the wrong way.

            1. JJJJBBB*

              This was my feeling too. She’s acting like a victim when what she did was outrageous. Why did she feel the need to write about the coworker? She couldn’t make it fiction? I’m not even sure it was such an “accident” that it got posted publicly. She wants it to go away, but some things are just too far over the line. If a man had written it, there wouldn’t even be a conversation because he would be widely known as a creep and potential sex offender. Being female doesn’t give her a pass.

              1. fhgwhgads*

                Based on the letter, it wasn’t an accident that it was posted publicly. It was intentional public, but she thought they’d anonymized it enough not to be recognized (and/or expected nobody who might recognize it to come across it) and was wrong. I’m not saying that was a good idea either, but you’re overlooking details that are in the letter and replacing them with supposition.
                As for why she felt the need to do this when she was very upset? The context for that is in the letter also. Doesn’t obsolve her of responsibility, but does explain why her mind would go there when most people who had not experienced the same childhood abuse would not think that way.

                I also think Alison’s feedback was a much more productive and helpful way to tell her she doesn’t get a pass than your version. Remember the rule: be kind to letter writers?

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  The mistake was in not realizing the wonderful utility of the delete key. Write it. Then delete it and move on with your life.

              2. whingedrinking*

                I’m a little confused by your saying “she couldn’t make it fiction?” I thought it was fairly clear in context that the story was invented, unless the OP and the coworker actually did have a BDSM encounter…

              3. Nicotene*

                This is such a strange story. I honestly can’t imaging how an anonymous story using another name on a (presumably?) obscure fetish site could have possibly gotten back to her/the coworker in question. There must be more to this. I have written fanfiction for years and there has never been a hint that it is associated with me professionally???

                1. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Yeah, I am baffled too. How is it possible to recognize someone from a description in a story alone? Unless maybe what OP means by thinking the story was anonymous was that she had her real name attached to it when she posted it, and someone who knew her and knew the coworker described in the story read it. But even then, it would have to be a really precise description…

                2. JSPA*

                  unless there was a huge privacy violation, as far as identifiable details, it makes me wonder if OP at some point confirmed (!) that this was a sexual fantasy about a coworker, or was strange around the coworker in some way (beyond the story itself).

                  Writers draw details from people around them all the time.

                  If OP had played it cool (“oh, my friend group had a team challenge to write the nastiest BDSM scenario, and I was supposed to have worked up a character, but she was really kind of generic, and I stupidly threw in some details from friends and coworkers. When you point it out, I do see there are Michelle-like details in the finished version, and I’m horribly embarrassed and very sorry. But that’s after a bunch of very – not – Michelle details were edited out. I absolutely learned my lesson about not using people’s details. I’m obviously even worrier that the writing challenge was BDSM, too. If it had been Harry Potter fanfic, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

                  But if OP had conflict or a failed dating attempt or some other sort of “problematic at work” interaction with the colleague, she can’t put it down to “stupid rookie writing error.” It becomes something closer to revenge porn. And at that point, it’s going to take “getting help” (in some pretty open way) to set people’s anxieties at rest.

                  That said, women with bad boundaries and “issues” are rarely (except for in Hollywood movies) homicidal rapists. As distressing as its been to have a couple of different women get weirdly fascinated with me (and try to get further into my life without my permission, against my express wishes), the vast majority of the [scary / dangerous / not scary but actually raped me] people have been cis men. Given how actual physical violence and intentional threats by male coworkers still often get treated as jokes (or otherwise go unpunished), I’m a little leery of encouraging OP to flaggelate herself further, especially if there’s no more to the story than “I used BelindaBelle’s nasal giggle, retro beehive and green and purple poodle skirt for color in a story (and named her MelindaMelle)”.

            2. Kara S*

              It read that way to me, too. LW thinks she has to leave her husband under the pretence of moving away from the town but the subtext is “I need to punish myself further”. It sort of read like she hopes suggesting this over the top punishment will result in others viewing the co-workers’ reactions as being too over the top.

              1. KateM*

                Ugh, now you made me wonder… Maybe, as she wrote BDSM with coworker as aggressor, she enjoys being punished? And wrote to AAM to get even more enjoyment out of the situation? I definitely hope it’s just my tired brain jumping to stupid ideas.

              2. Esme Squalor*

                This is very astute! This has the whiff of manipulative hyperbole. As in the kind of person who says, “I’m the worst friend ever! You should block me and never speak to me again!” to avoid an honest conversation about a mistake and to elicit a reaction of, “No, no! Don’t be ridiculous! You’re a great friend!”

            3. Archaeopteryx*

              Yes, it’s bizarre to jump to the idea of leaving your marriage instead of thinking of solutions you can take as a team, such as moving to a different part of the country. Moving cities should be a thoroughly explored option long before you think of abandoning your family, And even if that’s not feasible, you should be handling this as a team.

              1. Sandman*

                But if her husband isn’t on board with a move, that’s the choice she’s left with. I don’t think it’s necessarily dramatic. Not every marriage is as reciprocal as we might prefer.

                1. Archaeopteryx*

                  Ehh, sure people do this in practice, but they also swore an oath not to when they got married, and that should mean something. It just seems like people don’t take stock of how many other options should be thoroughly explored before they jet.

              2. Lilian*

                OP said that they moved to support husband’s parents, so I read this as moving together isn’t really an option. Let’s not speculate too far.

      5. Captain Raymond Holt*

        When I did my legal name change (court order, not marriage/divorce) I had to put a notice of hearing in the paper that used my full, old, legal name. However, my state did allow for a petition for confidential name change which I could have used if I cared about anyone Googling me.

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’d suggest changing your name to something really common because of this. Someone who googles Sarah Jones will have a hard time figuring out which one had changed her name from someone else.

    5. MK*

      I suppose it’s true that the story might follow the OP, even if she does relocate, but probably not. She talks about people stirring the pot and making it their business to ruin her life (frankly it lost her some sympathy points from me), but what actually happened according to the letter is that a coworker from her first job told people in her second job the story and an intern in her third job knew the story and spread it around, and there was some time lapse in the meantime. It doesn’t sound as if anyone is tracking the OP’s employment and goes out of their way to inform her new coworkers, just that this is a pretty sensational story that won’t die and eventually it makes it’s way to her new workplace. Would someone contact her coworkers in a different state? And would they be credible? It’s one thing for the new intern to tell a story about the OP they learned from their cousin’s best friend and another for a coworker to be contacted could by a random person via social media and told a decade-old story.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, it does sound like it’s exclusively spread through word of mouth, not by people deciding to google their new coworker.

        1. Myrin*

          And also, it doesn’t sound like the former coworkers actively reached out to OP’s later workplaces – the story always got spread because someone new who already knew it joined OP’s then-current company. So I’d guess OP would be relatively safe from that if she were to relocate unless her industry is so incredibly small that there are only a handful of jobs available all over the country, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

          1. Nicotene*

            My only other suggestion for OP is the one we gave to the fellow who wasn’t succeeding in an office environment and had burned all his bridges, which was that he might consider working for himself for a while. Even something like an Etsy shop (plz don’t use your real name or any identifiable details) or other small business opportunity might be better than starting and stopping your other career path like this. This is only if you truly can’t move because of family issues and if the area really is so small you will just keep running into former coworkers.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, I have a godawful job history and I only do gig work because of it. It’s relatively anonymous and people seldom look into your past.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I suspect this is a side-effect of being employed among the few jobs available in a rural area–when there aren’t that many jobs to be had or people to hire for them, the odds of you working with former coworkers at a new job are a lot higher, and stuff will follow you.

      3. Shan*

        I work in a niche industry that pretty localised, so a) everyone knows everyone, and b) there aren’t a tonne of relocation options. I know someone who flamed out pretty spectacularly, and it would be very difficult for this person to get another job in industry because everyone knows everyone and word spreads. But that’s exclusively within our industry – if you change careers (which this person did), it doesn’t follow you because there’s no crossover, so it’s not part of the grapevine. I think there’s a good chance moving to another state would do the same for OP.

    6. George*

      I was going to say something similar. However, name changes can be a pain. But you can start going by another name (middle name, the name you always wished was yours) and switching from your married to maiden name (or vice versa). Yes, I’m Samantha Smith, but I always go by Georgiana and I use my maiden name professionally, so I’m also Georgiana Jones.

    7. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

      Also, I assume you’ve scrubbed all sites of said story, etc.? If that’s possible?

    8. Quill*

      Also clear out your facebook of potential linkages and make it private with the highest security settings and NO workplace or location information, or delete it altogether (and no other social media that you don’t use professionally should be under your legal name! Ever!)

  2. Anonymous at a University*

    Ouch, LW. I can see why you feel this shouldn’t be a big deal now, and it’s also not okay that people were spitting on you and bullying you on FB (if you were). I’m not quite sure why you think people would want you to leave your husband, but that’s the kind of thing that might not make sense outside the personal context.

    On the other hand, I can see your coworker’s side of it. It sounds like she didn’t do anything to you, but you chose her as a target because she worked there and out of general frustration with her job. That would actually worry me much more than if you’d targeted someone you already had a contentious relationship with- not because it makes the story RIGHT either way, but because it would make it seem like, “Watch out, when she gets frustrated she just takes her emotions out on everyone regardless of whether they had anything to do with it.” That makes you sound more frightening. It also doesn’t sound like you apologized or did anything to make up for it, and the fact that you posted it online rather than, say, keeping it private and having someone come across it accidentally tells me that you wanted an audience and wanted to punish this coworker for what sounds like nothing she did. It also sounds like you’re still blaming other people for this to an extent, like saying it must be about gender or that people want your marriage destroyed instead of it being what it is: that people are rightfully wary of someone who portrayed a coworker who it doesn’t sound like did anything to you personally in a sexual, disturbing way.

    I don’t know if you need to move, but until you can let go of the idea that other people have no right to be upset about this, I don’t think you’ll be able to be content in any new job.

    1. Ali G*

      I agree with you. OP doesn’t describe how they handled the aftermath of being found out. Did they apologize, and make efforts to make the story disappear? Or did they try to play it down and make it go away? A big part of how people will treat you after a huge mistake like this is how you handled it.

      1. Anon for this*

        I read through all of the comments so far and think I have finally figured out what has bothered me so much about the letter…it is that the objectification of the person that the OP created the story upon.

        After re-reading the letter, I don’t see any reflection on what happened to the person that had a sexual story written about them. How did it change their interactions within the small community? Their life? Their family? By omitting this information and also not specifying whether the OP apologized to them, it leads me to believe that their pain is not of concern of the OP. Are they supposed to have moved on in the time that has passed? They were treated as an object in the story and are being treated as a non important object now. I nearly wrote obstacle, but they don’t even rate that. The OP doesn’t designate them as anything, not even a particular antagonist at work. As far as the letter indicates, the OP and the story focus did not have a relationship before the story was written, did not have a relationship after the story was found out and didn’t have a relationship afterwards with any restorative justice.

        In the absence of any antagonism, the former coworkers are left with the uneasy feeling that any of them could have been (and might have been) used in this way. That leads them to warn current co-workers so they are aware of what might happen. It is beyond not getting on the bad side of OP, it is not interacting with OP at all.

        As well, although the OP indicates that they are sorry, they also did not either state that they would not every do that again or that they had worked on their issues in the intervening years.

        In contrast, they still are blame shifting to indicate that their troubled past or the fact that they live in an area that they don’t like to explain why they created this story. Neither of which is fixed and the OP seems even more frustrated with the fact that consequences are following them. In the absence of therapy or reflection, why aren’t former coworkers right in presuming that the OP might and most likely will lash out in the same or other inappropriate ways?

        Perhaps I am sensitive to this because I warned a co-worker about a third because he had been caught with child port on a server he ran. She spouted the “good CHRISTian man” blah and ghosted me for telling her something that she was not comfortable hearing about. He got his hand slapped for not securing the server. Ten years later, he was arrested…for child porn on his personal computer.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          We have a registered sex offender living on our street a few doors down. Word quickly spread. I looked him up on the registry and confirmed that yes, he was on it. I took the extra step up looking him up in the state judiciary database. If he had a 16 year old girlfriend when he was 18, I don’t care. No, it was everything you imagine: just the sort of stuff that makes the registry necessary. All the kids in the neighborhood know not to go to that house. The younger ones don’t understand why not, but are impressed by the universal consensus, shared by the older kids who do understand, at least in a general way. I don’t know of any more direct response from the neighborhood, but I’m sure he doesn’t have friendly neighborly chats. I have had people tell me that this is unfair. You know what? I have a hierarchy of duties. My duty to my kids ranks far higher than making nice to him. So, for that matter, does my duty to the other kids in the neighborhood. If a family with kids moved next door to me, this will feature in the ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ conversation.

          It looks to me like the former co-workers regard the LW similarly. It is not obvious that they are wrong.

          1. Observer*

            It’s unfair to keep kids away from a convicted child molester? Really? I would never trust a child with anyone who says that.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I didn’t pursue the question, but my impression is that the person telling me this had a family member on the registry, and believed that he had reformed. Maybe he had. I’m still not letting my kids go there.

              1. Anonymouse*

                I have a cousin who molested his younger sister when he was a teen. We learned, after the fact, that the perpetrating cousin had also been molested when he was a young child.

                I get that he was a victim himself and was acting out his trauma. I understand he went through a significant amount of counseling and may be “better now” and unlikely to offend again. I see that his sister has apparently forgiven him and enjoys spending time with him now that they are both adults, although I personally can’t quite fathom how.

                All of that aside, he will never, ever be alone with my child. Second chances in life are great but they don’t extend to my kid.

            2. Woah*

              You will not BELIEVE the people who believe this, or believe that every one on the registry peed in a public park or had a significant other who lied about their age. I don’t understand it. I’m a foster parents and many of the kids in my care have gone through things people can’t imagine. We have no tolerance for this bullshit in my house, but yes, totally agree with Richard above, there are plenty of people out there who firmly believe in reform for people who sexually abuse children.

              1. anonanna*

                Props to you for foster parenting- that’s such tough but important work. I’m a GAL and just got my first case so I love connecting with others in the community.

              2. Well...*

                … but that’s an actual problem with the laws? The range of crimes that get someone put on the list is way too wide, and that wide range of crimes does hold a unique position in our criminal justice system of putting someone back into society with a permanent mark (though informally many other crimes also effectively carry such a mark). The question of whether the state should have the power to mark people permanently after time served is one worth debating.

                The original family members of victims who campaigned for these laws are against them now. In the Dark has some great episodes on it.

                1. Indoor Cat*

                  Can’t speak for every state, but in Ohio there are tiers, and it’s very clear from looking at the Ohio registry, even just at a glance, what crime and how severe a crime was committed.

                  We also have “Romeo & Juliet” laws here, where someone cannot be charged with statutory rape if they are five years or less older than the younger partner. So a 20-year old can have a 15-year-old girlfriend and still be within the window. (iirc; it might be four years. I remember a controversial case with an 18y/o and a 14 y/o who claimed to be “in love” and their parents couldn’t do anything about it).

                  When two *very* young people are doing sexual activity, they’re often send both to counselling / therapy, as it’s typically a sign of sexual abuse, sometimes ongoing from early childhood.

                  Basically, at least in Ohio, registered sex offenders typically did something pretty awful.

              3. JSPA*

                Recidivism for actual re-offending (once separated out from such offenses as “failure to report, in person, a change of address or new job site within 48 hours”) is actually lower for sexual offenses than most other felony level crimes. That doesn’t mean there are no repeat offenders. But most offenders come from within the ranks of trusted adults within the family, church, school or sports settings. Places where contact is excused, where adults can pick out the vulnerable kids, and where families are lulled into a sense of pride that someone important and trustworthy sees something valuable in a kid.

                1. Lalaroo*

                  This statistic cannot be separated from the fact that sexual offenses are incredibly under-reported, under-investigated, under-prosecuted, and under-convicted compared to other offenses. Just because a sex offender is less likely to be arrested or convicted again does not mean they’re less likely to commit a sex offense again.

            3. AuroraLight37*

              Keep in mind that California state law had a loophole whereby sexual predators could avoid jail time – even if convicted – if they were related to the victim. And have their records wiped by undergoing therapy. This didn’t get changed till 2005.

              And yes, I would never trust a child with someone who thinks I’m a meanie for keeping them away from a convicted sex offender.

    2. JustEm*

      I could be wrong, but I thought the leaving her husband thing was because she’s living in a smaller gossipy community due to his family … so would have to leave him to move away.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Yup, that’s my take too. No one is asking her to leave her husband, but she is considering it because she can’t escape this in the small area she’s in.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It concerns me that the concept of talking to the husband and saying, “I have been miserable here for nine years, and I’m even more miserable because something awful I did about being miserable is following me and making it impossible for me to keep a job here, and I really want to discuss what the end game looks like because I can’t stay here forever without going out of my gourd.”

          Why is leaving the husband an option that’s on the table but discussing with the husband when and how you can both move to somewhere OP likes better isn’t? I know they’re there in the first place to help his parents, but nine years is a long time to stay someplace you hate — even if nobody was spitting on you there! — and it’s fair to say, “I know your parents have needs, but we’ve been prioritizing those needs for nine years and we need to talk about my needs too.”

          1. Chinook*

            The reverse of this is why should her husband gave to abandon his parents so that OP can get away from the consequences her bad choices? Just like she feels like divorcing her husband isn’t worth it, he may feel that caring for his parents is more important. I can all but guarantee that he has gotten splash back from her actions and yet has chosen not to tell her either because a) he sees it as an acceptable price for staying with her or b) he is worried she might make him a target.

            Marriage goes both ways. Both people make sacrifices but, often, only one of them makes a big deal out of theirs while ignoring what is happening to the other (or think the other person’s sacrifice is no big deal).

            I honestly think OP hasn’t taken steps to mitigate the damage done (like removing the story or apologizing), probably because she sees hersel as a faultless victim. Her way of describing the incident definitely makes it feel like that. She lacks self awareness an I wouldn’t bbsurpriswd if there re other actions that shebtakes tht also inhibit her work success.

            I agree with so many others – you need to work with a counselor who can help you move from eternal victimhood and help you be skmeone others would be happy to work with.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Hard agree here.

              It strikes me that hubby is sticking with the OP. I wonder if OP has spoken about this to her husband and what his thoughts here are.
              Not all couples, but some couples can say, “Okay you stepped in crap, let’s get a step-by-step plan to clean up the mess.” Sometimes couples can work together as a team to rise above a problem one of them has.

              OP, I hope I can encourage you that other people have stepped into bigger messes. If you doubt me, just check the news headlines. I think looking at stories of those who have successfully overcome their missteps in life would be of some support to you right now.

          2. Elizabeth Naismith*

            I would tend to agree. My own father had a job that required we relocate occasionally, often with very little notice. We all knew that was part of the deal, and Mama had no particular problem with it. But when we ended up in one place that was absolutely awful for at least half of us kids (and worse for Mama), he didn’t really notice, because he was so caught up in his work. It wasn’t until she gave Papa the ultimatum that he had 6 months to arrange a transfer, or she was taking us to live with her parents, that he finally realized how bad things actually were for us.
            It’s quite possible her husband doesn’t realize the enormity of the situation for OP, and has been tut-tutting her worries. She needs to have a “come to Jesus” talk with him about how serious this actually is, and that she needs a concrete timeline for leaving this town. That she understands he’s taking care of his parents, but she’s given up nearly a decade of her life toward that goal, and perhaps it’s time to consider other options. And then, you know, propose various other options. Like relocating *with* the parents. Or helping the parents relocate to a pleasant retirement community, and visiting often. Or letting another sibling (if there is one) step up and take care of the parents for a while. Or hiring a caretaker and visiting when possible. Or any number of other options.
            But part of being married is meeting both partners’ needs. And hers haven’t been met in nearly a decade. That’s not alright.

      2. Anonymous at a University*

        Ah, okay. I was thinking that the LW was attributing the motivation to people who were wary of her: “They think I should leave my husband.” In reality, I highly doubt that they know that much about her circumstances, or care. It’s about the story, not about them wanting to maliciously destroy LW’s marriage.

      3. fposte*

        I wonder if this is because the OP’s husband has made it clear he won’t move, or because she’s not raised it with him. It seems like if they’ve lived in a rural area OP hates for ten years because of him, it might be time for them to make a life plan that benefits her.

        1. valentine*

          time for them to make a life plan that benefits her.
          This is a more urgent need if the neighbors (and in-laws?) are bi-/homo-/transphobic.

          OP, if there was no time limit on helping the in-laws, or the estimated period is long past, that’s not sustainable and the situation is clearly very harmful to you (angry enough to write about it; intensely inappropriate outlet).

          1. allathian*

            The in-laws are unlikely to be transphobic, since their son (LW’s husband) is trans. If they were transphobic, it’s unlikely that he would have stayed so long in the area to help them. Not impossible, of course, but there’s nothing in the letter that gives me the idea that the husband grew up in an abusive home. (I realize that I’m speaking from a position of privilege because I was raised in a loving home and I’ve never been forced to deal with unhealthy family dynamics.)

            This is a tough situation. The LW has done some pretty awful things in the past and people aren’t willing to let it go. That said, I wonder if some sort of counseling would be useful here? The OP hasn’t said anything about getting counseling to help her deal with the abuse of her childhood in more constructive ways than lashing out at a coworker.

            I imagine that the only way to get past this situation would be to be able to sincerely show that she has changed. One way to do that would be to sincerely apologize for the story and if it’s brought up again, be able to say something like “I was in a bad place when I wrote that, and I’m sorry and I have apologized to the person I victimized. I’m working on trying to become a better person than I was and I’m asking for an opportunity to show that I’m no longer that person.” But this can’t be done unless the LW is sincere in her apologies and finds a better way to deal with the frustrations of life without lashing out again.

            All that said, it’s entirely possible that a trans/queer couple would find it easier to live in a liberal city rather than in a rural area.

            I think it would be beneficial to explore other options first, but if the husband is determined to stay with his parents and LW simply has to get out, a trial separation might be an option. That said, the LW needs to work things out with herself and with her husband, because unless she does the work, it’s entirely possible that just moving away won’t help…

    3. SickofCovid2020*

      I got the inference from the letter that the husband needs to stay help his parents. This is just an assumption but it may be a situation where OP and husband have discussed it and husband basically said I can’t/won’t leave. So starting over for the OP would be sans spouse.

      1. Lexi*

        It’s been a decade. If the parents still need help, they should move with the LW and husband to somewhere they all can get a new start. And if they won’t, LW, should seriously consider what will make her happier long term. She made a bad decision, but shouldn’t have to be miserable forever as punishment.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          Honestly, it might not be a bad idea for the parents to move with them. If word is getting around in a small area, this could affect them to, such as receiving minimal service at grocery stores, poor treatment in medical settings (are they in a nursing home, and if they are, what if staff members are friends or family with the person affected?).

          In most cases, this won’t be overt bad treatment; it’s more that folks won’t go the extra mile as they would for someone else.

        2. Elizabeth*

          My thought is that the parents may be involved in an industry such as agriculture, where there really isn’t an option to move without selling the farm and losing the source of income. That would also track with the husband moving home to help. (I’m a farm kid. I won’t move back. But I know a lot of people who do, to try to save their family’s legacy.)

          1. RagingADHD*

            Or the parents may be in memory care or Hospice, and trying to move them would be cruel or impossible.

          2. KayDeeAye*

            Or they could have a family business – other than a farm, I mean, which is also a family business – a business that is tied to a very specific place. You can’t just up and move under those circumstances, or lots of other circumstances, too.

    4. Stacy*

      100% agree with all of this. I’m honestly surprised she was able to keep that job after her story was discovered. It also seems like the LW is minimizing what she did. This goes well beyond a mistake. It was a horrible violation for her coworker. If LW plans on staying in that area, I think she would benefit from really reflecting on the harm caused, try to make amends if her coworker is comfortable with having contact, and then be upfront about the incident when she interviews for jobs. Talk about what happen and the steps made to rectify the situation.

      1. DocVonMitte*

        I agree that it sounds like she’s minimizing/painting herself as a victim. I had an ex-coworker write erotic content about me that was discovered and it left me feeling uneasy for years. It really sucks that this is still following her but it also is likely still impacting the victim.

        1. Stacy*

          And the letter never once considered the fallout for the victim. If a coworker was able to identify her so easily from that story, imagine how many other people are able to as well? Even if the LW took the story down, the cats already out the bag. I’m sure people have screenshots of it. If I was the victim, I would be terrified that people would wonder if the story is based on some sort of real life experience. I grew up in a rural town, and I guarantee something like this would be gossiped about endlessly.

          1. Littorally*

            Agreed. “I have bad judgment because bad life things happened to me” is very much a dodge in this context. Not to minimize what the OP has endured — that is, genuinely and legitimately, terrible — but these things do not force you to publish violent sexual fantasies about your coworkers!

          2. LunaLena*

            I was also wondering if the LW took the story down, because if she hasn’t, I guarantee one reason it hasn’t died yet is because people are still reading it and passing it around. People love being scandalized so they can tell others that they were scandalized. And if she hasn’t, she should now, even if the horse left the barn years ago. I’m sure at least a few people have downloaded it and have saved copies on their own computers so it won’t be completely gone forever, but taking down the original would at least remove it from the general public and show some remorse/desire to not keep Co-Worker’s horrible experience alive.

            1. Quill*

              Also it very much matters where OP posted the story. “I thought it was anonymous, but it wasn’t,” sounds like it went on a site where they were connected directly to coworkers, possibly under their legal name. If the story has been kicking around Facebook or the neighborhood swap page for a decade, it’s probably going to keep going without OP due to the scandal factor, but if it was, say, posted to a livejournal kinkmeme that OP’s neighbors were somehow all in on, It’s less likely to still exist in the original form.

              Either way, OP needs to scrub this story from as much of the internet as they can and shutter the account it was posted under if they haven’t already.

              1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

                That’s an excellent point I hadn’t realized I didn’t see in the LW’s account of what happened.

                If LW hasn’t, she should make every effort to get that story removed. It will benefit both her and the co-worker she victimized. Restitutional efforts may not clean up everyone’s memory, but it will certainly prevent new folks from going looking for it after the account of what happens reaches them.

          3. JSPA*

            OP is responsible for “used a coworker’s personal details in a way that coworker could reasonably be expected to find horrifying and demeaning.”

            OP isn’t responsible for “this town is gossipy” or “people here think (or pretend to think) that the only non disgusting sex is cis, het, missionary position, and after marriage.”

            You can’t fight homophobia, transphobia or anti BDSM sentiments by writing a small minded tormentor as an identifiable character online. That said, many people have fought all of those things by writing small minded tormentors into not quite identifiable characters in published novels and Broadway plays. The cardinal sin isn’t skewering small minded jerks who harass you; it’s doing it with inadequate skill. And in the wrong place.

            OP, if your writing is actually good, we could use something newer than Angels in America, something less body-trapped than Hedwig. Not every change of careers has to involve a change of place.

            1. Elizabeth Naismith*

              This has nothing to do with being small-minded, though. This has everything to do with OP clearly writing about a coworker in a sexual context without her consent. It’s violating her, no matter what type of sex the story involves. Heck, even if the story didn’t involve sex, if the coworker was that identifiable and had anything but a passing role in the story, it’s a violation to use her so without her consent.
              That violation is what’s not being addressed here, and OP does need to address it. It’s not very different from harassing a coworker with sexually-tinged conversation or phone calls. In many ways, it’s worse.
              Yes, writers base characters on people they know. I am a writer. I do it all the time. But I am very careful not to make my characters recognizable if there is anything overly negative about said character, without the individual’s permission and proof-reading. If it’s something you wouldn’t want that person to read and give feedback on, you shouldn’t put them in it. And you doubly shouldn’t publish it, even on an anonymous forum.
              However, the damage is done. OP can’t go back and unwrite what was written. She can – and should! – delete it wherever possible, delete the associated account, and scrub it from her own computer, too. But it’s already out there, and anything on the internet might as well be forever. Rarely does it come back to bite someone this badly, but it can, and has for more people than just OP.
              She also needs to apologize to the person who was hurt by her actions. No attempts at justification. Just a flat-out apology for her actions.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, it sounds like LW spent too much time in online fandom circles where sexual RPF (Real Person Fic) of celebrities is considered normal, and forgot that in the real world people consider that sort of thing deeply creepy and boundary-violating.

        Sorry, LW, but you have fouled the nest, poisoned the well, salted the earth, and shat the bed in the small town you live in. Maybe you didn’t intend to (but considering what it takes to get ID’d on an international website, I’m wondering if there was some self-sabotage going on there) and maybe you don’t deserve it, but what’s done is done. I think you’re just going to have to accept that and act/plan accordingly.

        1. Peridot*

          Uh, there are plenty of people who read and write fanfic, even RPF, who would never do anything like this. I realize this is a minor point in the discussion, but liking RPF does not equal a complete loss of RL norms.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            True, but that’s a “chefs boil water so everyone who boils water is a chef” fallacy. Are there people into RPF who understand that you have to have RL boundaries? Sure. But if LW really doesn’t get why she’s so ostracized right now, I’d say it’s almost certainly because she went too deep with her online RPF fandom communities – it’s not like you’d pick up that opinion anywhere else.

            1. Peridot*

              Because no one outside of RPF fandom would ever do such a thing? The idea of writing stories about real people did not originate with bandslash or popslash or stories written about Led Zepplin in the 70s.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                Are you seriously trying to argue that a woman who wrote RPF about her coworker and published it online probably just spontaneously came up with the idea of RPF?

                1. Mystery*

                  Honestly I think that’s *more* likely than being in an online RPF community; most people in those communities are aware of the relevant boundaries about doing it to famous people versus doing it to people you know.

                2. Traffic_Spiral*

                  [shrug] Okay, if you wanna hear hoofbeats and think “sparkly pink unicorn” instead of “horse” I guess you do you.

                3. Nic*

                  I mean, she hasn’t called it RPF… I know that’s a technicality, but I think the Ockham’s Razor here is that it’s more likely that she’s in the fetish community and wrote her fantasy on a sub-forum, than that she’s in the RPF fanfic community and got too deep in to remember community norms.

                  You know why I think that’s more likely? Because she says she posted on a fetish site, and not all fiction on the internet is fanfic. It’s not even reinventing the RPF wheel to write badly-hidden people you know – it’s happened forever!

            2. Catherine*

              Yeah, it’s not like the roman a clef has been a thing for just about as long as novels have been around… /s

              1. Former Employee*

                Except that a roman a clef is about real life events that have been fictionalized, not fictional events that are attributed to real people.

    5. miro*

      I agree with all of this. The description of coworkers informing each other about OP’s (legitimately disturbing) behavior as “stirring up trouble” underscores the blaming other people aspect you describe as well.

    6. Ping*

      This. I see no mention of making it right. A mere apology is only the beginning. At a minimum, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the damage done. OP, did you do this? Did you fully admit what you did and try to make it right? If you didn’t then nothing else matters. People aren’t willing to trust someone that can’t FULLY admit what they did. If you minimize anything then it just seems like you’re trying to get out of being responsible.
      Honestly, I can’t see how you can fully move on until you take 100% responsibility for what happened as well as all the damage it caused.

          1. Chinook*

            Maybe not, if she goes through a trained professional ho can work as an intermediary on her behalf. The victim may be open to closing the wound, but only through a 3rd party with their best interest in mind. Op should never be the one to contact here.

              1. kalli*

                It’s worse, sometimes, because it’s a third party who knows what happened. That’s a new violation, especially when it’s a stranger – it can be very deeply confronting and retraumatising.

    7. Littorally*

      I agree with this analysis. The casual way the OP juxtaposed anger, BDSM, and the coworker cast as the “aggressor” makes me wonder if the story was really not so much BDSM (as in consensual power play) as it was a straight-up violent fantasy of some kind.

      From the perspective of the targeted coworker and her peers, having someone writing sexually explicit, angry, violent stories about you and posting them publicly is really, really frightening. Especially if the story included enough specific, identifiable details to be traced to one person. Stories of this nature usually focus on the action, not the biographical details, if you know what I mean? That the target could even be identified makes this sound like something that could have credibly been taken to have threatening or slanderous intent.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I’m assuming the LW posted it on a public ie national, global site so the fact that there were enough identifying details to figure out who it was about and who wrote it are extremely telling. LW was very specific.

        If it was posted to a local site then that speaks to a the LW’s desire for the people to be identified or at least suspected when it was posted.

        I do kind of think the LW is sorry, but there’s also some things here that make me think the LW feels like she’s victim when she was the perpetrator and that she should not still be suffering the impact of her bad behavior. This is kind of along the lines of are you really sorry? or are you just sorry that you got caught?

        1. Artemesia*

          I must lack imagination since I have trouble imagining how a fantasy story would be so readily identifiable. Did she use the person’s name? Was this a person in a really unique position in the organization and the organization was obvious?

          Sounds like she is lucky she hasn’t been sued for libel. And sounds like her only realistic options are to: move, or change her name and move, or develop an on line career where she isn’t relying on the local job market.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            LW didn’t publish it anonymously and lives in a small town. It doesn’t take much to find a match when the choices are limited.

            1. Brooke*

              I don’t think the small town part is really relevant to this piece of the puzzle. Unless her story *took place* in her town and gave enough identifying details to suggest it was based on real life from her town, the characters wouldn’t necessarily be based on anyone in particular, so there’s no reason to look for a match. Sounds like in order for someone to recognize her coworker in the story, it must have been someone who knows both the OP and the coworker in real life, and identifying details in the story were specific enough that it wasn’t easy to explain it away as representing someone else similar. It’s that last part that’s concerning. Characters can be similar to millions of different people. But somehow her coworker was recognizable.

              1. TechWorker*

                I mean, it could have been a very specific physical description that would have been non-identifiable if the author wasn’t identifiable… but if one posted accidentally under their real name (or say, there were other details attached to their account that made them not anonymous) then it was clear who the ‘character’ was based on.

              2. squidarms*

                I got the sense that she posted it on some social media platform and her profile included her location.

              3. Armchair Expert*

                This comment will probably get lost at this point, but: I sometimes used to read an erotic story site that is very very large with a huge amount of stories posted (of wildly varying quality, tbh). As with most things, it’s US-based but with international reach. It’s important to say I didn’t read it particularly often – that’s not me being defensive, it’s relevant to the anecdote.

                I once clicked on a story describing a same-sex encounter in an office environment, and the office layout and details described was so unusual, and the profession relatively niche, that I immediately identified it as someone working in my husband’s company – I’d been in the room they were talking about, and really only someone who worked there would use the details the writer had. This is in a small city, in a non-US country. I had my husband read the passage in question and he came to the same conclusion: This was a fantasy written by one of his co-workers, probably about another one. In, again, a small obscure company in a small obscure city.

                Now at that point, he no longer worked there, and neither of us had any interest in outing the writer (it was a non-concerning, non-violent, consensual fantasy encounter, also it was a gross macho environment and outing them would have been mind-blowingly cruel). But if the writer had included even a couple more physical details, we absolutely could have done. There were only like 20 people in that workplace.

                All of which is to say, it’s a lot easier to ID your anonymous fantasies about real people than you’d think!

                1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                  And that’s on the author for not being more discreet by changing up important details before posting the story online. Sorry, but unless you’re setting your story someplace available to the public, you need to change up enough details to keep anyone from realizing where it actually takes place, or your writings may just come back to bite you.
                  Same goes for characters. It’s not that hard to change up sufficient details about a person to throw off identification. Just changing the name isn’t sufficient. Physical descriptors are an easy one. Give her different hair color, for starters. That’s an easy one. But if it’s something as negative as casting a coworker in an aggressive BDSM fantasy, then you need to completely change the character before posting the story. Sorry. Behavior might be the same, but you need to go through and edit enough that no one could be certain who or where the story was about.

        2. Ping*

          Sorry for what though? Getting caught? Not using good judgement?
          Was OP sorry for the damage it caused? Because I don’t see that anywhere.

          1. Starbuck*

            Nor I; there’s no mention about how that specific coworker reacted or how it affected them. Not thinking that this is an important detail to include is likely part of the problem. In the letter the narrative goes directly from being found out, to LW being treated like a monster – we’re missing some steps there, and they should be important!

        3. New Jack Karyn*

          I was assuming fetlife, and her profile included her location. Someone doing a search for profiles within a certain mileage range could have found it that way.

          1. Granger Chase*

            That’s what I was thinking. A profile where LW had the small town listed as her location and photos that were identifying enough for people to realize it was her. I think they probably figured out it was her first and then read the story posted and someone who’d seen it realized it had to be about the specific coworker.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, this is when you change the names and details and pretend you wrote a fanfic about Professor Umbridge.

      3. becca*

        I’m also wondering how much the story about the story has changed over the years, if that makes sense. If OP has taken it down (I hope OP has taken it down), either people are passing around copies, or they’re just passing around rumors. I can easily imagine a scenario where “Sally wrote a BDSM story about Mary” becomes “Sally wrote a story about raping Mary, holy shit.” I would react very different to the second than the first.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Honestly, I think this is going to be a huge issue whether the way people recall it has changed or not. “OP published a violent and sexual story about a former colleague on the internet, without the colleague’s consent” is a pretty alarming thing to hear about your colleague.

      4. JSPA*

        OP used coworker (reading between the lines, homophobic / judgemental coworker) as the Dom (I think? Unclear what “aggressor” means).

        Being cast as a whip – wielding ball- buster (or whatever) may not be flattering. (YMMV.) And it is pretty automatically creepy to be sexualized.
        but it’s not conventionally threatening.

        “Someone may be feeling an urge to submit to me”… tiresome, boundary crossing, and feels like I stepped on dog poo barefoot” level of icky.

        But unless OP has buried the lede (for example, the story ends with coworker dead, or, uh, a “flipped” scenario) it can’t really be read as a threat.

    8. CRM*

      I totally agree, I think posting this story online definitely adds a level of intention here. When it comes to venting your negative feelings, it’s one thing to write it down in a personal diary (which, in some cases, can be a healthy way to process difficult emotions), it’s another thing to post hurtful content about someone in a public forum. Even if it had been anonymous, given how quickly LW’s coworkers were able to find the piece and figure out who it was about, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that someone would have noticed eventually.

      1. theharuspex*

        I agree. I worked at a TERRIBLE job for about a year and when I look back at my journal entries from that time I am shocked at the RAGE I felt and how much that job and feeling helpless and frustrated really warped my worldview. I don’t fault OP at all for thinking the thoughts she did – those feelings can be really difficult to untangle. But posting it online is a step that absolutely shouldn’t have been taken.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Been there. I worked at a job where I did actually fear for my safety because of the boundary-crossing behavior of a coworker who was protected by management. I did write (in a paper diary) and most of them were obviously angry, hard ball-point-pen strokes, with lots of ! type of entries. I agree that people need to work through their feelings, but it needs to be done in a totally anonymous way.

    9. Jackalope*

      “It also doesn’t sound like you apologized or did anything to make up for it, and the fact that you posted it online rather than, say, keeping it private and having someone come across it accidentally tells me that you wanted an audience and wanted to punish this coworker for what sounds like nothing she did. ”

      I think this is too harsh. Having been in online communities based on things I’m interested in and having had the experience of multiple people having no idea that the communities I was in even existed (think fan groups or professional groups), plus the fact that as far as I know fetish communities aren’t that widely attended in the grand scheme of things (or maybe they are; I didn’t even know such websites existed until a friend told me a year or two ago and I’ve never been on one), I think it’s not a fair summary to think that the LW wanted to punish the co-worker or have her ever find out. She mentioned that it’s a small community, and for all we know the coworker in question had purple hair or something, and once someone figured out that who the LW was the coworker was the only one in the town with purple hair. I’m not saying what she did was a good idea, but it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that she wanted the coworker to find out and be punished or embarrassed by it, rather than the LW just blowing off steam in a very unfortunate way.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Maybe. I think it’s still worthwhile for the OP to reflect why she wanted to post this publicly, though.

        Also, if she never apologized or did anything to make up for this, I would honestly worry about her doing something like this again if she got frustrated with someone else at her current job. “I’m going to post this sexual story about a coworker online, with enough identifying features that it’s clear I didn’t disguise it at all” is simply not a productive, proportionate, or rational response to feeling frustrated and hating the area you live in.

        1. TechWorker*

          Lots of us post & write in here including disparaging things about our coworkers. That’s ‘posting publicly’ but without the intention of said coworker actually reading it!

          I’m not saying its reasonable to write something like this, obviously its not, but its a jump to be like ‘well it was public so you expected them to see it’.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I think “so you expected them to see it” is going too far, but I definitely think “not only did you violate your colleague’s privacy by writing a violent and sexual story about them without their consent, but you put it up on the internet for everyone to see?!?!?” adds a whole new level to the violation. It was bad enough just to write the thing, but why in the name of all common sense and reason would she put it in a public place, no matter how anonymous she thought she was?

            And it worries me that OP doesn’t seem to recognize this yet. The whole thing is still about “Oh noes! They recognized me and now I’m in trouble!” instead of “They recognized my colleague and now my colleague has been publicly humiliated and violated and terrified.”

          2. Elizabeth Naismith*

            Do you expect your coworkers to see it? Probably not. However, you do acknowledge that, if they did see it and recognize you were the one writing about them, that there may be fall-out. Like the Letter Writer whose boss was dating the LW’s father and wanted her to attend family counseling all together. Folks from LW’s life clearly recognized the letter as being written by her about her father and boss, and there was some serious fall out in her life because of it.
            It’s the risk you take posting anything online. And if you don’t want things coming back to bite you, you either need to sanitize your writing enough that it’s not recognizable, or don’t put it on the internet at all. Those are the only options.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I don’t think it’s a stretch. There’s a lot of porn text sites, thousands (maybe millions) of daily entries, it’s unlikely that two people from the same small town were on the same site randomly. Most likely, one recommended the site to the other.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Nah fam, as someone who is familiar with internet communities, you should know that the world is SMALLER online than anywhere else.

        You can put things together by the description of the coworker PLUS the knowledge you have the OP. Knowing the OP is from BFE, you can narrow it down pretty quickly when all things start lining up. It’s not the victim’s fault that they were identified and essentially doxxed, it’s the person who victimized them by giving so many details that it could all travel back to the right community.

        This is harassment and the OP is lucky she has even gotten jobs after this, I’m mad it didn’t become a court case.

        1. Jackalope*

          Harassment is intentionally targeting someone with the purpose of tormenting, frightening, or otherwise causing them harm. Again, I’m not saying that the OP made a good choice – she obviously didn’t. I’m not saying I’m okay with it. But there is a big difference between having poor judgment and intentionally trying to cause someone harm (or punish them, which is the comment I was responding to). She *should* have realized that the internet isn’t anonymous, she *shouldn’t* have posted something like this online, but that doesn’t mean that she was taking deliberate action against her former coworker, which is likely why she didn’t have legal action taken against her. It may be cold comfort for her coworker if said coworker is still experiencing consequences as well, but we are addressing the OP and not said coworker.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            But OP intentionally wrote the story, which had the result of harassing the victim.

            This sounds a little like saying that if a man made inappropriate jokes about a female coworker, it’s not harassment unless he intended to cause her harm. The harm is caused, regardless.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I think it’s more like you were on the bus, talking on the phone about how much you dislike your coworker in extremely colourful language, and then turned around to find them behind you.
              That is admittedly *why* it’s a bad idea to publicly disparage people, but it’s still not the same thing as marching into their office and insulting them to their face. One of those things is a lapse of judgement, the other is malice. We can distinguish between them without diminishing one or the other.

              1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                The thing is, talking badly about your coworker in a place you could be overheard is a serious lack of judgement. I have a friend who was fired less than a week on the job for exactly that. She was on break, and insulted her training supervisor… who happened to be 5 feet behind her and heard everything. Fortunately, because that job was so short-lived, she can just leave it off her resume. Also, she’s lucky enough to live in a larger town, so she could escape the memory of her behavior.
                OP doesn’t have those escape methods, however. Her behavior is going to follow her professionally for quite some time, especially if she still resides in that small town.
                And this situation isn’t really analogous to talking crap about a coworker on the bus. She didn’t just say mean things, she violated her coworker on a sexual level, and that’s not alright. Ever. I know people have sexual fantasies about people in their lives for all sorts of reasons, but you don’t share those with anyone (except a very trusted confidant, in extreme privacy) without changing enough details that it can’t come back to bite you. OP posted her story publicly, and her coworker was easily recognizable. Both of those things are not okay, and combined, they are a gross violation of her coworker’s person and privacy.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Yes, exactly. You can replace “talking crap about a coworker” with something else even more egregious if you want – let’s say, having sex on the boardroom table when you thought no one else was around to see you do it, or peeing out a second-story office window into what you believed was an empty back alley.
                  Obviously, do not do this! Do not do it even you’re correct that no one is there. People will be rightly horrified if you are caught, but even if you aren’t, still, it is wrong and shows a monumental lack of good judgement.
                  The only thing I’m disagreeing with here is the argument that if you’re having a three-way under the big screen TV, or too lazy to walk to the bathroom, you *wanted* to traumatize the intern who wandered in or the pedestrian you caught mid-stream. *It is still bad.* But it’s a different kind of bad than flashing the intern or deliberately peeing on the pedestrian’s shoes. It may not make either of them feel any better, but it’s still the difference between getting fired and going to jail.

    10. RS*

      100%. As many have already observed, the LW doesn’t really take responsibility for what she did, and is portraying herself as a victim at this point. Her speculation that if she were a man this would all be brushed aside feels like grasping at straws – using hypothetical sexism as a way to dodge personal responsibility.

      LW, you’ve referred to a history of chronic trauma, and that might make it difficult to empathize with other people. It sounds like you’ve had to cope with a lot of things that you’ve never received apologies for, and are carrying a burden of old injustices that will probably never be addressed, let alone set right. So it might seem like a small enough thing to expect that this should just go away, that your victim and her allies in the community should let go of the past and move forward positively. Like you’ve had to do with so many things.

      But Anonymous at a University and the many others who have pointed this out are right: you can’t reasonably expect people to let this slide. In a just world, the abuse and trauma that you’ve suffered wouldn’t be minimized and ignored. But just because that might be what’s happened to you, as a victim, doesn’t mean you can expect it from the person you’ve victimized.

      I wish you the best, LW, and hope that you can find a way forward.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is a really great comment here.
        It is possible for a person to be a victim and a victimizer. A person can be someone else’s victim in a seperate storyline but that same person can turn into someone who also creates victims. This is how child abuse goes down through the generations until someone decides to stop the cycle.

        Indeed many true crime stories include “the accused was abused as a child”. Of course the running commentary is, “I was abused and I never killed anyone.” Just my opinion but our society has a long way to go with helping folks who have serious, serious problems in life. We can learn more and we can do better. Until that happens, it’s up to individuals to reach out and say, “I think I have a problem here.”

        OP, reading through your letter I get the idea that your guard went up at an early age and things have never gotten better for you. Your letter reads like someone who feels they do not have many true friends in life, there aren’t many people that you trust. I do know that there can be valid reasons for being afraid to trust, so please don’t misunderstand and think I am minimizing the hand you have been dealt in life.

        I also see that for some reason you decided to trust Alison with your setting. I also see that you married someone so there must be some trust going on there. This means an internet stranger (me) can see you have some abililty to trust people. Do it again, find a professional who you trust to talk about things with. Going through life this angry won’t help you find a better life.

        Sudden radical moves may have helped you survive into adulthood, but it won’t help you with adulting.

        Slow down. Take deliberate steps to help yourself build a better life. Striking hard and fast only begets more need to strike hard and fast. It’s easy to become a person who does not recognize their own self. Slow down.

        Likewise, I also wish you the best, OP. I see hope for you here. You have resilence to have made it this far in life.

        1. squidarms*

          I think this is the single best comment on this letter, and I really hope LW sees it. It’s both compassionate and honest, and that’s a hard balance to strike, especially with an emotionally-charged topic like this.

        2. Elizabeth Naismith*

          Yes! My heart breaks for what OP went through, especially at such an early age. But unfortunately, she has become the very thing she hates: an abuser. And she desperately needs to see it in that context. She abused her coworker. She sexually assaulted her, in writing. Her coworker is now the victim of a sexual assault, and is dealing with the violation and trauma associated with it.
          No, I am not blowing this out of proportion, either. One doesn’t have to lay on a finger on a person to violate them sexually. Think about all the stories we’ve seen on this site of coworkers and bosses making sexual remarks, of stalkers, of hostile workplaces. That is what OP did. And worse than most, because this went way beyond innuendo, and into full-on, hardcore sexual fantasies.
          Her past experiences are an explanation, but not an excuse. Most abusers (not all, but most) were abused themselves at some point. That in no way mitigates the enormity of their actions. Just as OP has been traumatized by what happened in their childhood, so has OP’s victim been traumatized by this. And that trauma has spread across town, as things do in a small community. Especially when the “outsider” is so clearly and inarguably in the wrong.
          OP needs to seek some professional counseling, both to ensure that she has healthy coping mechanisms for the future, but also to help her address how to handle this situation in which she is living. It may be that moving away is her only option in the long run, but she does need to face the damage she did to another person’s life.

      2. mynameisasecret*

        “LW, you’ve referred to a history of chronic trauma, and that might make it difficult to empathize with other people. It sounds like you’ve had to cope with a lot of things that you’ve never received apologies for, and are carrying a burden of old injustices that will probably never be addressed, let alone set right. So it might seem like a small enough thing to expect that this should just go away, that your victim and her allies in the community should let go of the past and move forward positively. Like you’ve had to do with so many things.”
        Well-put and heartbreaking and so true. I think in a lot of these cases it means SO much to someone like the LW for someone to just SAY “You deserved an apology too, and the fact that you didn’t get one is not okay.” If LW’s lived experience has been one of abuse being swept under the rug and abusers never held accountable, it would make sense for them to think, “Okay, so abusers get no punishment and get to walk, but I write one fanfic and my life is over. That seems fair.” It is a maladaptive / distorted thought, but I very, very much understand how one could find oneself thinking that with so much trauma in the past. Not saying it’s right (it’s definitely not) but I do empathize.

      3. IM*

        I read this comment a couple of days ago. I hope what I’m saying makes some sense and won’t be taken in a bad way. Most people have been through difficult things. Almost every adult has ‘trauma’. The ‘allies in the community’ is the problem. Or what makes a difference.
        I, too, ‘hope that you can find a way forward.’
        But as someone who has known liars, and sociopaths, and a friend who immigrated to the US as a young child, and has made her life’s work talking about that traumatic experience, every adult needs to remember that trauma affects all of us, and the ‘community’ is what makes the difference.
        But some people preach. We have to be sure that Op isn’t having her life ‘minimized and ignored’ right now. It seems though it is, in her life.
        What you say, RS, are truisms.

    11. 9to4ever*

      I had the same reaction. I am not seeing much remorse, and if I knew someone had done this, I would want to be on guard around them, too (aka warned). It’s actually a pretty big violation of the coworker, and even though it wasn’t physical, I think any sexual violation is pretty hard to forgive/forget.

  3. SunnySideUp*

    Just want to offer support. Many have made a single disastrous mistake that won’t go away… I hope you can come out on the other side of this.

      1. fposte*

        I wouldn’t agree with that, but even if it were, people make deliberate, even physical attacks on other people, and they still deserve to eat years later. That doesn’t mean I think people are in the wrong to consider it when they decide what to think about the OP, but I don’t think leaving the OP on unemployment for the rest of her life is a great outcome either.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I think the issue (for me) with the OP is that she doesn’t really show any remorse or understanding of what she did to her coworker. It’s just A Thing That Happened Somehow.

          That wasn’t a mistake. It was a choice. A vicious, mean-spirited choice, and the OP doesn’t seem to get that.

          It doesn’t mean she should starve in the street, but it’s not exactly like the rest of the world needs to move past it when she’s not demonstrating that she’s grown or changed from it.

          1. Homebody*

            Yeah, it definitely seems like the OP needs to move on as much as they need the people around them to move on too.

            It might be a bit of a grey area but in a way it seems like the situation qualifies as sexual harassment? I’m not 100% sure. I do know, that if I were the coworker in this situation that was harassed, if I had acquaintances that worked with OP I would give them a heads up. Not because OP has a ‘different lifestyle’ from me or that I am doing it ‘out of revenge’, but because the OP has a history of reactive, aggressive behavior and I would want to protect them from the situation that I dealt with.

            I really do hope that the OP’s situation gets better. I think taking accountability for what happened would help a lot towards healing.

            1. Katrinka*

              The fact that it was about a co-worker is really what makes it relevant to her subsequent employment. Because I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to know if the person sitting next to me regularly dealt with stress and anger by writing violent stories about co-workers.

            2. AngstyAdmin*

              It’s certainly not garden variety, but nonetheless, it’s 100% sexual harassment. LW didn’t intend for her co-worker to find out about it, but neither do bosses who put cameras in bathrooms over the weekend, or co-workers who use caution while stealthily sneaking upskirt/downshirt creepshots.

              1. Stained Glass Cannon*

                YES. I was actually about to comment comparing what LW did to people who take upskirt videos and post them online, or to those creeps who post revenge porn. It’s absolutely sexual harassment, albeit an unusual kind.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Until one acknowledges their actions, works out why they did them, and puts in place plans to stop it happening again then one cannot move on from a major issue.

            Also, there is sometimes no such thing as forgiveness in a situation.

            Adult lessons that are very hard to learn, very very hard to implement in life, but ultimately more rewarding than continuing to blame the world/others for own errors.

          3. Temperance*

            Sometimes, people who have significant trauma or personal problems view the world through a lens of “well, this isn’t as bad as what I went through”, and minimize their bad acting. Because, yes, they’ve been through horrible things, and they view everything else as Not That Bad in Comparison.

        2. Altair*

          Writing a highly sexual and violent story about another person and leaving them so undisguised that other people can figure out who it’s about doesn’t just happen.

          Part of my judgement here is that I write for a hobby. Disguising who one’s basing one’s characters on is a basic part of writing so that people don’t read one’s writing, recognize themselves, and become hurt, threatened, or angry.

          I’ve also discussed other parts of my judgement on this in other comments. I think in general as a society we judge consensual sexual activity much too harshly and nonconsensual sexual activity far less harshly than we should.

          1. hbc*

            I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine many stories where you can’t identify anyone when it’s anonymous but that you can figure it out easily with a full name for one person. Heck, most of the posts here would fit that bill.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, you’d be able to identify literally every single one of my coworkers I’ve ever mentioned on here if you knew who I am and thus, which store I work at, even though I’ve not, to my knowledge, ever so much as mentioned someone’s hair colour.

            2. Mags*

              But you would have to assume that it was a non-fictional story. If I find a co-worker has written an aggressive BDSM story on a kink site I would a: probably stop reading because who wants to know that? And b: not assume it was based on anyone else I knew unless it was REALLY REALLY obvious. I mean most people aren’t that memorable unless you put in really really specific details about the person and setting.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yeah, I agree – having written fiction myself, I don’t assume fiction is based on reality unless I have really good reason to. And OMG, I do NOT want to read smut by my coworkers! I say that as someone who sometimes writes smut.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’m a smut writer. AO3, other sites etc. I’ve been asked in the past to write stories involving people’s friends/family/people they want to get back at and I’ve always sat back absolutely confused as to why someone would want me to do that. Especially the last one. I only write consentual fic and writing a real life person into a smut scene without their consent is just anathema to me. It would flare up all my own triggers for a start.

            I’d strongly suggest LW do a deep self evaluation as to why they wrote that, why they wanted it to have an audience (online), what have they done/realised/changed about themselves to ensure that absolutely never happens again, and whether they need to make more apologies.

            But, don’t apologise until you really have worked out why you were wrong and made plans to correct it. Active resolution and change is needed, not a passive ‘this all just happened to me’.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Actually, upon rereading this, don’t attempt to apologise since so many years have gone by. Although maybe to your husband? I doubt he’s remained totally unaffected by any of this.

          3. Elizabeth Naismith*

            Agreed, with all of this. I’m also a writer. Unless I have express permission form the individual, none of my villains are recognizable as any particular person. Yes, they were likely originally based on someone specific, but I changed just enough details that no one can know exactly who that is. They might have suspicions, but no proof. (I mention the “express permission” thing because I do have a couple friends who are also writers, and they do find it amusing to appear as villains in the stories of their buddies. But that’s a rare thing, and should not be counted upon. Even if they express willingness at the beginning of a project, be prepared to change it.)
            Likewise, there is no excuse for OP writing a story where her coworker was so easily identified. Sexual or no, that alone was a bad idea, and not an unintentional one. It being sexual in nature only makes things infinitely worse, and takes the damage from upsetting to trauma-inducing violation. OP might have thought that it wouldn’t be traced back to her, but that’s naive. Anything on the internet can be traced back, and you have to assume it will be, especially if your story is recognizably about real-life people.

        3. Cee*

          Serial misconduct does tend to follow the perp around though. Just ask Brock Turner (the rapist). And let’s be real, this was sexual misconduct. I wonder if OP ever saw any legal consequences? If not, it might explain why people are angry about it, apparently even years later.

      2. hbc*

        I see no reason not to take the LW at her word that the story was intended to be anonymous. It was a huge, impactful mistake, and intention isn’t everything when it comes to consequences, but it’s not nothing either.

      3. Ryn*

        I’ve got to say, it’s deeply disturbing to see how many commenters are willing to write off a sexually explicit, violent story about an innocent individual who did not consent to being included and then publicly publishing that story as a “mistake.” That’s not a mistake, it was a terrible, cruel choice that LW made. A mistake is when you drop a plate and it breaks, you don’t go “oopsie whoopsie, my fingers slipped and I wrote 1000 sexually charged words about my coworker and then oh gosh oh no my fingers slipped again and I hit publish.” Like come on, it’s minimizing what LW did and the harm she caused others, none of which is helpful.

        1. Altair*

          THIS! I think it’s part of our general societal dismissal of sexual assault (see the thread Snarkus Aurelius started below) but it’s depressing to see such attitudes pop up even in generally forward-thinking places.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I don’t dismiss the severity of what OP did. I think a lot of the people here who are focusing on the solution are doing so because of the site rules about ‘being kind’ and ‘focus on actions / solutions for the OP.’

            I found it very hard to be compassionate to OP (the minimizing / justification / red herrings, ugh), and to thread the line between ‘actionable advice’ and ‘not calling them out’. Please be patient with commenters on this, there’s a conflict between site commenting rules and the ethical social judgement of the situation in this letter, and cognitive dissonance / short form is going to make people tend to fall on one side or the other.

            1. Altair*

              You have a very good point here, but, otoh, I am reading this in the context of a lifetime of seeing sexual assault and harassment minimized and/or turned back on the victims.

              But I will take a deep breath and remind myself of your good point here.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                This letter… requires a ton of compassion, in order for us not to just totally melt down.

            2. Jackalope*

              Yes, this is a lot of it. I’m disturbed at how many people are jumping on the OP when she wrote in trying to get a solution to her issue. Should she try therapy? It seems from the letter that that would be a good idea. Should she move & change her name? Those might also be good ideas. But *anyone* is going to have a hard time dealing with 700+ negative posts, and it’s unlikely that her response to everyone jumping on her will be much different than the way she felt when her former coworkers were spitting on her, regardless of whether the negative comments are accurate or not. The point of the blog is to help her figure out what to do next to fix her work issue, and so many of us are sticking to that.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I had a psych teacher who said that during his time working in counseling the people who were the most concerning were people who said, “I don’t have any problems.” Hmmm. Then why are they sitting in a counselor’s office, how did this come to pass?

                OP is saying she has a problem. She has described the problem from her perspective. This is something we all do from time to time. I think my former teacher would be hugely relieved to see this much based on what he said.

                And it’s true that some people posting here will get upset/angry because life has also been unfair to them. It’s some of the same emotions that perhaps OP has about her own history. Emotions are benign, emotions don’t hurt other people, it’s when we take those emotions and turn them into actions that the problems start. OP, I don’t know what happened to you over your life, but if you are angry and/or feel those things are unfair, you are probably justified in having those feelings. Actions done in anger generally happen because there is not a better plan. Get a better plan, maybe put together ideas here or use the ideas here as a spring board to get to a plan you will use.

        2. SatsumaWolf*

          What you are describing is an accident. A mistake is act or judgement this is misguided or wrong,
          and it can be a chosen act that was wrong. The OP did not post the story accidentally but it was a mistake. Mistakes don’t take blame away from people and I think what people are picking up on is that the OP herself does not a knowledge well that she made a mistake. If she had, you would excp6 apologies and attempts at reparation.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I think you’ve put your finger on it there; people are using “mistake” in very different ways.

          2. Ryn*

            Sure, there’s definitely some semantics going on. But yeah, I’m seeing a lot of people call it a mistake specifically as a way to minimize or excuse the situation, and this language is used a lot to excuse actual rapists (“Oh he was just a kid and made a mistake, it shouldn’t ruin his life”), so it raises my hackles when people call these types of actions mistakes, especially when — as you say — there’s no indication that OP has interest in taking real accountability for their actions.

            1. hbc*

              I think there’s a huge difference between 1) intending to identify Jane in a public story like this and calling it a mistake and 2) intending to keep Jane anonymous and making a mistake that allows people to figure out it’s Jane. The impact on Jane is the same, but the intention is very different. If I’m supporting Jane, I don’t care at all about what OP’s intention was. If I’m trying to figure out how I feel about OP, I care a lot.

              1. Ominous Adversary*

                But the OP describes her mistake as posting the story in way that people could figure out who the author was. She doesn’t say, people figured out it was really Jane and that was embarrassing to Jane. She says that people figured out OP was the author because 1) it wasn’t anonymous and 2) the identity of the fictional person was clearly OP’s co-worker.

        3. Business Catto*

          I think what gets me is that on top of all of this, this coworker was somehow IDENTIFIABLE in the accidental sexually-charged 1000 words that were accidentally published. A lot of conscious thought went into this…

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Identifiable on a porn site that someone else in the town visits.

            How many gazillion porn text sites are out there, with how many gazillion writers? (the one I read has *hundreds* of new stories every day, I certainly can’t keep up) How did someone in this restricted circle find this story?

            Did OP share this with someone else they knew?

            I don’t think OP is a reliable narrator, and I think there’s more to this story.

            1. fposte*

              I was also wondering if the OP shared this. That seems the likeliest way for this to get around to me.

              1. Quill*

                Or OP posted it to a site where coworkers or community members already knew them by username…

                1. fposte*

                  Or maybe she shared personal info on other posts on the site under that username. Now that I think about it, that’s how most situations like this I know of have come about–people see post history and put 2 +2 together.

                2. EventPlannerGal*

                  I know OP said a fetish *site* but I’m wondering if it might have been something like a subreddit or a Facebook group that she believed was closed but wasn’t.

            2. Kinky and Employed*

              Someone ekse mentioned FetLife, which is both local and global. It’s like mostly-anonymous kink facebook. It would be really easy to figure out someone’s identity via FetLife in a small town, even if you’re fairly careful. I think there’s a belief on Fet that anonymity is real. Often in the organized kink community – especially among straight kinksters who have power in numbers – people think they are the open-minded weirdos and no normies are into kink, so there’s a false sense that it’s a small, closed community.

              I could very easily see someone posting a story on FetLife, and then having the people portrayed be identified. Also, BDSM isn’t necessarily violent.

              1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                That was my first thought, too. And that if it’s a small town, if there is even one detail that makes a person easy to identify….well. Seeing something like written revenge p*rn about somebody you know when you aren’t bound by law not to divulge the information? If it’s me, I’m going to tell the person so they’re aware. Best case, they are and they’re into it and it’s part of fun playtime for them. Worst case leads to this letter.

            3. Katrinka*

              OP said that they used their real name, thinking that they would be made anonymous for the story. All it would take is someone googling OP’s name for the story to pop up. They included enough information in their story for Jane to be identified, and that’s how it became public.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Well, *maaaybe* OP’s name and their town. Name alone is unlikely. But that would require that OP included their name and town in the porn site. From what I’ve read elsewhere on this site, that might be a thing that happens in FetLife. I guess it’s not a super crazy coincidence that someone was googling ‘Neighbor Name OurTown’ and it came up.

                1. Ace in the Hole*

                  Depends on the name.

                  I am, as far as I can tell, the only person in the world with my name spelled the way I spell it. If you google my name, the first page is all me… and the next three pages are all about my relatives or employers. An article about me from my high school newspaper 15 years ago is in the first page of results from a search on my name.

                  Obviously this isn’t true for everybody. I’m sure an author named “Jane Smith” would have relative anonymity unless they published a lot of other personal information. But plenty of people have names uncommon enough to make them easily traceable with very little additional information.

                2. jenkins*

                  Could be either – if OP has an unusual name, that could be all it took. I accidentally found out about an acquaintance’s criminal conviction while trying to find her social media (and I haven’t told everyone in our small town about something she did decades ago, but if I’d discovered instead that she was writing truly awful things about someone we both knew, then I don’t know that I would have kept that secret for her!).

        4. XF1013*

          Being the victim of sexual violence can really mess up your judgment, in a way that people who haven’t been through it often don’t understand. Just because you or I would never do such a thing doesn’t mean that she’s lying about her mindset at the time.

          1. Ryn*

            Hey, I’d prefer if you didn’t make judgements or assumptions about my history with sexual violence. Not everyone who experiences sexual violence goes on to harm others in this way.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I certainly didn’t. It did leave me with major issues regarding anyone approaching me from behind without warning and more PTSD than I ever thought possible (24 years later I still have the kind of nightmares that make me scream), but I’d not hurt another person.

              (I don’t know how I’d handle seeing my ex again, the one who hurt me though. That I can’t say)

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              Keymaster is assuming that you would not attack someone else, not making assumptions about your history.

            3. fhgwhgads*

              No one said everyone who experiences that does. But there are quantifiable studies indicating that many do, and in proportions greater than among the general public.

        5. ampersand*

          Genuine questions: how long should someone be shunned for this behavior? Until they make amends? Forever? Some time in between? Who decides?

          We don’t actually know to what extent the LW has apologized–based on the letter we’re guessing not much. What if she’s changed? How does that factor in?

          I would guess that if the victim in the story had written in, we would all think that the person who wrote the BDSM story was a monster who had it coming. But that’s not the side we’re hearing. It adds some humanity to the situation (for me) that it’s the LW’s side we’re hearing. I feel for her even while agreeing that this incident falls somewhere between extremely wrong and atrocious.

          1. Ryn*

            I’m a huge believer in restorative and transformative justice, which is victim-led work in which the victim, in harmony with community, sets the parameters for amends. It often includes therapy, education, and removing oneself from situations where harm can be furthered — in addition to any material reparations that might be owed. It allows the victim to fully heal and allows the actor to *actually* make amends, grow, and heal themselves.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              How does someone (Not the OP, but someone in a similar setting) get involved in something like this?
              At this point it seems that there could be an army of allies. How does one get this army of allies to reconsider their stance?

              Sincere question because we need more of this type of help in this world.

          2. Littorally*

            Everyone decides for themselves how long and how severely they want to avoid someone who has done something awful. No one gets to say, time’s up, you don’t get to care about that anymore.

            1. Stormfeather*

              Yeah, but avoiding someone who has done something awful is one thing. Intentionally constantly putting as much of a crimp in her actual ability to MAKE A LIVING is another thing entirely.

              I agree that what she did isn’t great. I’m also not thrilled that she’s not doing more owning of what she did – but at the same time, she does agree that it’s wrong, that it wasn’t the right thing to do, that she shouldn’t have done it. And this isn’t a general life advice column, so yeah, she’s focusing on that aspect.

              Maybe she does feel very bad about it and tried to make amends. Maybe she didn’t and still thinks she didn’t really do anything that wrong. We don’t know. But it just personally bothers me that people are still going out of their way to make her life as miserable as possible, and even ruin her ability to support herself. That’s just wrong.

              1. (insert name here)*

                ” But it just personally bothers me that people are still going out of their way to make her life as miserable as possible, and even ruin her ability to support herself.”

                Are they though? I mean, they are talking among themselves in a small community. It’s not like the victim is looking the letter writer every year and then calling her employer to let them know.

                I still sometimes talk about my abusive boss from 10 years ago. I don’t look him up and call his boss to tell them about how awful he was, but if someone I new was working with him, I would tell them. If I interviewed someplace and found out he works there, I would with draw and maybe tell HR why. If he applied to work where I work, I would absolutely try and prevent him from getting a job. Because I think he’s a bad hire and I won’t work with him and I think those that do work with him should be on guard and watch their back.

                It’s relevant to her job performance. This isn’t an outside of work mistake.

                1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                  100% this. In a discussion with my current boss, I told him point blank that if my old manager is ever seriously under consideration or extended an offer, I will leave. If it ever becomes an issue (I doubt it will), I am happy to sit down and list out all the ways in which he would be a terrible hire and a terrible cultural fit. If they still decided to move ahead, I would be gone.

                  I am not trying to punish him for being a bad boss, or trying to keep him from getting a job. I am trying to maintain my own emotional well-being and make sure that my coworkers are not treated the way that I was. If he heard what I had to say, however, I can see him accusing me of both. It’s all in your perspective.

              2. Chinook*

                In a small town, though, reference checks are informal and done after playing 5 degerees of separation. Heck, I didn5 consider taking one job at a head office until I called home to find out their reputation as a local employer. My mother then told me to who to contact in another town to get even more details. And these guys turned out to have a good reputation.

                Another time, I told a current boss about a boss I had 5 years earlier when she asked about old boss’s reputation. I was anle to confirm the over the top nastiness of the rumours but she still didn’t believe me until they ended up working together 5 years after that.

                In small towns, your reputation is everything and will follow you for decades. His is good if you move back home and need a job but bad if you are someone who lacks ethics or skills. As well, lies are easier to dismiss because you can fjnd people to speak up on your behalf but, if the truth is that you screwed up, then you will have to li e with it and work humbly and hard to create a new reputation.

              3. biobotb*

                Except it hasn’t actually put a crimp in the LW’s ability to make a living. It’s put a huge crimp in her ability to do her job while feeling comfortable and happy, but she was never actually fired due to her actions. She is still employed, and has held two different jobs since the job where she posted the story. Her ability to support herself is so far intact. She describes a miserable-sounding work environment, but not anyone trying to get her removed from her job.

          3. Lady Heather*

            There are two parts of that: everyone has the right to friendships, and no one has the right to a friendship with a specific person.

            (I’m using ‘friendship’ as a catch-all for anything from close contact to warm regard to professional favours.)

            A person has the right to friendships; that means the government, a government agent, an employer, a parent etc. should not ban someone from having friends.
            A person does not have the right to a friendship with a specific person: that means the person can’t walk up to a person and say “I don’t have friends, I want to have friends, I want to be friends with you, you have to be my friend”.

            So the answer to your question: how long should someone be shunned is, in my opinion, twofold:
            – shunned by a collective? Not at all.
            – shunned by an individual or by individuals? As long as the individuals want to.
            (I’m defining shunned here as “people are not being friendly”, not as “people are being mean”. I don’t think being mean should be allowed at all.)

            And sometimes it can happen that the group of individuals who feel the need to be unkind make up the entire population and that sucks. But there is a difference between twenty individuals each saying “I won’t have lunch with you” and someone (either one of the twenty, or the boss of the twenty) saying “No one is allowed to have lunch with her.”

            On a totally different scale, a few months ago there was a blog somewhere about whether it was right that people stopped watching the Eileen (comedian, gives away things, short white hair – I think that’s her name) show after it turned out she doesn’t treat her staff well, and the person was arguing that it was just allegations, there was no proof, some of her staff were very positive, she wasn’t doing anything illegal, etc- and the only thing I could think was “People have the right to watch whatever legal thing they want and no television program is entitled to their time.”

            In my opinion, if this is an ‘organized’ shunning, where people are being pressured to shun, then that’s something that is intolerable. If it’s twenty or fifty or a hundred people exercising their autonomy, then I think that should be allowed.

            1. Katrinka*

              I think another factor here is that the person who informed subsequent co-workers may have been doing it as a heads-up out of concern that OP would do it again, not as a “hey, join us in the shunning.”

            2. AMT*

              Great way to put it. This is a distinction some people fail to make about what should happen after someone wrongs a person or community. Everyone else can forgive them, but I’m the boss of my own comfort level around engaging with that person. I also have the right to warn others so that they can make informed decisions about *their* comfort level.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      We are all better than what we did on the worst day of our lives. Please remember that, OP.

      If you must stay where you are because of your partner’s commitments to family, I wonder if a sincere effort to take responsibility and make amends — from a distance and with the assistance of a mediator trained in restorative justice (check with your nearest community college or county mediation service) — to this former co-worker would be helpful to your mental health and continued life in this community. Your former co-worker may not be receptive, but you will not know until you try.

      And, if this seems impossible at this moment, it may be useful to read about restorative justice and to weigh its place in this experience. (Howard Zehr founded the field and has written compellingly about it.) It just may provide the way forward you’re seeking.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think if LW was a man, they would be on the sex offender registry for this. Or at the very least been hit with a stalking charge of some kind or been (rightfully) fired from the position when this came to light.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        LW speculated that if she were a man, people would have let this go. I’m pointing out that I think that speculation is very flawed.

        1. Amber Rose*

          It’s hard to say. Kinda depends on what part of what country you’re in. There are definitely places, particularly in the US, where men would be easily forgiven, and places where they’d be penalized heavily.

          1. sunny-dee*

            I have lived in small, rural states my whole life, and NO FREAKING WAY. If you want to be fired and ostracized, write creepy, pornographic slash fic about a coworker. It would absolutely follow that person around and poison a lot of wells.

            This is not a time to whine about “but if a man sexually harassed a random woman because he hated having to move, everyone would be okay with it!” Because it’s absolutely not true and it also shows that, after a DECADE, the OP still hasn’t figured out how much harm she caused. Some hypothetical man didn’t do this. She did, in real life, to a real person. And she’s not showing any remorse.

            1. anonanna*

              Yeah I agree with you here. I think since BDSM fiction erotica is probably more out of the norm for some people they’re going to have a more extreme response.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                It’s not just out of the norm, it’s that it simultaneously brings in the unconsenting sex thing and the unconsenting violence thing, instead of just one of them. It’s more of a problem because of the second vector.

        2. Elizabeth Naismith*

          I agree. If a man were proven to have written sexual fantasies about a coworker – violent or not – he would be facing at least as many negative consequences as OP is. This has nothing to do with her being a woman, or her being a victim in any way. this is a direct result of her own choices, and she is the only one who is responsible.

      2. miro*

        Well, OP did specifically say she thought it wouldn’t have been an issue if she was a man, which I agree with the good Detective is probably way off-base.

      3. Not On A Break*

        Why not? LW herself explicitly wonders if the reactions would have been different were she a man.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I can’t help but wonder if I were a man if people would have shrugged and moved on.

        I’m responding to that.

        1. skunklet*

          it’s unlikely it would give rise to criminal charges (1st Amendment, and all) and only THOSE would put someone on a sex offender registry. stalking, harassment, threats, even if criminal, would NOT put someone on a sex offender registry.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            FFS, that’s not what the first amendment is about.

            There’s a lot of things you cannot say about people that are considered criminal and aren’t protected by “Freedom of Speech”. Freedom of speech is to protect you from being thrown in jail for speaking out about your government officials. It’s seriously not that hard.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              I disagree. Freedom of speech–in the 1st Amendment sense–is not only about political speech. It also covers other forms of speech, which it should. There was a significant case a few years ago, in which someone wrote a violent rap fantasy about his ex, and posted it on FB. The ex felt threatened, and went to the police. I think the final ruling was that the rap was covered under the 1A.

              1. Katrinka*

                The First Amendment protects your right to say or write something without interference. It doesn’t protect you from the CONSEQUENCES of what you say or write.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  Yes. That has no bearing on what I wrote. TM,BL and I are talking specifically about when speech is criminal, under what circumstances, etc.

            2. skunklet*

              um, huh?
              the 1st amendment protects you from that and ALSO from the gov’t telling you what you can & cannot write, period – not just about speaking out against the gov’t.
              remember Salmon Rushdie? Iran put a bounty on his head for the Satanic Verses – the US welcomed him – 1st Amendment. Stephanie Meyer gets to write about vampires and werewolves in a war and all, and that’s ok – 1st Amendment. Larry Flynt, owner of Hustler, is a CHAMPION of 1st amendment rights.

              So yeah, that amendment is about far more than just protecting you from the being able to complain about the gov’t.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, OP did something shitty here, but not something criminal. (It might potentially qualify as libel, but that’s a civil matter and certainly won’t get you on a sex offender registry.)

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree. I think the notion that if a man had done this it would be swept under the rug is very worrying. I’m a bit surprised the LW wasn’t fired from the position where she worked with this co-worker.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Same, honestly. LW should not have been physically assaulted, but I would definitely not have felt safe remaining in that workplace with her after this all came to light.

        1. Rainy*

          Having to worry that if you have a minor professional disagreement with a coworker the end result will be a recognizable caricature of you in a violent, explicit piece of RPF erotica posted on the internet… I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with someone with even a single episode of that kind of behaviour until it was far in their past.

          I’ve been stalked on the internet and harassed with disgusting and explicit photos and videos (not of me, but the person did things like change really awful porn video filenames to include my name and then posted them in public newsgroups, identifying who I was and where I attended college), and I started and then deleted a couple of comments on the post yesterday because of a (baseless, ridiculous, absurd) fear that saying anything about it would somehow enable this extremely ill person to find me and start again. This was more than 25 years ago–that’s how disturbing it is to endure attacks like this.

            1. Rainy*

              Thank you. They really do.

              I think some of the discussion here about what people are characterizing as “over the top” social consequences are because for so long, there was no recourse other than social consequences for people who stalked, harassed, or abused others. I get that it feels “unfair” to someone who feels they’ve changed as a person, but I also think that good reputations are hard to make and easy to break, and whether that’s fair or not, it’s true.

              Someone who’s been victimized by a former coworker in a sexual way–especially if the person suffered no official consequences for doing so–probably feels that they have to warn other people, because the system failed to protect them and will likely fail to protect others. There are obviously a lot of factors at play here: homophobia, small-town social politics, etc, but at base, I cannot blame the person who was victimized for warning others.

    2. It is a big deal.*

      I disagree. This was very scary behavior, but I do think if she was a man who did the same thing or even worse she very likely might have experienced fewer or no consequences. Especially in conservative rural areas, “boys will be boys” but “queers are perverts”. (I’m a queer from a conservative rural area BTW.)

      Legally, I can’t imagine the story would be enough for stalking charges. The police are more likely to say, “Sorry, our hands are tied [until you’re actually murdered]”.

      1. Observer*

        Considering that she posted on a fetish site, that’s not likely. Fetish sites are not quite like “regular” porn site. “Dirty pictures” are boys being boys. Fetish and BDSM are a very different thing.

      2. mcr-red*

        Considering two attacks like this that happened to two different female friends were men and both were dealt with swiftly, NO. They had to face consequences, and thank diety of choice because my friends were TERRIFIED.

      3. Emilia Bedelia*

        I think the BDSM piece would skew the perception of this, to be honest. I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate on whether there is a gender issue here, because it is just not relevant. OP is so clearly in the wrong that bringing up “well, you wouldn’t have cared if I were a man” will look very tone deaf and as though they don’t really understand what they did was unacceptable.

      4. Littorally*

        Actually, bringing up the queerness issue brings up another point. Did the OP write herself (or a highly identifiable version of herself, a la the coworker’s character) as the victim in this story? That could make it even more of a drama bomb for the office.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          You know, I was absolutely assuming that was the case, but your comment made me realize that it’s not actually clear.

      5. Katrinka*

        Revenge porn is one thing. BDSM is totally another. In rural towns, it’s considered perverted in the same way that homosexuality, the Kama Sutra, and anything other than missionary position are.

    3. LawLizard*

      When I was in college a man wrote a rape fantasy about me and published it on his blog with my full legal name attached. I couldn’t get a basic protection order and police told me it was literally his first amendment right to write graphic, sexual violence about me.
      So I’m not really sure how far off her expectation is, even though I immensely dislike her “men get away with this, so should I!!!!” view here.

      1. Observer*

        Well, no one tried to arrest the OP either or take any other legal action about her.

        On the other hand, if you found out that your abuser (and let’s be real – what he did WAS abuse, even though it was legal) was working at your company, would stay silent? Would you expect people to look at him differently once you told them what happened?

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That is awful :(

        And it’s true that I’m coming at this post #metoo when I like to believe things like this are no longer being swept under the rug.

      3. Altair*

        This is utterly horrible. I wonder if I heard of your case — I definitely remember reading about and debating a case like this, and deciding not to date someone because of his horrifying opinion on it. I am so sorry this was done to you.

      4. Gazebo Slayer*

        YIKES. I’m really sorry this happened to you, and I hope that creep attached HIS name to the story so that anyone who Googles him knows he’s someone to be wary of.

    4. Georgina Fredrika*

      Stalking or any sort of charged crime would be incredibly hard to get to court when she did change the name for the story, it was just the coworkers understanding subtext

      Firing yes – I’m honestly kind of shocked she wasn’t fired as soon as it happened. That seems like a major HR no-no.

    5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Women can be put on the sex offender registry and/or be charged with stalking too – but I very much doubt that this would fall under either category. This LW wrote a work of FICTION which included a character based on a colleague (NOT a character with the same name as the colleague!); writers do this all. the. time.

      It doesn’t sound as if the LW thought this out at all before doing it, and it doesn’t sound as if she used good judgment in posting it online (or publishing it ANYWHERE!) But it also doesn’t sound as if what she did falls into the category of criminal behavior, either.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not criminal behavior, at all. But let’s not minimize this. The OP says that she wrote a story ABOUT the coworker not “based” on a character. Sure, the work was fiction, but it was about the coworker, it was poorly disguised, it was sexual and it make the coworker look bad.

        That IS a problem, and complaining that a man would have not faced repercussions is just sloughing off responsibility.

        1. Smithy*

          The point of criminal behavior though was in direct response to the comment about ‘if it was a man, he would be on the sex registry/hit with a charge’.

          I think this story is really difficult in that it is both clearly very emotional for the OP as well as readers. I think it’s very possible for the OP’s experience to be both one of an unprofessional and cruel act that has been compounded by being a queer woman in a small conservative town. While the OP is showing her focus on her personal distress by mentioning how this might have impacted a man, I don’t see how comments equating her acts to criminal repercussions is at all helpful either.

          Throughout time, acts of cruelty have followed perpetrators and victims unevenly. And the internet has created a space where certain bad acts are frozen in time in a way that can always be shared as “clear proof of awful” whereas lots of unrecorded acts of violence get entirely forgotten or categorized as “more than one side to a story”.

      2. Elizabeth Naismith*

        No, writers do NOT base characters on people in their lives in such a way that they are instantly recognizable, and cast them as violent sexual fetishists, without the individual’s consent. Hi, I’m a writer, and that’s literally one of the first things every writer is told not to do by any competent mentor, writing group, writing panel, symposium, etc. Yes, use people in your life for ideas, sure. but mash them up in such a way as to be unrecognizable in the end. Take Amy’s hair-toss and combine it with Brittany’s outgoing personality and Zoe’s winning smile, sure. But just write Brittany straight up? That’s not only lazy writing, but it does run into the possibility of defamation of character lawsuits, if the person in your book is vile enough while clearly recognizable.
        Unless someone has volunteered to be the villain in your tale (and I would really get written consent for this, not just their word), you don’t do it. And just changing the name is not enough.

    6. Marny*

      Writing a story would not put anyone on a sex offender registry. I know that’s not the point of this letter, but it’s wrong for people to think that what she did would make her a registered sex offender.

    7. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Granted I don’t know all the sex offender registry laws, but I don’t think writing one erotic story about a coworker or someone you know is enough to qualify for the sex offender registry or even stalking. I don’t think it should, I don’t want to live in a society where the government punishes people for certain thoughts or things they write. That would be one situation where first amendment protections do actually apply. If that were the case there would be a lot of erotic and non erotic writers who would be in criminal trouble for basing stories or characters on people they know in real life.

      Did OP make a mistake by not making sure they were posting anonymously or changing more details so it was not so easily identifiable to a certain person yes, but unless there is info missing OP did not stalk the coworker virtually or in person

      OP I am wondering if you know who came across your story and how they found it? Did that person get in trouble as well?
      How would a fine upstanding citizen even know about such a filthy disgusting fetish website? /S

      1. Bananers*

        “How would a fine upstanding citizen even know about such a filthy disgusting fetish website? /S”

        That’s a weird takeaway. There’s no indication that any of the co-workers were acting holier-than-thou because the letter-writer has used a fetish website, just that they were (appropriately!) alarmed that someone they know was featured in such a story, for no apparent reason and without her consent.

        1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

          Bananers, Just FYI CmdrShepard4ever meant that last line of “How would a fine upstanding citizen even know about such a filthy disgusting fetish website” as sarcasm. That’s what the /S stands for. It’s a popular way of indicating sarcasm through text. Nothing wrong with your response, just wanted to let you know that that CmdrShepard4ever more than likely wasn’t moral-shaming here. :)

          1. Bananers*

            Yes, I know what it means. It sounds like they’re being sarcastic about the idea of “upstanding citizen” and “fetish” website being mutually exclusive, which doesn’t change what I said — there’s no indication that the coworkers think that, and that’s not the issue at hand.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, as a reader and writer of fiction I really don’t want to go down that road. Especially since writers often get accused of basing characters on real people when they actually didn’t…

    8. Classic Rando*

      Several years ago there was an NYPD cop who wrote erotic cannibal fantasies about his wife and another woman and posted them to a closed fetish group. In this case he did use real names, but the group was closed so no one found it online. But he wrote them on the family computer and his wife found them by accident, freaked out, and reported him. He was fired, arrested, divorced, etc etc. It has followed him since, and also is something the NYPD will actually fire you for, so…

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. That case was a bit different because apparently, he didn’t just write the fantasies (although even if it were “just” stories, I would not blame his wife for divorcing him.)

        1. Jaybeetee*

          I think I heard about this case. IIRC, in addition to the stories, there was… some evidence that he was preparing to take this fantasy IRL. I may be remembering a different case tho.

        2. fposte*

          He started explicitly making plans for her kidnap and torture with another user. The case is still a legally contentious one.

        3. The Grey Lady*

          They weren’t just stories, he did a lot of what he wrote about. As in, he committed several crimes.

        4. Marny*

          It was complicated– there’s a documentary about it. But the short of it is that he chatted with others online about his intentions to do terrible things to a woman, but he also drove to her house (seemingly to test out his plan), so he was charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping because he’d gone beyond just writing about it.

        5. Classic Rando*

          It’s been a while, but I think it was conspiracy to commit murder or something along those lines. I don’t think he was ever charged/convicted, but it was considered so egregious that the NYPD turned on him immediately.
          I do remember seeing a thing he wrote a few years later that had a similar air of downplaying to it, where he basically was arguing that everyone judged him too hardly because he’d never actually do the things he wrote about in disturbing, graphic detail. That’s part of what reminded me of it, OP trying to downplay how big of a violation this actually was.

          1. fposte*

            He was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and of accessing the criminal database without authorization; the conspiracy conviction was overturned on appeal.

      2. Anon for this*

        Beyond fired, arrested, divorced, he was also convicted, and then the conviction was overturned. It’s a fascinating case. Convicted because (IMO) of the level of detail he was posting – not the gory details, but apparently he published the victims’ addresses, details of their lives/schedules as where to best abduct them, etc. Conviction overturned on appeal, ruled bc there was insufficient evidence of an actual plan to carry out the alleged fantasy. Looking back, it doesn’t appear that this case clarified what constitutes fantasy and what constitutes a criminal plan, it almost seems to have muddied the waters further.

    9. PeteAndRepeat*

      Legally, no, that wouldn’t get you on any registry, but also, this *vastly* overestimates the criminal justice system’s response to male violence against women. Particularly when it’s harassment or stalking and doesn’t involve a physical attack.

    10. RussianInTexas*

      IANAL, but I am not sure where would you get stalking from it, or how would you prove it.
      It was a fictional story about a real person, in which she didn’t use the person’t real name.
      There is no actual sex crime involved here.
      Fired? Yes. Sex offender’s list? I don’t imagine so.

  5. CRM*

    I’m curious, isn’t this the sort of thing that would get someone fired? I was surprised to hear that LW was able to stay at the original job and continued to work with the coworker who the story was written about. I guess if they were spitting at LW then that place probably wasn’t very professional to begin with.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This. Spitting on someone is assault. OP was assaulted over a story (probably a disturbing one, but a story nonetheless – she didn’t actually touch anyone), and the company just let that slide. I’m side-eying everybody in this situation.

      1. Altair*

        I thought given my other comments I should explicitly agree with this. Physical assault is not ok to say the least.

      2. Jennifer*

        Agreed. While I have compassion for the coworker and think the OP’s actions were disturbing, the spitting and bullying and gossip going on for nearly a decade makes me wonder if the people doing this are less concerned about the victim and more enjoying the gossip and the drama that goes along with it.

        She was assaulted herself over a story she wrote. She didn’t assault anyone.

      3. PleaseVoteInLocalElections*

        Op is living in a rural, small town, likely in America. I’m not sure what else you’re expecting.

        1. ampersand*

          Yes, this. Small towns often operate differently. I’m not surprised she wasn’t fired and instead is being shunned/punished.

          1. ampersand*

            And to be clear: I believe LW should have been fired. But being pushed out, made to feel unwelcome, or physically assaulted doesn’t surprise me.

            1. Chinook*

              I am thinking that she didn’t get fired partially due to her treatment by coworkers. Two wrongs may not make a right, but they may cancel each other out from a work standpoint (being a case of having to fire everyone or no one)

              The employer may have also been surprised that the OP didn’t quit due to her colleagues’ reactions and, by the time they realized it, it was to late to fire her.

          2. pancakes*

            What exactly is the small town thought process around not firing someone in these circumstances meant to be? Is it that so few newcomers come around, the position would go unfilled for years? Is it that people living in the area are so bored and so ethically rudderless that tormenting one another is considered a hobby? Or . . . ? Asking from a big city.

    2. Johanna Cabal*

      There can be many reasons OP was not fired. I’ve seen (mostly male) management downplay serious bullying and even sexual harassment between women as “girls will be girls.” Since OP is in a rural area, that might be at play.

      OP could also have a rare skillset that the organization needs and she could have over time been pigeonholed into a role that would be a pain to replace.

      And way too many offices like having a scapegoat around…

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ve seen (mostly male) management downplay serious bullying and even sexual harassment between women as “girls will be girls.”

        I’ve known more than one manager who referred to any conflict between women as a “catfight” that wasn’t worth the trouble of addressing.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          A tad off topic, but that reminds me of an episode of Rizzoli and Isles where Maura and Jane are having an argument, and their boss comes in and tells them to break up the catfight.

          Jane says, “Did you REALLY just call a disagreement between two female colleagues a catfight?!”

    3. LibrarianMarie*

      I was stunned by this too. A similar thing happened where I worked. A coworker had a blog where he wrote erotica. He was very open about it and even showed coworkers the blog. He wrote a story set in a workplace similar to ours with a character clearly based on a coworker. He was fired immediately.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m surprised it didn’t happen, considering OP doesn’t make clear if they asked the coworker for consent. I wouldn’t be pleased if someone created a character based on me for any kind of fiction, but BDSM? I’d be mad.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Given that they described the situation as wanting to take out their anger on somebody, and that they tried to hide the story on an anonymous site where the colleague wouldn’t know about it, I’m guessing they did not ask for consent. People who ask for consent to use a person’s likeness in a story or base a character on them don’t try to prevent the person from finding out the story exists. They go back and tell them, “I finished that story I was talking to you about — wanna see?”

        1. biobotb*

          Yeah, if the LW had asked their coworker for consent, I’m certain they would have included that detail to explain why their actions weren’t so bad after all.

    5. Temperance*

      It 100% should be. When I was working at a movie theater in high school, a guy was fired for writing a sexual story about one of my coworkers. Granted, he handwrote it and left it on her car, and he was a legal adult while we were all 16 … but still, he was immediately fired and perp walked out of there.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I graduated from high school 25 years ago. From elementary school to high school, there was a group of boys who enjoyed sexually harassing girls for many years. The school didn’t do much beyond a slap on the wrist. One boy bullied a white girl for having a Black boyfriend, and the school blamed her for “advertising her relationship.”

    Even though it was a long time ago and even though I haven’t seen those boys in years, I still tell people today what they did. And, yes, I do name them. I’m careful to say I don’t know them now, but I do describe in detail what amounts to sexual harassment and sexual assault – regardless of the year it happened. I also mention the school’s terrible response because that’s part of how these boys did what they did. I name faculty and staff at well. I’m not shy about it.

    I get that you’re sorry and you wish this would go away. It probably feels like the Scarlett Letter.

    But like AAM said, experiences like these are so violating, scary, traumatizing, predatory, and unforgettable. I do feel an obligation to say something as well when these names come into conversation. I don’t want some other young girl to endure what I did, especially by a group of people who have never admitted or apologized for what they did. (I cannot tell if you’ve apologized to the person.)

    I know you’re very sorry, but you have to have empathy for your victim here.

    No, I don’t think you’re a monster, but you did a monstrous thing all those years ago. Given these circumstances, I think AAM is right: moving is an ideal solution.

    1. 7.4*

      i’m not condoning their behavior, but things change A LOT from childhood to adulthood. literally twenty five actual years. this doesn’t seem fair. i’m extremely glad that (to my knowledge) no one is going around advertising my behavior from middle school with my name attached.

      1. Altair*

        The axe forgets but the tree remembers. Do you think any of those former girls, now women, have forgotten one iota of what those former boys did to them?

        1. Roscoe*

          Very possibly. I think some people are able to forget and move past far easier than others. For some people its a horribly traumatic thing that stays with them. For others, they grow up and leave it in the past. It doesn’t sounds Snarkus was even a victim here, but just talking about what people did as a teenager

          1. Altair*

            Do you remember the first time someone called you the n-word? I definitely do. And being sexually harassed as a kid was even more memorable, trust me. I shouldn’t be required to demonstrate I’ve “grown up” by forgetting and dismissing it as youthful hijinks.

          2. LunaLena*

            Maybe some people forget easily, but I doubt it. Sometimes bad experiences leave their mark on you, whether you know it or not. Like, as a kid, you don’t understand what’s happening, but for some reason you never forget it, and it’s only when you reflect on it as an adult with an adult’s knowledge and experience, do you realize what it meant and why it left such a bad feeling.

            I have a memory like this myself, from when I was nine years old. At the time, I couldn’t have told you why the incident – involving a 20-something camp counselor who took an inordinate interest in me – left such strong feelings of shame, fear, and anger. In fact I never told anyone about it at all, especially since I still don’t really understand everything that happened myself. I couldn’t have told you why it left such a strong impression on me, why I thought about it from time to time, or why the memory always made me uneasy. It wasn’t until 20 years later that something completely randomly tripped the memory and I realized that I very likely escaped being raped due to an unforeseen coincidence (in case you’re wondering, I don’t think he took me to the counselors’ cabin at night while everyone else was busy with another activity for GOOD reasons).

            I don’t remember much else about that camp. But I do remember everything that led up to that night very clearly, and, with hindsight, I now understand why he made me so uneasy and scared and why I tried to avoid him even though all the other girls thought it was sweet that he was so “nice” to me. Sometimes I wonder how I would be different if luck had been against me that night.

            So yeah, maybe sometimes it seems like things get forgotten and kids move past them fairly quickly. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, in many cases, it’s buried but not forgotten, and the memory is quietly waiting for the right time to come back so one can come to terms with it. And I’m pretty sure I’m not unique in this respect, if only because I can think of two Agatha Christie mysteries off the top of my head in which a similarly “forgotten” memory and the adult’s recognition of what it meant is a major plot point (Sleeping Murder and Murder in Retrospect/Five Little Pigs, if anyone is interested).

            1. Caliente*

              I just watched Sleeping Murder :)! Might have to try the others you mentioned.

              But you comment is great – and I’m glad luck was on your side. Terrible that it takes luck though, isn’t it.

              1. LunaLena*

                Thank you! Yes, when it first dawned on me, it completely terrified me to think how close I came to a life-changing event. I felt like someone had poured a bucket of ice water on me. It’s scary to see how the most random occurrence, including those that are totally out of your control, could make such a huge difference.

                Also FYI, Murder in Retrospect and Five Little Pigs is the same book, just different titles depending on what edition you get. :) It’s one of my favorites because it’s one of her more psychology-based solutions, much like Cards on the Table.

          3. Sled Dog Mama*

            I was sexually assaulted by a school mate on the bus when I was 12, you know what I’ve forgotten. His name, he was my next door neighbor for 6 years, his dad was a cop, and I cannot remember his name. I can remember exactly what he did and what it felt like but I can’t tall anyone anything except that boy who lived beside me when I was in middle school.

        2. 7.4*

          no, and i have also been sexually harassed/assaulted in primary school, and nor have i forgotten any singular detail of it. but i don’t see the value in stirring sh*t with men who are now in their 30’s based on what they did at 13.

          1. Altair*

            If the victims have to carry it for the rest of their lives, why do the perpetrators get to forget and walk away as if nothing ever happened?

            Also, at least in the US, I don’t have that much confidence that a boy who feels entitled to do what he wants to a girl when he’s 13 will have changed his mind about what he has the right to inflict on others by the time he’s in his 30s. Our society is not condusive to that. Are you completely convinced that the person or people who hurt you have completely changed by now? I wouldn’t bet a silver dollar that any of the people who hurt me think any differently now.

            1. 7.4*

              i am not convinced, but why would i bring that pain back into my life? let’s say i message john x. smith today on facebook and say “remember when you groped me on the school trip at age 11?” and he either says i don’t remember, or i do remember but i was 11 so idk what you want from me. how does that serve my healing? how does that serve my peace? i have a wonderful life now and i’ve come to terms with what happened ~20 years ago.

              1. Altair*

                Oh, I’d never recommend you talk to John X. SMith ever again. He doesn’t deserve a second of your time. I’d recommend you talk to your friend’s younger sister if she tells you she has a date with John X. SMith.

            2. New Jack Karyn*

              I’m a very different person now than when I was 13. And 17. And 23.

              Many, many people are. We grow up, we learn. We get taken down a peg or two. I don’t think it’s fair to say that every teenage jackass will always and forever be a jackass.

              1. Snarkus Aurelius*

                They weren’t jackasses though. They were sexual predators from a young age without hardly any substantive consequences. And they committed these acts over a period of ten years, which means, as of today, they’ve spent 25% of their lives engaging in sexual harassment and sexual assault, assuming they stopped when we graduated high school. Had they been adults, they’d rightly be on a sex offender registry.

                That’s a very different thing than egging someone’s house.

                Crimes against another person, like the OP’s, a very different thing. I explained why below so it’s no wonder people just don’t get over them.

                As for the information I provide? That’s a favor to the people I know who have young girls who may be around these men. Again, like the OP’s coworkers. I don’t do it to be mean. I do it out of obligation to my fellow humans.

                1. Altair*

                  Don’t let anyone here tell you you’re wrong for not serving up young girls on a platter to these men. Thank you for helping protect people.

              2. Altair*

                You’re dismissing sexual harassment and assault and racist harassment as ‘being a jackass’. What else is that than providing a justification? It’s not like we’re talking about someone who told ‘edgy’ jokes about natural disasters when he was 13. *That* would be being a jackass. This is a whole other level of horrible behavior, and you and several others keep eliding how serious it actually is.

                1. jenkins*

                  Yeah, I was a jackass at 13 – I used to go on playing stupid jokes way past the point where everyone else was tired of it, because I lacked the insight to realise that I was only being hilarious to myself. My friend was a jackass at 13 because she got completely carried away with attention from boys and blatantly treated me as her less attractive sidekick in the quest to get dates. That’s teenage jackassery. We were thoughtless and self-absorbed. We didn’t racially or sexually abuse anyone.

          2. ceiswyn*

            Because they might still be doing it. Better to warn people unnecessarily, than to not warn them and discover you should have.

            The people warned can still make their own judgement on how to proceed with that information.

          3. Cercis*

            I blame the adults around who saw it happening and refused to step in. The kids should have known better, but when they’d always received laughs and tacit support from the adults around them, how would they have?

            In my case, I saw the adults laugh about it. As did my bullies. I spent years wondering what was so wrong with me that adults thought that was an okay way to treat me (and in some cases the adults were the leading the bullying – like the adult in church who decided to comment extremely loudly about my big feet).

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to hang out with those kids/now adults in any way. I don’t use my real name on Facebook and am not connected in any identifiable way with any of my family members. But if it’s brought up I say “that wasn’t a good place to grow up and the adults weren’t good role models for how to treat people, I hope that as people have moved out of the area they’ve had the same amount of growth I have, I’d hate to be judged as the person I was back then in that situation.”

            As for the OP, I have friends in the BDSM community (fetlife, etc). They are always circumspect but they sometimes slip on things because they forget that I’m not actually in the community and something isn’t actually normal to me. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be horrified by this situation, but I’m saying they could possibly write a fantasy and not realize that they had been so explicit and so clear that it was about a specific person (although for one friend, she often doesn’t even realize who her fantasies are about until she writes it and then someone reads it and says “oh, so you have a thing for z huh?” although her fantasies are definitely not something she ever plans or even usually wants to have happen).

        3. anonanna*

          yep. Those scars stay, unfortunately. Plus the lack of accountability they faced makes me wonder if they really changed.

          1. Altair*

            Word. They assaulted people and got away with it. That taught them a certain lesson. Why would they unlearn it?

        4. anon right now*

          I was bullied, not sexually but severely, and I don’t forget nor do I trust the aggressors even to this day. I tell very few people about it though on the off chance they have changed.

          1. need a new screen name and have no imagination*

            A couple of years ago I got a Fb message from someone from elementary school about how they had admired me back then and was curious to know how I was doing now. I remembered this person as part of a group that had bullied me back then, at one point slipping a handmade comic book under my parents’ front door about me having sex with teachers and other adults. We were about 10 at the time.

            Needless to say, we have not become Fb friends.

      2. Roscoe*

        I agree. It’s like, how long do you really hold someones childhood mistakes against them. There is a reason that criminal records for children are sealed

        1. Altair*

          Sexual harassment, racial harassment, and sexual assault aren’t mere childhood mistakes or boyish fun. They speak to a person’s essential character.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            Not always true. A lot of those things are learned behavior from terrible parents, and there have been plenty of kids who have grown up and realized how wrong their parents were, and then changed for the better. The behavior is very serious, no doubt, but I don’t agree with taking it as an instant and absolute sign that they will be morally degenerate forever.

            1. Altair*

              A person’s essential character can be changed but the person has to want to change and work towards changing. In the US I sincerely doubt that a boy who thinks it’s his right and enjoyment to sexually harass girls and to racially abuse someone for having a Black SO will be inspired to change his mind later. There are far too many people who agree with him and thus far too little likelihood that he’ll run into enough dissent with those ideas to decide to do something so personally costly.

              And yeah, being sexually harassed and racially abused by one’s classmates is ‘very serious’. I can vouch.

            2. Caliente*

              Listen, I was treated in certain ways as a child and there was a day when i was about 13 years old where I said WTF is wrong with you? Why are you so MEAN. Why would you treat people like this? You’re horrible.
              So I don’t go around being horrible. So no, I don’t want to be with people who think its ok to go around being horrible. AND I DON’T HAVE TO, just because people like you want to pretend that some people don’t know they suck. Cut it out.
              Even at X years old you effing know if something is not ok. Put it this way – if you wouldn’t want someone to do X to you, why would you do it to someone else and then be like Oh I didn’t know…

          2. Quill*

            Also the act of getting away with that behavior reinforces a child’s belief that it’s okay.

            Kids who are bullies grow up, most of the time, into adults who are bullies unless there is some sort of intervention along the way. Whether that’s social pressure (by new peers or by societal change), therapy, or adults finally realizing that this is a problem behavior, it’s the responsibility of the former aggressor to learn how to act in ways that don’t harm anyone, not the responsibility of their victims to forgive or forget.

        2. ceiswyn*

          And if these boys had ever faced any kind of criminal proceedings for their behaviour, that might be relevant. If they had experienced repercussions, or counselling, or any serious attempt to adjust their assumptions and behaviour, it would be reasonable to allow them a fresh start.

          But they didn’t. So they don’t get any of the advantages of that either.

            1. Altair*

              Why should their victims be required to assume they did? We still haven’t gotten a good answer on that one, besides dismissing sexual harassment (and racism, don’t forget that) as youthful hijinks.

            2. ceiswyn*

              Nor does anyone know that they did.

              The cost of not warning people and discovering they haven’t changed is too high. It’s not like we’re talking about a one-time mistake here, either.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                And yet, you state affirmatively that they did not. You have no idea that this is true.

        3. Bananers*

          To be clear, you’re saying that an ongoing pattern of sexual harassment is just a childhood mistake?

          Because you are so incredibly wrong that I have no words.

        1. Altair*

          People’s memories aren’t sealed, and shouldn’t be. And especially in the cases of sexual assault and racist aggression, we’ve seen in recent years how much of our society doesn’t disapprove of these actions, so I think it’s pertinent information about an adult that they unapologetically practiced these as a child and never recanted or apologized or decided to change.

          1. Caliente*

            Exactly.
            It actually reminds me of my mom who was abusive in my younger years – due to her own problems, etc. We’ve worked through this, convos boundaries or what have you.
            My son has always been super inquisitive and we have conversations about everything, even his privileges in life and how not everyone is treated so great and he should have compassion – this came up around classmates behavior, etc. He didn’t understand this not everyone is treated so great thing, so I told him about my own childhood of being abused, how we worked through, etc. But look now grandma comes and is so great with you etc. Well he mentioned it to her one day when I wasn’t around and later when I took her to brunch as a thank you for helping with something she very upset asked me why I told him those things about her and was I trying to turn him against her. After pointing out that – hey I still associate with you and you’re still here in my family’s life, I straight up told her YOU DON’T OWN MY STORY. If you didn’t want me to tell someone you were an abuser then…you shouldn’t have been an abuser. Really? I should keep that secret for you? HELL NAH, honey. She got it. Or, at least, she let it go… Don’t do things you don’t want associated with you. If you do ish to people, own it.

            1. Altair*

              I should tell my parents “You don’t own my story”. I still haven’t straight up said that to them. Thank you for this comment and all your comments here.

              1. Caliente*

                Oh thank you. I’ve enjoyed yours as well, honestly.
                I think with the parents and others too it’s like, look I’m not trying to attack you, in fact I have compassion for you, but lets just be the real actual flawed people that we are. Either I’m going to avoid you for the rest of my years or I’m going to tell you some things and we will deal with those. I just think that in our lives, in our families/relationships, in our country, we are just never going to get past anything without dealing with reality.

          2. Postess with the Mostest*

            Altair, I don’t have the time or emotional energy to participate in this discussion so can I just say a huge THANK YOU for everything you’ve said on here? You’re speaking for a whole heck of a lot of us who aren’t, for a variety of reasons, able to speak for ourselves just now.

            I wish I could use more important words to explain how much it means to me to see people like you on threads like these.

      3. not all karens*

        They did this through high school, and I’m sure well beyond. “Boys will be boys” is no longer a valid excuse. They don’t deserve any protection.

      4. Stacy*

        There’s a big difference in age from middle school and high school. Snarkus described high school students who engaged in sexually harassing girls for years. They also engaged in racist behavior for harassing a girl for having a Black boyfriend. I don’t think you can shrug that off with a “kids don’t know any better” attitude.

      5. A Library Person*

        While change is possible, I do think that it is appropriate to hold people accountable for things they did in high school (and maybe middle school, depending on the context), especially if the people in question haven’t offered any evidence that they regret their behavior or have made any meaningful efforts toward change. As a recent example, look at a particular recent judicial nomination; his behavior as a teenager, and his responses to questioning about that behavior, certainly affected public perception of his ability to do his job.

        I’m curious as to how OP responded at the time when the story was made public, and how she responds when the issue comes up today. While some people will always be put off after learning about this, and understandably so, OP’s reaction might affect others’ perceptions of her. And OP may not be able to effectively demonstrate that she’s changed, even though it seems from her letter like she has done some serious self-reflection. As someone commented elsewhere, some behavior is so hurtful that it does follow you for a long time; this may be one of those situations. The passage of time, on its own, cannot offer complete absolution for one’s past actions.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This is a good point, how does OP respond when confronted? It might be worthwhile to put time into a thoughtful response.

          A good friend of mine did time in jail decades ago. His approach is to tell people before the town gossips tell them and to show how he has changed his thinking and his life since. He is now a trusted individual here. I think that his openness has helped him. But I also think that the uniqueness of what he has to say telegraphs the internal conversation that drives him to make better choices in life.

          Two activities that he did:
          He did right by others. Slowly word went around that Friend helped Bob with X and did right by Bob, there were no problems. And then others had similar experiences with my friend. He helped others and they were appreciative.

          The other thing he did was he built a new circle of friends. He has maintained a positive relationship with his new circle of friends. Some of his older friends will check in from time to time. But many others have just dropped out of his daily life although they still reside in the community. This last group of people seem to recall every transgression my friend committed as if it happened yesterday and they seem to have little awareness of who he is today. I see my friend wrestle with that periodically, even now.

          For the OP, it looks to me like it took my friend about 20 years to get on a better track reputation wise. Much of that time the best solace my friend had was just quietly knowing that he had abandoned those ways and eventually more people would figure it out. Sometimes peace starts from the inside. He did offer to make amends with some folks, but that is not always the right choice for every setting. In some settings it’s just best to leave the person alone, so he did.

      6. earl grey aficionado*

        I think Snarkus Aurelius is saying that certain behaviors are beyond the “embarrassing middle/high school behavior” pale, though. I’m inclined to agree with that. There are some things people do to each other that, no matter how sorry or ashamed the perpetrator might be now, don’t get to be forgotten. Forgiven, maybe, but not forgotten. Sexual assault and intense/pervasive sexual and racial harassment like the sort Snarkus describes definitely fall into that category for me, though I know everyone draws those lines differently.

        These sorts of behaviors affect victims for life, and I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to say that those victims should just move on, keep mum, and pretend like it never happened on the chance that their stalker/bully/attacker/etc. is different now. For example, I sincerely hope that the man who assaulted me years ago is a changed man who’s doing better now, but if I were to find out today that a friend was thinking of dating him, I would definitely tell her to steer clear. I’m sure some people would tell me that that was unfair, but I don’t mess around with my friends’ safety.

        FWIW, I’m a queer woman as well, and I have a lot of sympathy for the LW. I know firsthand that it can be harder to have good judgment about sexual boundaries when you a) have an abuse history and b) have been dealing with homo/queerphobia (especially the small town flavor) for all/most of your life. Both of those things can warp norms quite a bit. But writing this kind of story about a coworker is so completely over the line that I think Alison is right–it’s just not realistic to expect the community to move on from it completely in the way that I think the LW would like them to. (And this is one case where I think gender has NOTHING to do with it. I would say the same whether OP was a woman, a man, or nonbinary.)

        I wish the LW the very best of luck in finding ways to make peace with her behavior and its consequences and, if possible, in moving to a new location where this won’t loom so large. But I do think it’s a matter of personally moving on and making peace rather than trying to convince the coworkers to put this in the past. Time does not heal all wounds and this reads to me like one of those permanent wounds.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          And I recommend therapy not just for finding a way to get beyond what the OP did but also for forgiving herself.

          I believe she’s truly sorry and regretful. Therapy should be the next step.

          1. earl grey aficionado*

            Yes, I forgot that part! I agree that that’s the most important thing. And if there are no good queer-friendly therapists in the area, it’s never been easier to find online care (and to get it covered by insurance).

      7. Myrin*

        I think this depends a lot on the severity of the action in question as well as its duration.

        Sexual assault is a very “adult” offence, for lack of a better word; it’s not something I would typically think people just outgrow like other juvenile behaviour because of that. I honestly think there must something wrong with an elementary schooler (!) who wilfully threatens and harms others in a sexual manner.

        Snarkus also says that this was the same group of boys doing this “from elementary school to high school” – if I have my American school system right, that means this went on for over a decade. That’s a lot of change that didn’t happen so I’d indeed be skeptical of it occurring in another decade.

        1. Stacy*

          I agree. Sexual assault/harassment goes beyond typical adolescent behavior. I know anecdotes aren’t the same as hard data, but in middle school a classmate wrote a violently sexual story about a female student. It was swept under the rug as a “he’s too young to even know what he’s doing” sort of thing. He went on to sexually assault a friend of mine in college. I would say his middle school behavior was very relevant.

      8. The Grey Lady*

        There’s also the possiblity of misjudging someone based on what you believe to be true.

        A good kid I know jokingly smacked his best friend on the backside during class. It went on his record as sexual harassment. His parents were outraged because that’s not what he was doing at all, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Now, should he have done that? Of course not, and he knew better. But he wasn’t doing anything more than messing around with his friend. If you looked at his record, you would think it was a lot more serious than it actually was.

        1. Altair*

          And here’s the “existence of false/overblown accusations brought up to discredit actual complaints” bingo square. *checks it*

          This reminds me of when I was trying to process my first relationship and I tried to tell a (former) friend about my boyfriend hitting me and she said, “maybe you misunderstood him? Did you piss him off?” I totally recognized the ongoing pattern Snarkus Aurelius described, having endured such myself, and I really don’t think it equates to or can be mistaken for a one-off incident.

        2. Lance*

          ‘and he knew better’

          Maybe he did. But the fact is, it doesn’t change what he did, and the fact that he shouldn’t have done it. Obviously I don’t have full context, but in general… sometimes harsh lessons are warranted.

          It seems like you’re trying to make the point that people should decide for themselves based off what info they have, more so than just word of mouth, and yes, that’s true overall… but stories usually have some sort of trigger, often with some fault lying on the person who the story’s about. That is what OP most of all will have to try and find some way to solve.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            Making decisions based off of factual evidence and not just gossip is generally a smart move, yes.

        3. Ominous Adversary*

          “He knew better but he did it anyway because he thought it was funny” is actually serious enough to be noted in someone’s record.

        4. Brooke*

          A thing missing from your story here is how his friend reacted to being smacked. You know the kid doing the smacking didn’t intend it to be sexual harassment, you know his parents didn’t think it was sexual harassment, but what about the kid who got hit? That’s what’s actual relevant to this question.

        5. squidarms*

          That’s not what is being discussed. Snarkus Aurelius is talking about a consistent pattern of obvious sexual misconduct spanning years. These weren’t innocent kids making an ill-advised joke one time that got misinterpreted.

      9. Student*

        If a victim is still complaining about bad or illegal or troubling behavior after a decade or more after the incident, it’s probably because the the victim is still experiencing negative impacts from the original act for that long.

        If the victim doesn’t get closure from an incident like this, why should they let the perpetrator move on? There was no meaningful legal remedy. The OP doesn’t mention any attempt to make things right. If the OP is still getting some flack for this years later in a small town, can you even begin to imagine the harassment that her victim has likely gone through? It’s quite possible, even likely, that the victim still has to deal with this at every job and ends up being the butt of jokes about it over and over again. Since the story was published online and connected with her, it may very well still pop up in her life periodically in deeply unpleasant ways.

      10. Quill*

        To take this further off topic though: there are levels of unacceptable behavior that people grow out of (or don’t) or learn better than to do (or don’t.)

        There’s not the same level of threat between someone who made fun of your acne at 12 and someone who sexually harassed you at 14. The person who called you a zitface both committed a lesser offense (less worth warning people about the dangers of it happening again) and is more likely to have learned that it wasn’t okay and be unlikely to do it again.

        OP’s behavior has the aspect of being done at a more mature age, being more severe, and being publically available and publically shaming of their colleague – all of these are much more likely to make people want to warn others if they come into contact with OP.

        Personally, most of the people who picked on me in middle school have either stayed unpleasant but not threatening to my ongoing life, or eventually learned to do better, but the person who gave me PTSD? If he matched with a friend on OkCupid I would tell them to delete their entire account and possibly get a new email address and phone number. He was the kind of bad news that does NOT diminish with age.

        1. Altair*

          There’s not the same level of threat between someone who made fun of your acne at 12 and someone who sexually harassed you at 14.

          Great googli moogli, this.

      11. Temperance*

        I mean, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. If you were sexually assaulting and harassing girls at that age, I would hope that it continues to follow you throughout your life.

    2. Heidi*

      Strong agree. If this happened in my small town, people would still associate the OP’s coworker/victim with this story years or even decades later. It’s possible that the coworker is still being traumatized by what the OP did, so it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to just get over it. This reminds me a little bit of how Chris Brown gets upset at people for bringing up what he did to Rihanna. People just aren’t going to forget this kind of thing.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Thank you for articulating your point so well.

        When we’re talking about crimes *against another person,* that’s a very different thing than shoplifting candy or vandalism. Crimes against another person are violating, degrading, and intensely personal. They can screw with your self-worth and how you view the world – sometimes permanently.

        It’s not something one can easily get over nor should they. I will say that different people will have different responses on such offenses, however my point was that it’s perfectly reasonable for the victim and others to be unable to get past it because of the nature of the offense. At the same time, it’s also perfectly reasonable for the OP to be sincerely sorry.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yes, reading this story has me wondering if the incident is also following the victim around to all her jobs, and what it has cost her.

        1. Quill*

          Definitely lost sleep, at a guess a significant chunk of her security in her own reputation (let’s assume for a moment that nobody in the community has brought the story up to gossip about *her* or made speculations about why it was written, etc: she STILL is going to be wondering if the next person she doesn’t get along with at work is going to do the same thing, if her new boss is going to be like “oh, you’re THAT Regina George,” she’s got internalized misogyny shaming her (we all do) for the story which goes double because it contains another stigmatized theme, BDSM…)

          And if OP hasn’t taken it down and it’s done the community rounds for decades, or if the story is very identifiable beyond their immediate circles… she may have a harder time leaving it behind than OP.

    3. Autistic Farm Girl*

      I was really badly bullied in school (assaulted, insulted, every day for nearly 5 years).

      When someone mentions my bullies’s names, i absolutely do talk about that. I also say that I hope they’ve changed since. But someone who is capable of inflicting years of abuse and terror on another human being doesn’t give me much hope of being able to change.

      None of them ever apologised, and jokes have been made to me, as an adult, about that.

      If you’re not sorry for what you did when you hurt someone then People need to know about that.

      1. Quill*

        I’m still pretty bitter about how my primary bully / stalker’s mother aided and abetted him and had the gall to try and stay friends with my mom.

        And about how other people who know what happened now still occasionally forget. Just this spring my mom brought the family up and even though I managed not to freak out and just tell her I preferred not to talk or think about them, she said “Oh, sorry, I forgot Mrs. Bates raised a stalker.”

        Nice for you, that you can forget, I guess.

        I did NOT have a good night of sleep that evening.

        1. Altair*

          As I’ve said before, the axe forgets, the tree remembers. It continues to be depressing how often people wilfully forget about the tree. I am so, so sorry your mother, of all people, forgot this. I send internet hugs if you want them.

      2. Chinook*

        I have only had one bully reach out to apologize for his behavior in junior high. He sits in the category of “has shown growth and maturity ” but I would be socially hesitant to interact with any of he others (especially ince his apology confirmed that it was bullying because they also gaslighted me into thinking it was no big deal).

        Could they have changed? Don’t know since none of the others have thought it was important enough to show me they have.

    4. Butterfly Counter*

      There are times when I think that forgiveness will pave the way to a person truly changing their life because if they’re going to be constantly punished for what they used to do, why not just keep doing it?

      But on the other hand, I don’t mind that sometimes things stick because there are so many times that when they don’t, it’s tacit agreement that the behavior was acceptable.

      For example, I read Roxane Gay’s “Hunger” and WANTED so bad for her to name the names of the boys who gang raped her without repercussion. It seems so unfair that what they did damaged her so badly and for forever and people who know them don’t know they were capable of such hideous acts.

      1. Temperance*

        I often see it as the opposite. The people who want forgiveness the most are the people most likely to continue causing harm.

      2. JohannaCabal*

        With regards to Roxane Gay, I suspect one of her reasons for not naming is to avoid a libel/defamation suit. Time has passed and I doubt she has evidence still, so the perpetrators could argue she’s lying or it was consensual.

        I agree it’s unfair though.

    5. Jennifer*

      I understand that victims live with the pain of abuse for the rest of their lives. I just don’t know if repeating things people did in high school, even horrible things like this, 25 years after the fact, is the best idea, unless you know or suspect that the behavior continues to this day.

      1. The Grey Lady*

        I agree. If you have reason to believe that they are continuing that behavior, the by all means, speak up. But don’t drag something out of the closet from 20+ years ago for no good reason other than to destroy someone else.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, it feels a bit malicious. Plus, even if the names of the girls who were harmed isn’t being included, some people may know who they are. They may not appreciate this story being dredged up every time these men are mentioned.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I think it’s totally fair to assume that the abusers have *not* changed.

          I guess the push to assume that they have changed comes from the US’s ‘innocent until proven guilty’ zeitgeist? For me (also US), the first personal experience is sufficient ‘proof’ that I’m ok assuming guilt and requiring that someone prove they have changed.

          And people who have changed? They usually recognize that accepting responsibility for their actions is the minimum first step for changing. So if I say, ‘B groped me in high school’, it is on B to explain to whomever that he did it, recognized it was wrong, and has done x, y, z to make sure he doesn’t do it again.

          And yeah, I’ve totally said that sentence, 20 years later, along with ‘B spent 3 years manipulating and stalking me, and ended up threatening to kill me, and that is why I don’t go to Repeating Public Event that you and B both go to.’

          I do not owe it to B to hide why I don’t feel safe around him. My story, I get to tell it.

      2. chaco*

        Why is the burden on the victim to assume that the aggressors are sorry and have changed? If they really have changed, then their actions and words can speak to that and whomever the victim is warning can take it all into consideration. She’s not saying “these people are terrible”, she’s saying “these people did terrible things x years ago”, which is factual. She should not have to censor herself and hold back just because there’s a possibility they might have changed. Even if they changed, what she is saying is still true and it’s still valuable safety information.

        1. Jennifer*

          “If they really have changed, then their actions and words can speak to that and whomever the victim is warning can take it all into consideration.” Now you and I both know that’s not true. This letter is proof of that. The LW hasn’t done anything like this since and people still associate her with this terrible thing she did 10 years ago. Nothing good she’s done since seems to matter.

          As I said below, I think it’s possible to have compassion for victims’ pain and also believe that people can be truly remorseful for what they’ve done in the past. It doesn’t mean they have to be forgiven if you don’t want to forgive them.

          1. Stacy*

            You argued above that we can’t assume people continue with their abusive behavior later in life, but you’re assuming the LW has never done anything like that since when there is absolutely no proof of that.

            1. Stacy*

              You already argued against making assumptions that reflect negatively on the perpetrator, but I guess it’s ok if the assumptions work out in their favor? You’re assuming that someone who opens their letter with “I have bad judgement” would be a reliable narrator when A) you have no idea if they continued to harass their coworker and B) you have no idea if they have done this to anyone else. If you want to take the stand of not making judgements until you have all the facts at least be consistent.

            2. Anonii*

              I really don’t understand what people are thinking when they say oh the LW didn’t mention any further abuse. Of course she didn’t. She left out a lot of details trying to play the victim. It’s so so strange that you can “assume” she might have changed but not that she hasn’t. It’s still an assumption

          2. chaco*

            1. You don’t know what the LW has or hasn’t done since the incident, so it’s not “proof” of anything
            2. The LW’s own words don’t suggest that she even fully takes responsibility what she did or the impact on the victim, just that she wants it to stop impacting her
            3. This isn’t a points system where you can sexually harass someone and then do unrelated good deeds to make you a good person again. She didn’t talk about any sort of restitution in her letter, so we don’t know if she’s done anything at all to fix the situation she created
            4. Believing remorse is possible and assuming someone is remorseful are two very different things. Expecting victims and others affected by the perpetrator’s actions to shut up about it after a while on the assumption that the perpetrator is remorseful (with no evidence to that whatsoever) is conflating the two and putting the burden on the victim

            1. miro*

              “Believing remorse is possible and assuming someone is remorseful are two very different things. ”

              Yes yes yes. We all can–and, I believe, should–hold values around redemption, mercy, etc. HOWEVER, that doesn’t oblige us to put words/actions/situations in terms of redemption/mercy just for the sake of it.

              To add to what I quoted from you: believing remorse is possible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question if/how it happens.

              1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                Yes! I can forgive someone who abused me as a child, because it’s the right thing to do for me. Holding onto that pain and anger only hurts me, not my abuser.
                But until they show a massive change of heart, that doesn’t mean I’m going to let my own kids anywhere near them. And even if they have fully changed, I still won’t trust them alone with any kids I might have.
                And since that change of heart hasn’t occurred, I do feel the need to warn others who might have children at risk.

        2. Altair*

          Why is the burden on the victim to assume that the aggressors are sorry and have changed?

          This, this so much.

          1. Caliente*

            I mean, I hear you Jennifer but there’s a reason for the whole #metoo movement….
            Of course if an abuse victim doesn’t want to talk about something they shouldn’t be forced at all but how do cycles end. How do families know that that uncle who was a known abuser for years and is now left with the grandchildren – well no one said anything…Or that uncle is a scout leader or whatever. I suppose that’s why some people feel transparency is best but, if others don’t, that’s their choice.
            I spent years being all ashamed of my odd upbringing (abuse involved, but also other oddities) but now when I talk about it people love it. I’ve been told more than once that I should write a book to show how you can get past abuse and weirdness and then just live and flow and have fun. If things are just locked up inside of you, well, they’re still locked inside. I suppose a person can work around that but me personally, I am not a work around woman, I’d rather just deal with it because then its gone.

            1. Jennifer*

              I get what you’re saying. It’s a difficult question. If an abuse victim doesn’t want to talk about their abuse but the perpetrator is still hurting others, do you protect the prior victim who doesn’t want to speak up or do you try to prevent future victims? The thing is, I’m not sure if that’s what’s happening here.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            Altair is describing a common fallacy, called “Just World” fallacy, which assumes that what people do causes everything that happens to them. Whether or not it applies to any specific posters here, it is a *VERY* common thought in society, and is one of the biggest problems that sexual assault / harassment victims face, right after the harassers themselves.

            This is one of the main tools used to undermine sexual harassment / assault cases. Making this explicit is an important tool in fighting sexual harassment / assault, because it pops up in odd places.

            It is real, and a real problem. ‘Burden on victim to assume aggressors… have changed’ is also a real problem. To switch gears a little on you, @Altair, I’m not sure they’re causally related? The ‘we must assume they’ve changed!’ feels more like a variation of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘boys will be boys’ / minimization.

            (To be clear:
            1) You’re right people pull ‘just world’ crap all the time
            2) Requiring people to assume the aggressors have changed is bull crap. They’ve shown who they are, it’s up to *them* to prove that’s not still true.)

            1. Altair*

              I think you have a point here that these are different kinds of fallacies. I got a bit too distracted to parse that finely, I admit. And you definitely have a large and important point with your entire comment. Thank you, a lot.

      3. zinzarin*

        If you’re not in a position to know whether the behavior has stopped, I think it’s fair to share the story with an “I haven’t known this person since then, so…” disclaimer. But it’s still fair to share the story. If it turns out that the behavior has stopped, the perpetrator can explain that when the story comes back around to them.

      4. Sylvan*

        Somewhat agreed. I think that’s best left up to the people who know the situation the best, including the victim who actually experienced it.

      5. Caliente*

        So the victims have to “live with the pain of abuse” for the rest of their lives but lets not dredge up any bad feelings for the abusers…?

        1. Jennifer*

          I think you can have compassion for survivors of abuse and believe that there are some people who can truly be remorseful and change.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            There’s a lot of crap going on in the comments, but I agree with you. People seem to think you can either have compassion for the victims or believe that the abuser can change, but not both. In fact…you can do both.

            1. chaco*

              I think there’s a distinction between believing the abuser can change and assuming that the abuser has changed.

                1. chaco*

                  I think that’s fair, though when it comes to things like abuse (and especially sexual harassment/assault), I personally tend toward “assume the abuser is still dangerous” simply for the sake of safety. I wouldn’t go and tell someone “Mike is assaulting people” based on my historical experience with Mike, but I absolutely would say “hey, Mike assaulted me x years ago in y situation”. If Mike has changed, then it’s up to him to demonstrate that.

            2. Career HR person*

              here is the problem- you are “both siding” this issue, and there isn’t another side, the only side is the victim’s side. Yes, it is possible that someone who bullied and abused someone 25 years ago isn’t still doing that to others. BUT it does not change that fact, that 25 years ago, they victimized someone. And subsequently not victimizing again does not erase or excuse the time that they DID victimize someone.
              THAT is why there is no “BOTH SIDES!” here.

              1. Jennifer*

                I agree with you. I’m not taking the side of an abuser by saying it’s possible they may have changed over the course of 25 years. I’m not denying that it happened or saying the person who experienced the abuse doesn’t have the right to speak about it.

                Sigh…I REALLY did not want to do this but here goes. The situation that Snarkus is describing is very similar to my situation. I was violently assaulted in high school. I keep tabs on the person that did it as much as I can and I would come forward if it seemed that they were still engaged in that behavior. If they are not, to keep my sanity, I have to assume that they have changed. If they have not then that means that I could have prevented others from being harmed, which isn’t something I’m sure I can live with.

                Also, I wouldn’t appreciate someone discussing my story with others without my consent, even if they didn’t use my name. It’s possible they could put two and two together and figure out who I am. That’s why I had such a big reaction to that comment. I fear I may not have explained my point of view very well at times and that hurt people and I apologize for that.

                I’m not saying this to get sympathy or win an argument, I’m just trying to point out to some who have made some of the harshest comments that it’s not necessarily helpful to assume the worst of someone who disagrees with you. You don’t have any idea what they have been through.

                1. Stacy*

                  I get where you’re coming from. I think it’s safe to say a lot of us are so passionate on this particular thread because we all have a personal connection to the topic of assault. We all have a different way of processing it, and I respect the ways that others have chosen to move forward even if it’s not what I chose for myself.

          2. Caliente*

            I do think people can truly be remorseful and change as well. I was abused by my mother and after much confrontation, beginning at the age of about 12 she managed to get it together for the most part. I have a lot of compassion for her, she was terribly abused as a child.
            I think that if I never said Hey wait a sec, you really suck, she would have just continued on. Unfortunately, people need a bit of a “hot seat” most of the time to stop being ridiculous.

    6. Three Flowers*

      All of this, 110%, especially “No, I don’t think you’re a monster, but you did a monstrous thing all those years ago.”

      OP may have come along way, and she may have (sounds like, has) grown an enormous amount since that time. But this is the sort of things where consequences can and should follow you. If I was first-hand privy to a story like OP’s and I had (justifiably) chosen to distance myself from her, such that I was not involved in her recovery, I would make sure it followed her, just as I would make sure a sexual assaulter’s reputation, or a thief’s, followed them. Why? Because as far as most people know, OP is not safe around others. (Kudos to you, Snarkus, for protecting your community.) In many if not most cases, gossip is toxic and harmful. In some cases, particularly cases of egregious personal violation in which nothing official is done (OP was allowed to resign!?), it is the only community defense weapon available. Way too many women (not only women, but especially women) have learned to navigate professional settings via whisper networks of “don’t get into the elevator alone with Mr. Creepo” or “don’t give your contact information to Professor Stalker”. Captain Awkward refers to people like OP as the “missing stair”–the potentially dangerous person whose behavior has never been directly addressed (it should be!) and so people protect each other via backstage whispers. It’s worth looking that up, OP, and maybe sending her an inquiry about how to recover from being the missing stair.

      An employer would be well within reasonable ethics to not hire, or to fire, someone whose reputation suggests an HR debacle and a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. That is going to be a major problem for OP as well.

      OP, I’m very glad you have healed and I’m sorry you are carrying this around with you, but like others, I think you have to move, because any negative reaction people have to you (except assault/spitting, ugh) is actually legitimate.

      1. Temperance*

        I’m not sure that we read the same letter. I think OP has a lot of work to do to own up to her behavior, and to move on with her life in a productive way.

  7. The Grey Lady*

    I understand the pain of being punished over and over for something you regret doing. The thing you have to remember is, as much as this is following you around, it’s following your victim around too. She may never be able to fully recover from the humiliation and pain either.

    And I don’t say that to shame you, but to point out how these things have major impacts on everyone involved.

    You can’t take it back or go back in time and change your actions. You’re remorseful and regretful, which I think is all you can really do. Your best bet is probably to move, change your name, and delete your social media and start over. I know that’s a huge undertaking, but it seems like the only way you may be able to truly leave this in the past.

    Also, see a therapist. It will really help you process your feelings of guilt and shame.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        It will vary by location. Try a search on “cost of name change YourState”. The result for my state was about 4th from the top, right after the ads. (And I have just learned that it costs to do this after getting married, too, but it seems to cost less.)

  8. Eyass*

    Authors create characters inspired by people around them all of the time. Without knowing the contents of the story or whether your intention was to make your co-worker feel threatened, it’s hard to say whether this has been blown out of proportion. I echo what the others have suggested – maybe apologize and offer an explanation?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Authors create characters inspired by people around them all of the time.

      This is true. But the fact that she wrote something that was so blatantly obvious about who inspired the character that random people at her job were able to figure it out is concerning.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I was thinking that in order to make it that publicly recognizable, the character had to be spot-on identical to the real person.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Or had a very unique distinguishing characteristic, such as the manager of the only McDonald’s in Smalltown, Nebraska. Even if I have no idea who that is, it’s obvious who that is.

          1. Quill*

            The audience would have had to put it together based on accessing the story and identifying characteristics. (I would GUESS appearance because 1k words is not a lot to squeeze other specific information into the smut…)

            It’s one thing to write a story where the protagonist’s mentor is based on your grandpa or something, and entirely another to make public a story where the content is sexual, stigmatized, and specifically identifying to someone.

        2. boo bot*

          Yeah, that’s what was getting to me – I can’t really imagine reading a fictional story by an anonymous writer, and concluding, “Oh, that character must be based on my coworker Jane.”

          If there’s a strong resemblance, I might think, “That character reminds me of Jane, huh,” but I don’t think it would occur to me that it was actually about her, written by my other coworker, unless there was a lot more going on.

          1. Just A Zebra*

            +1000. This. I’ve read the story a few times and am struggling with the mental gymnastics to go down this rabbit hole. I read a story where the author described a house, and it was *exactly* like my grandparents house (down to the ugly green shag carpets). For someone to read this story online, identify the author, then identify another character as the author’s coworker, it’s… tough to believe. I’m in no way saying it isn’t possible, just unlikely. Unless, as others have said, the description/ name change was not so anonymous (ie – naming a character Becky instead of Rebecca)

    2. Jaybeetee*

      I have a few questions about this. She thought she’d posted anonymously but hadn’t? As in, did she believe she was posting under a pseudonym, but actually posted under her name, or was she identifiable some other way? Was she doxxed?

      She didn’t use the colleague’s real name, so I’m wondering what sort of “description” I’d have to read to say, “OMG, this is my colleague Jane, writing about Melissa!”

      None of this is about condoning what the letter writer did, I’m just really surprised someone read fictional erotica online and somehow positively ID’d her and the colleague.

      1. Observer*

        If someone was able to ID the person then it was far from a “fictional character inspired by a real world person.” And the OP is actually pretty clear about it – she writes that she ” wrote a sexual story about a coworker.”

        1. Hills to Die on*

          It depends on how recognizable the person is.
          I’m curious about the name change for the character. If the woman’s real name was Carrie Smith and OP made the name Sherrie Smith, yeah, that helps identify her. Also, her description. Is she 5’5” with brown hair or is the real woman 6’4” with knee-length green hair?
          Not to imply that if the woman is more ‘average’ in appearance that’s ok (of course not) but it had to be such a giveaway and in such a small area that there was no mistaking her.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I’m not 100% certain of the OP’s original motivations in writing and posting the story. It doesn’t sound like, “I’m an amateur BDSM writer and occasionally use real world people people as inspiration. One time I was careless with anonymity and there were devastating results.” At best, it sounds like the OP was blowing off steam and didn’t carefully consider the ramifications of posting it online. At worst, it sounds like revenge on the coworker.

      2. Georgina Fredrika*

        I would think that it was probably linked to her email handle or a previous comment forum or something and she didn’t realize the info had saved. And I assumed the details were just to specific to be misinterpreted. Also possible that it was anon but the details made it obvious who it was (like maybe the fact that the OP is queer and if she was the only queer employee there… that seems like a stretch though, I’m leaning toward accidentally posting under her own name or a linked account)

        Even then it’s kinda nuts that someone found it considering how much smut there is on the internet (like even if there was a fictionalized version of my entire life story out there somewhere, what are the chances that someone would come across it that I know?) so I wonder if there’s a little more to the story there.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I’m guessing the OP posted it under her real now and someone simply found it on a Google search.

      3. KHB*

        It sounds to me like she thought she was posting under an unidentifiable pseudonym, but due to some technical snafu, the story got tagged with her real name (or email address or some other uniquely identifiable information).

        Then someone she knew happened to read it, and given that they knew she was the author, recognized the character as being the coworker. If they hadn’t known OP had written the story, they might not ever have recognized the character from her description (or they might have thought it sounded like someone they knew, but might have written it off as one of those weird coincidences).

      4. Sharrbe*

        Agree. I just don’t know how someone in a small town would happen to come across a story on a kink site that that was written by their co-worker? And then just pieced together both who wrote it and who it was about? The odds of that happening just seem too astronomically small. There’s some piece of the story left out. I wonder if the LW told some of her other co-workers to go read the story in an attempt to collectively vent about this bad co-worker. “It’s about Magentina, but don’t worry, I didn’t use her real name.” kind of thing. Extremely poor judgment if so.

      5. Bree*

        I was confused about this too. The volume of erotica online is so high it seems unlikely someone from the LW’s small town would stumble on it and make the connection.

        As others have said, possible that a technical issue linked it to her other online profiles. Or perhaps the LW shared the story with at least one other person she knew IRL and it spread until it hit someone who put it together.

    3. It is a big deal.*

      I don’t think there’s any plausible scenario where writing a BDSM story about a coworker and posting it on a fetish site isn’t threatening. As for being “blown out of proportion”…everyone needs money to live, but sometimes we punish people by making it impossible for them to earn a living, or impossible to find a place they are legally allowed to live. Does that make sense? Not really. But at the same time, everything Alison said about people feeling they have to share this with future coworkers is true.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        Just throwing a scenario out for you, without knowing specifics on the OP’s situation I can only speculate but. Let’s say someone is being bullied at work but either lack of effective management or the bullying being subvert enough management cannot do anything about it. So the bullying victim at the point of breakdown writes a story that the ringleader bully is their dom in a bdsm fantasy. In that way the bully is still causing suffering but the bullied person controls the suffering and can even manipulate it so that they obtain pleasure from it. The bullied person can’t control the day to day actions of their coworkers but in their story they can finally control the situation.

        Again I have no idea if this is even remotely close to what happened.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          I think the general phrase for this kind of thing is “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Especially since she could have very easily written that story but then changed the details so the coworker wasn’t the main character.

        2. TL -*

          The issue here is posting it, moreso than writing.
          A document on her personal laptop or a handwritten journal of fetish stories are private and anyone finding them would be deliberately violating OP’s privacy. A story with a clearly identifiable person posted online is not private.

    4. SickofCovid2020*

      I find it interesting that in OPs story the coworker was the aggressor (my interpretation the dominant) and yet it’s viewed as the OP was threatening the coworker. To me its more likely the OP was feeling beaten down by the situation they were in whether that’s a direct result of the coworker’s actions (rudeness, bullying, etc) or the coworker was just a representation of the situation as a whole. I’m not saying that feeling violated, unsafe or threatened is not a justifiable reaction to discovering you are the antagonist in a bdsm story, I just think its interesting that the overall assumption is the OP’s behavior was threatening towards the coworker.

      1. anonanna*

        I think regardless of the role you play in a story (whether aggressor or submissive) it’s a major, major breach of privacy for someone to write a highly sexual story about you. And maybe it’s even more damaging if you’re not like that in real life; i’m a very docile person so if I was the coworker in this situation I can see how such a story would make people question what I’m really like.

        1. SickofCovid2020*

          I don’t disagree with that. It’s definitely violating and disgusting. But it seems like many people automatically jump to the conclusion that OP was threatening their coworker by their story.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            OP may not have intended to threaten her coworker, but if I was the coworker, I would feel threatened by it.

            Impact > Intent

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I’m not seeing that in the comments I’ve read so far. It’s all “you can’t write sexual fiction about your coworkers” and not “no wonder she felt threatened, you made her the victim in a violent story.”

            1. Sylvan*

              My read is that OP made their coworker the aggressor in the story. It also may have been a story about consensual, rather than violent acts.

              Anyway, if I were the coworker, I’m not sure how threatened you would feel, but you probably wouldn’t exactly want to be alone in a room with the writer.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Without getting into too much detail, I have known people who identified as sexually submissive and were abusers. The props and costumes and even the script don’t matter if one of the actors does not want to be in the show.

          3. another Hero*

            I wouldn’t describe it in terms of threat; it’s a completed action. Posting the story (imo op is free to write any horrendous things in the perfect privacy of, say, a notebook she then burns, tho I’m sure other people disagree), esp identifiably, is a huge consent violation.

          4. anonanna*

            I think writing a highly sexual story about a person without their consent is inherently threatening.

          5. Susie Q*

            “I didn’t mean to kill someone when I drove drunk”

            That’s the same argument you are making.

        2. going anon for this lmao*

          TW: sexual coercion

          Absolutely. I think also this kind of thing can be so damaging because you really have no idea what sort of triggers or bad experiences might be brought up on the coworker’s part. When I was younger I was coerced and pressured by a partner into a number of sexual acts that I hated and did not want to do. The main result of that is that I now have a very deep revulsion at the idea of even the VAGUEST possibility of making anyone do something they don’t want to do in the bedroom, to the extent that I need constant reassurance that what I’m doing is okay, and I find it totally impossible to be sexually dominant. (Yes I am aware that dominant =/= coercive, and that association is something that I’m working on in therapy.) If I was to discover that somebody was portraying me publicly in that manner, somewhere that my coworkers were able to find it and read it and identify me no less, I don’t know what I would do. Never touch my partner again, probably.

          To be clear I think this would be very deeply violating for anyone no matter their background/triggers, but I just want to push back on the idea that portraying someone as sexually dominant is somehow less threatening. For me personally that would be the worst and most triggering way to be portrayed.

      2. Georgina Fredrika*

        well, it’s not an assumption, it is behavior that could widely be considered threatening. It’s like a guy taking a photo of a tissue and emailing that to his co-worker while saying “I used this while thinking of you ;) ;) ” -It’s a *sexually explicit* story. What do people normally do with those ? They are written often with an intended purpose.

        I think it could be relevant that she is queer – I think many of us have gotten used to people being more accepting, but I could see how in a rural community where there’s perhaps a greater prevalence of rumors of “gay people as predators” this compounds the discomfort people have with a queer person (not rightly, obviously – but I could see this fueling the reaction). And if you’re not used to being around a queer person, I could imagine that the story is even more alarming when they involve you in their sexual fantasy. But it’s alarming either way…

        1. Colin Robinson*

          “It’s like a guy taking a photo of a tissue and emailing that to his co-worker while saying “I used this while thinking of you ;) ;)”

          Right… but the OP did not send the story to the co-worker and even attempted to keep it from reaching the co-worker by changing their name and *thought* the story was posted anonymously

          1. anonanna*

            Okay, so maybe a better comparison would be the guy actually, ahem, “using” the tissue, writing about it, and word getting out about what he’d done and how a coworker helped him get there. To me it shows really bad judgement/lack of boundaries that she would use someone she knows for thinly veiled inspiration and post it align, regardless of an attempt at anonymity. Plus, this gets into so many issues surrounding consent- this coworker didn’t consent to be used in a fantasy, period, much less for one that ended up being publicly broadcast.

            1. Colin Robinson*

              “this coworker didn’t consent to be used in a fantasy”

              So we’re policing people’s thoughts now?

              1. Anononon*

                What are you talking about? This is a fantasy that was written down and published online. We obviously not just talking about thoughts.

                1. Colin Robinson*

                  Your comment opened this up as a more general issue with consent: “Plus, this gets into so many issues surrounding consent” and then was specific to the the latter point about publishing: “much less for one that ended up being publicly broadcast.”

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  So then the issue is not writing the story but posting it in a way that became public?
                  I think the part that Colin Robinson was responding in the the tissue example was a coworker not giving consent to be a part of the fantasy “this coworker didn’t consent to be used in a fantasy.” That sentence implies that to have a fantasy about someone you need to obtain that person’s consent first. If that is the case most people men and woman have violated people especially celebrities.

              2. Altair*

                *groan*

                Charles Xavier didn’t rat the LW out. She wrote a story and posted it in public. These are deliberate actions. I say this as someone whose hobby is wriitng stories and posting them in public. One of my responsibilities is to not do something like this.

              3. Anonymous at a University*

                Sure, if they write them down and post them. I had a former co-worker who eventually got fired for posting nasty comments about co-workers (with no disguised names at all) on social media, and publicly encouraging people to go harass them for these imagined crimes she’d invented. She tried the same, “But these are my PRIVATE THOUGHTS!” defense. Not once they’re on Twitter, they’re not.

                She also tried a “I was pregnant and pregnancy hormones were influencing me negatively” and “I had bad things happen in my childhood” defense. It was still a deliberate choice for her to do what she did, and it was a deliberate choice for the OP to do what she did. Plus, as someone said below, if she held a job for 5+ years, she’s not literally paying for this every single moment of every single day. I find the impulse to say, “Poor, poor, poor victimized OP being persecuted for her thoughts!” disturbing.

                1. Colin Robinson*

                  But isn’t the key difference that OP meant for this to be anonymous fiction where her colleague wouldn’t be identified or ever see it? Obvious fail, but it’s different than attacking and harassing people openly in public and using their full names.

                2. ceemploye*

                  @Colin Robinson, OP meant for herself to stay anonymous. She put in enough details about the coworker that people were able to ID her, so the coworker’s privacy was clearly never on her mind.

                3. Colette*

                  @Colin Robinson – I think there’s an argument to be made that the OP didn’t, in fact, mean for it to stay private. First, she posted it; she failed to do so anonymously (even if she had intended to do so), and the story itself made it possible to identify the coworker. That’s a lot of mistakes to make if you really want to keep it private.

                4. New Jack Karyn*

                  @Colin Robinson: Yes, there are degrees of bad. LW still screwed up here, and published an identifiable story of a graphic sexual nature involving a coworker, without that coworker’s consent. I don’t think anyone hired a hacker to trace it back, or a private detective to look for clues as to who it might have been about. Regular people who know both people were able to figure it out.

                5. hbc*

                  Colette, it’s one mistake: having OP’s name on it. I promise you, if I put my full name or email address on any of the posts I’ve had on this site about my old workplace, you would immediately be able to figure out who I was talking about. But you have no idea with these initials.

                  “The short brunette in production” is pretty much anonymous, but becomes a heck of a lot more identifiable when you know that she’s a coworker of Fergusina Bathory.

                6. Colette*

                  @hbc – I disagree – if you don’t want someone to figure out who you’re talking about, you change the identifying details. For example, “the short brunette in production” becomes “the blonde in the mailroom”. Their real-life details shouldn’t be relevant to your story.

              4. anonanna*

                Not thought policing but being a star in a WRITTEN, identifiable piece of sexual fiction is a pretty clear broach of consent and ethics. It would be like coworker coming up to you in the break room and saying “I was thinking of you while getting off last night.” That’s pretty darn creepy, evasive, and crossing boundaries of consent.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I agree that that situation you described would be out of line. But in the context of OP’s story I think that would be closer to if OP had directly sent the story to the coworker. I think a closer example is if OP was having a fantasy about the coworker and a third party happened to hear OP calling out the coworkers name and then relaying the message to the coworker (don’t ask me how this would happen it is just a hypo), or if OP was having lunch with a friend and they told the friend about the vivid sex dream/fantasy they had about a certain coworker to the friend, but sitting behind them was a friend of the coworker who overheard everything and then goes and tells the friend.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Hit send before I was done.

                  I think in both the lunch situation and OP’s situation the coworker was never meant to find out about the dream/fantasy/story, it was not sent/told to them directly or someone who the coworker knows. Would it have been a mistake to talk about something like that so openly yes, but I have heard some very detailed, explicit and interesting conversations while I have been out to lunch/brunch that are meaningless because I don’t know anyone involved and in a way are anonymous.

                  I think this is a situation where intent does matter a little bit, not a lot the trouble it caused is almost the same, but it does change it a bit if the OP purposely sent the story to the coworker or if the coworker happened on it by accident.

                  If I am playing catch with someone and throw the ball and it hits them in the face I am sorry that I hurt them and I will apologize, but if I throw the ball (assuming with the same amount of force) in a way that I intend for them to get hit in the face by the ball, the level of hurt is still the same but the intention matters. If I throw the ball at someone who is not paying attention and say heads up and it hits them in the face, I was probably a little reckless in not making sure they were looking my way when I threw the ball.
                  I think in each situation the intention makes a difference; 1) complete accident not mad at all 2) person recklessly throws it a little mad for not being more careful but I know they didn’t mean to hurt me 3) they purposely try to hurt you, I would be really mad.

              5. Quill*

                Think what you want but implement a brain to mouth (or brain to text) filter about it.

                There were three steps here:
                – OP took out their frustration by imagining this scenario with their coworker (No comment because the brain is a grey hunk of gloopy mystery)
                – OP wrote it down (approaching the line given the fact that it was done out of frustration and anger, but still not causing harm.)
                – OP posted it and caused harm with it. That’s where the line is drawn.

          2. Georgina Fredrika*

            Not a perfect comparison ok, but my point was less about contacting the person and more about it crossing a line to allow these thoughts out of your head and into the real world of typed words – regardless of who is “dominant” in the story (which was what the original reply here was saying – “why is everyone assuming it’s threatening”)

      3. sunny-dee*

        It represents a huge fantasy of the OP’s about her coworker.

        If I had a coworker who wrote a BDSM story where I sexually violated him, I’d be seriously freaked out. It wouldn’t matter that I was the “aggressor” — I was the centerpiece in his violent sexual fantasy. That’s … unsettling.

        1. SickofCovid2020*

          I am not saying its unsettling. I agree with that. But my comment was specifically related to the threatening aspect.

          1. Risha*

            Being publicly presented sexually like this is INHERENTLY threatening, regardless of your characterization in the story. I don’t get why you’re trying to argue that. If a guy I worked with posted a story online that is clearly and explicitly about me crushing his balls, I would have to consider the likelihood of him sexually assaulting me in real life since he was apparently attracted to me and has poor or no sense of appropriate boundaries. Hopefully small, but it would be a non-zero chance that I would have to spend time worrying about.

            1. anonanna*

              And also, what’s up with all the victim blaming/mitigating the author’s responsibility by saying the coworker was the aggressor?!

              1. JSPA*

                OP says she wrote the story with the coworker as the “aggressor.” (Nobody’s sure if that means Dom, or what.) Direct quote from letter, of the character as a literary (and sexual) persona. No reflection on the actual coworker in any way. People are saying “coworker was ‘the aggressor'” as normal English shorthand for, “the character written to resemble coworker was the aggressor in the scenario.”

      4. Ray Gillette*

        This is an understandable impulse, but it doesn’t work that way. People who self-identify as submissive or bottoms can absolutely still violate people and commit violent crimes. I’ll spare you the gory details but my own rapist definitely had some kinks that would typically be flagged as “submissive.”

      5. Bananers*

        Well, because the OP’s behavior WAS threatening toward the co-worker. And there’s nothing in the letter to suggest that the co-worker was a bully or otherwise maliciously hurtful, cruel, or threatening toward the OP..

        1. ceemploye*

          Yeah, exactly. I don’t know what’s up with the idea that the coworker must have somehow been at fault. Sorry, but OP has listed several excuses/explanations for her behaviour – if the coworker was a bully and this was her way of processing the bullying, wouldn’t she have mentioned that as well? Surely that would’ve been relevant?

        2. JSPA*

          I took it from the apposition of

          “I had a hard time finding a job and the one I did find was crappy”

          And,

          “I was angry that we had to move to a very rural, judgmental state”

          If this were creative writing, it would probably be used to imply that the crappiness of the job was due in large measure to the judgementalism of the coworkers.

          But you’re right; OP never actually says so. If the job sucked because running the French frier gives you spatter burns, and coworker was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, OP is avoiding responsibility by not clarifying.

          And any ongoing hint of “mistakes were made” thinking will (reasonably) lend credence to worries that the buck never quite stops with OP.

          So, yeah, more displacement stuff to work on… anecdotally pretty common if you were abused, to have extra work to do, assigning ownership to actions and responsibilities (in both directions). That work is how you get to be, “the person who would obviously never pull that crap.”

      6. Observer*

        It’s not an “assumption” – it’s the simple fact of the matter. We have no way to know what the coworker’s behavior was, but regardless this was essentially a “virtual” attack on the coworker.

        It’s not even clear that the coworker’s behavior was really a problem her. The OP doesn’t say that the coworker behaved badly. Rather she says that she was angry “that we had to move to a very rural, judgmental state and wanted an outlet for the anger”. And she chose to write a story about her coworker to let out the anger about a situation that the coworker did not cause.

      7. SickofCovid2020*

        Ok, throwing this out here because this thread is getting a bit wild. When we comment my understanding is our comments are supposed to be helpful to the letter writers, per site rules we are to be kind to them and limit speculation to facts presented.

        What bothered me was that several people made statements implying the OP threatened their coworker with their actions, not that the coworker felt threatened by the actions. Those can be two different things and I believe it makes a difference. I posted under Eyass’ post because as they said “Without knowing the contents of the story or whether your intention was to make your co-worker feel threatened, it’s hard to say whether this has been blown out of proportion.”

        That’s important to note. We do not know the contents of the story (other than what OP provided) we do not know the history or the daily interactions of OP and her coworker. All we have is the letter which we must take at face value. From the only evidence I have, the letter OP wrote, I don’t believe she wrote the piece as a means to threaten her coworker; ergo I don’t believe she threatened her coworker. I also find it a little unfair to be piling onto the OP and stating she did in a way that makes the threat seem intentional because there’s nothing that I saw in the letter that suggested that to me.

        Yes, we can all agree that the coworker probably did feel threatened, and horrified and frightened and disgusted which is normal rational logical reaction to the situation. But I think how we phrase it matters to the OP who wrote in for advice. It won’t be helpful to OP. What will be is to instead phrase it so that OP understands the ramifications her actions had on her coworker and to stop making assumptions based on our knee jerk reactions.

        Let’s come together, dig deep and stop piling onto people.

    5. Johanna Cabal*

      I’m a writer and I make it a point to avoid writing characters overtly based on people around me. If I feel I am doing that, I make a clear effort to change any details that could clearly connect Real Person with Character.

      I do feel this situation is a far cry from Conan Doyle using the real Joseph Bell to inspire Sherlock Holmes though.

      1. Quill*

        Same! It’s easier when you’re writing secondary world stuff (nobody I know IRL is a dragon tamer but I could totally steal my OC’s sense of humor from a friend) but ultimately, part of the editing process is steering characters far enough away from inspiration that any resemblance to real people is (semi) coincidental.

        1. Elizabeth Naismith*

          Yes. You want your characters to be fully-fledged and well rounded, of course. But that doesn’t excuse just taking a person whole cloth and dumping them into your story without their consent.
          Do some writers use people they know? Yes. But unless the person has consented, any decent writer will use a mish-mash of real people for each character, with some totally made up bits sprinkled in for good measure.
          On the flip side, a group of writers I follow did a charity drive a few years ago. If you donated X amount, you could be featured as a side character in a story by your favorite author (you just submitted your name, a brief physical description, and anything you wanted the author to know in 50 words or less). A couple of those authors write urban fantasy with a decent amount of violence, and jokingly referred to this as the “red shirt charity drive.” Because yes, most of the fans who opted to be in their books were going to die, and they wanted to be up front about that. The slots sold out in a matter of hours, and those authors are still not finished using all the names on their lists, even though it’s been a few years.
          That is how to put real people in your work. Not like this.

    6. Bananers*

      I think the content of the story is pretty clear from the letter-writer’s description. Regardless of whether or not she intended to make her co-worker feel threatened, it is a very reasonable reaction for the co-worker to have.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        Which is exactly what I said in my comment? ” I’m not saying that feeling violated, unsafe or threatened is not a justifiable reaction to discovering you are the antagonist in a bdsm story, I just think its interesting that the overall assumption is the OP’s behavior was threatening towards the coworker.”

        1. Bananers*

          It seems like you’re splitting hairs. The OP’s behavior was threatening toward the co-worker. Personally, I don’t think that’s up for debate. You can wonder about how the co-worker treated the OP prior to the story, but unless it were something extremely egregious (which the OP is highly unlikely to have left out of the letter), that doesn’t change the fact that the impact of the story is threatening.

        2. PeteAndRepeat*

          The OP’s behavior in *posting the story* was threatening. What roles the OP and the poorly-disguised coworker had in the fictional story is irrelevant. The coworker was cast as the dom and so was in control in the story. So what? In reality, OP was completely in control as the author of the story. The fact that OP wrote a sexually explicit story about her coworker and posted it publicly is disturbing and violating, regardless of the specifics of the content.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          I don’t really understand what point you’re trying to make here, and saying “oh I just think it’s interesting” seems like you’re trying to avoid stating it. What do you mean, interesting? Should the coworker feel less threatened because the OP wrote her as the dominant character? Creating and publishing sexual material about a person you work with without their consent is an inherently threatening act.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think being queer and being married to a transman likely makes a big impact in the story. This is a small town so the town likely knows the husband by the deadname they used to go by. What OP did was bad no doubt about it. But part of the reaction may very well be fueled by homo/transphobia. Sometimes straight people feel that their straightness is being attacked/questioned because a queer person finds them attractive in a “How dare they find me attractive, like I would ever be interested in them.” kind of way. What OP did merrits a strong reaction on its own,

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Sorry posted to the wrong thread. I think sickofcovid2020 is questioning if the story as written is threatening is because OP can’t force the coworker to act as a dom/aggressor in the story. If a coworker wrote a violent/sexual story where I try to kill/hurt them, I would think it was weird and obsessive but not threatening, if the same coworker wrote a story where they try to kill/hurt me in explicit detail then I would feel it might be a bit threatening.

            If I am understanding the writing this explicit sexual material means that a person might commit sexual assault and that is why it feels like a threat?

            1. SickofCovid2020*

              Yeah that was kind of my train of thought. I saw a few commenters jump in and blatantly say ‘you threatened’ as opposed to ‘your cowoker felt threatened’. When i comment i try and see things from the OP’s perspective and keeping site rules in mind (be kind to them and limit speculation to facts presented) want to be constructive not destructive.

              It may be splitting hairs but I can’t see in the story where the OP shows directly they are threatening.

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              I don’t think it matters what role the coworker was placed in in this story; it’s the act of writing and publishing sexual material about her at all that is threatening. It does not have to mean that the OP “might commit sexual assault” but it does indicate a total lack of boundaries or awareness of appropriate behaviour, a willingness to portray her colleagues in an explicitly sexual light, a tendency to use sexual scenarios as a means of expressing frustration with work – I absolutely think that’s threatening.

              Honestly I am not fond of the idea that the exact manner that someone is portrayed in a sexual fantasy about them published without their consent makes the act of portraying them less threatening. Like, if the fantasy was all about how beautiful and sexy this coworker was, would it be less of a problem because it’s complimentary and how can it be threatening if they’re saying nice things? If the fantasy was about some incredibly specific fetish that the coworker could not possibly fulfil, would that be less of a problem because how can it be threatening if the fantasy is impossible? I think it’s the act of writing and publishing the explicit sexual fantasy, any fantasy, about the coworker that is threatening, not the specific role the coworker is written in.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I think sickofcovid2020 and myself read/interpreted threatening from a physical perspective. But you are talking about an emotional threat, the OP has already emotionally harmed the coworker and has shown herself to be a threat/potentially cause further emotional harm, just by virtue of her presence or the coworker worrying about what else OP might think/write about them?

                I disagree the act of writing and publishing an explicit sexual fantasy is a threat. If OP had managed to publish this anonymously and changed a few more details to the point where someone who read it would not be able to tell it was based about them or a coworker this would not be a problem. The actual problem is that the story is identifiable, not published anonymously and it got back to the coworker.

                If I say to myself and no one else hears “I want to beat up Joe Smith.” I have made a threat ( a statement showing intention to cause harm), but no one has been threatened because no one has received the threat.

                1. Bananers*

                  But she didn’t do any of that. She WASN’T anonymous (possibly not her fault) and she DID make the co-worker easily identifiable to someone who knew them (something she absolutely had control over). So what she didn’t do is irrelevant. Those are the facts of what she did, and it’s not okay, and it is harmful and a threat.

        4. biobotb*

          You think it’s understandable that the coworker felt threatened, but don’t understand why people think the LW’s behavior was threatening? These statements are contradictory.

    7. Grim*

      With background checks being what they are today, the OP would find it difficult to pass the check with a name change, without any references. She may have good references from her past managers, but she would need a good cover story for the name change.

    8. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m afraid is far too late for the apology to work. Had it been a couple of years after it blew up, sure go ahead, but now… I’m afraid it can backfire.

    9. Isabel Kunkle*

      So hey, I’m an author and I’ve based some characters on people I hate. My guiding principle, though, is that I keep sex, in any form, very far from those characters, and try to do the same for violence that could approach RL equivalents. My Ex-Friend the Cthulhu Cultist who gets her face eaten by a shoggoth isn’t as threatening as, say, writing her as the victim of someone like Ted Bundy.

      As a general rule, the more RL parallels the situation has or could have, the more you have to file off the serial numbers of characters based on people. Otherwise you end up coming off as, at best, expecting your audience to pay to be your therapist (Aaron Sorkin, nobody cares about the blonde chick who dumped you) or, at worst…this.

  9. Triumphant Fox*

    I agree with the need for a name change, a change of state and no social media. It’s just so egregious and malicious – it’s not just a funny story or odd quirk, people may feel genuinely vulnerable as your coworkers and I can see warning a colleague not to get too close.
    I don’t really see here that you ever apologized – just that it was discovered and you hoped it would blow over. A lack of apology may leave people still questioning your judgment and whether or not you regret what you did, or if you were just mad about being treated like a monster. A letter of apology to your victim (or the facebook group) citing your regret and personal growth/therapy that has made you face what you’ve done might help – or may be more triggering, others may know better.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Definitely definitely not a good idea for OP to reach out and offer an apology after all this time. For one thing, it wouldn’t come across as sincere because it’s only being done to avoid negative consequences for OP. For another, after nearly ten years, it absolutely could trigger the victim.

      1. Jessica Fletcher*

        I agree with these points. I also think it could start a whole new wave of lashing out from the people who are already doing so, both because it may be seen as another offense and because now they’ll have something in writing with LW’s name on it, confirming what she did. Assume that will be posted online and otherwise shared with new coworkers/associates.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I agree — sometimes the person who did something wrong just needs to live with it because an apology would be self-serving or upsetting for the victim. I thought about this when writing the post — I thought about how I’d feel if the guy I mentioned from my past apologized to me now. Even if it seemed utterly sincere and even if he said he wasn’t looking for a response from me, I would find it upsetting — I would feel he was once again looking for something from me. I just want to be left alone. I imagine that’s a common response.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Exactly.

                And I want to say thank you for opening up and sharing something so difficult. I hope that your story makes an impact on the OP since I agree with a lot of the comments here that she does not seem to acknowledge the magnitude of what she did.

              2. KateM*

                Had an abusive ex writing to me a month or so ago, out of blue, about how he is suffering and won’t I let him to… honestly, I forgot what exactly because thankfully, this time I managed to his letter out of my head by the next day (first time, I pondered for weeks whether I should get a stay-away order). I filed his e-mail for keeping (who knows when I may need proof) but I won’t go to look it up so I could be more precise. :)

            2. Triumphant Fox*

              That makes sense. I think I was looking at it from the OP’s perspective that this has been “going on” for this whole time, but the truth is that for the victim, it happened 10 years ago – it’s really other people who have shared the story. I appreciate everyone jumping in – I wasn’t sure what would be the best scenario for the OP but an apology wouldn’t really solve anything – it would seem really late and really tone-deaf.

          1. Dezzi*

            Ten years after the fact? Unless your victim specifically contacts you, you don’t. The solution is that you live with what you did and try to be a better person. Recontacting someone you abused, after a decade has passed, is ALWAYS about making yourself feel better or trying to avoid/escape consequences of what you did, and often comes at the cost of retraumatizing that person. You don’t get to traumatized them a second time just to make yourself feel better. Your victim doesn’t owe you that.

          2. Starbuck*

            Well, timeliness is the issue here. If you don’t apologize after the harm to the victim has been done and is made clear (expect OP didn’t even mention that), but you then DO try to apologize after the harm (really, consequences) to YOURSELF is now clear, people are going to make the obvious inference about your intentions and priorities. I’m not sure what someone could do or say in a situation like this to make me believe otherwise unfortunately.

          3. biobotb*

            The solution would be to apologize at the time. If the LW didn’t do that, the door is firmly closed now.

      2. Jennifer*

        I don’t agree with that. An apology may have been good right after it happened. But hearing from someone that hurt you years after the fact can be re-traumatizing.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I was wondering about the apology too. If that never happened, then it may be too late– too triggering for the victim, as you note, though it’s hard to know for sure. The thing about big mistakes is that yes, we should be able to move past them, but we also need to acknowledge that we made them and make it known that we understand why they were so egregious. This is a pretty big mistake. I’m really torn about this letter because I want to sympathize with the LW, but I also really sympathize with the victim and I don’t think there’s an easy resolution.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Yep, if there was no apology at the time, and the company didn’t intervene in any way, then I can see why the story has followed the OP. Everyone who witnessed the events are doing their own policing by making sure everyone else knows what happened.
        I’m also torn because people should be able to learn from their mistakes and move on, but this must have been a very disturbing story to cause such a reaction. And I would bet that people are embellishing the details as they repeat it.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Even with an apology, this is so egregious (and violating for the victim), I can why it’s following the OP.

          I can’t imagine not warning a friend if I knew about this and vice versa I wouldn’t be happy if someone didn’t warn me.

          It sucks for the OP, but a name/industry/location change is probably necessary.

  10. I'm A Little Teapot*

    My thought is pretty comprehensive: move, seriously consider changing your names, probably stay off social media/use a fake name, and make sure that you’ve gotten treatment or are getting treatment to help heal. You say your judgement isn’t the best. I believe you. But just saying it and doing nothing about it isn’t enough.

    Good luck.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree that moving is probably the only way to get away from this. I’m not as sure about the name change. It honestly doesn’t sound like someone is chasing the LW outing her past transgression as revenge on her. It sounds like a small community and small industry, and she keeps working with people who heard the story originally. It doesn’t sound like everyone in town know. And it doesn’t even sound like she’s being kept from being hired so she’s not getting bad references from previous employers. It’s just that she can’t help but running into people who know and as Alison mentioned the transgression is alarming enough that warning people is not really gossiping.

      I think LW’s queerness if it is known and the fact that the victim of the story and the writer were women could make it slightly worse in a small conservative town, but the transgression is such a volition even without that element that that’s of limited relevance.

      I think the LW won’t be able to escape her past there and she and her husband need to consider moving for a fresh start.

  11. TheTomatoInUrFruitSalad*

    It’s really important to remember two things: 1) nobody owes you forgiveness, no matter how sorry you are and 2) the world is a tiny place. 11 years ago I had to violently stop a coworker from assaulting another coworker. About 9 years ago I moved to a small rural town. Wouldn’t you know it, just a few months ago, back before the pandemic spiraled, I was talking to a casual acquaintance and somehow it came up that we both know this former coworker. It sounds like he’s turned his life around and isn’t a bottom-dwelling scumbag any more, but I still told acquaintance the story. When my acquaintance said his name, my blood ran cold, even 11 years later. What you did hurt someone and that person and the people upset at your actions have just as much a right to still be affected by it as you do to be profoundly sorry about it.

    You need to accept that this isn’t going to go away and it’s likely going to follow you the rest of your career especially with the ability of everything on the internet to stay forever.

    I strongly recommend wherever you’re looking for work next, to use your First + Middle Name instead of First + Last name. Going by Michael Frank is a lot easier than going by Michael YesThisIsThePersonYouKnowWhoDidATerribleThingOnce. Depending on your location, you might look into changing it.

    1. Altair*

      Well said, Fruit Salad Tomato. (Also your username is going to make me giggle next time I make a fruit salad.)

    2. Ryn*

      “No one owes you forgiveness” is where I’m finding myself land here too, especially since LW didn’t make any indication of what they did to try and take accountability/make things right. And even then, some things cause so much harm to others (which I imagine this did) that, well, you just have to deal with the consequences (the spitting and bullying aren’t okay of course).

      If we could go back 9 years, my advice would be to work with a transformativr justice facilitator. But I think my only advice now is to reflect on the fact that the victim likely carries around trauma to this day, and that LW’s actions clearly make others feel unsafe.

    3. Elbe*

      Agreed. The LW also has to keep in mind that there’s an information gap here.

      She may know that she’s remorseful, working through her issues, and hasn’t done anything like this in close to a decade. But no one else knows that. They don’t know her inner life, her reasons for doing this, or her thoughts on the matter. For all we know, the perception could be that she horribly violated a college (one who it sounds like she didn’t even particularly have issues with), didn’t even get fired, and has managed to get jobs ever since, despite the behavior. Because that’s the info that other people would have.

  12. Amethystmoon*

    If I were you, I would consider working in a different industry where the people aren’t going to know you. I take this as a lesson, never post anything online you don’t want coming back to haunt you, even if names are changed. Things aren’t always as anonymous as they may seem. Use a paper diary instead, keep it at home, and hide it well.

  13. Johanna Cabal*

    At this point, moving is probably your best option and eliminating social media. You will likely need to change or modify your name.

    If moving is out due to finances, could you find a virtual position? I’m seeing more listings for these. If you do go this direction, definitely keep quiet about where you are working in your community (neighbors, grocery store, etc.)

    1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      A virtual position plus an amended name (if she’s using her married last name, she could use her single name now instead, and vice versa) might be the best way to go for the forseeable future. Closing down her social media accounts could help as well – yes, that’s a drastic move, but she’s in a very shaky position, and anything she posts can be used against her, however unfairly.

      Moving, even if she can afford it (and it’s NOT cheap!) is far more complicated; would her husband agree to move as well? And I can’t help wondering what HE thinks of all this; her now-uneven employment record is surely lowering the family income, and he might well regard a request to relocate as “the last straw”.
      Virtual job, amended name and no social media presence all sound like better solutions than moving, which would probably bring only temporary relief anyway – just until someone from her old job tracked her down, at which point it could well begin all over again.

  14. EPLawyer*

    OP, you say your judgment is pretty bad. You need to seek help about that. THEN you can decide what to do about this. because if you don’t have the best judgment, you aren’t going to make good decisions. Which could be why some of the places have turned on you, your bad judgment might still be showing. Sure some of it is based on this story, but people who work with you before hearing the story already have some judgment of you. If I heard an intern tell me “omg, can you believe what so and so did to someone at a former job?” I would assess that story against what I know of you. If people are completely turning on you, even setting up Facebook pages to bully you, there’s a lot more than a story going on here. If the co-worker you did this to, did those things, okay. But people not directly involved, even well removed from the situation are piling on. Either the story was REALLY worse than you say here or something else is going on.

    I think part of it is you hate the part of the country of you are in and it is coming through at work. Which will not win you friends willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when they hear the story. Which is also why you need therapy. You need to work through a WHOLE LOT of things to sort out your world, not just your employment situation.

      1. valentine*

        setting up Facebook pages to bully you
        I think the Facebook reference is to OP as the aggressor. She either posted the story on Facebook or the manager used it as a catch-all, and addressed the group instead of being direct with OP.

      2. Daffy Duck*

        Another vote for therapy. Work on building positive relationships with others. You want your coworkers to see a helpful, hard-working, supportive-of-others employee so when the past mistake does come up they have many positive interactions to help balance it.

        1. Actual Vampire*

          This is a GREAT point. LW is trying to get back on a neutral footing with everyone, because she thinks that’s what she deserves, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, she should try to get on a positive footing with someone. Prove to someone that you are kind, and smart, and useful, and trustworthy. Having 1 person speaking positively about you will be more helpful than having no one saying bad stuff about you.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I didn’t want to admit it, but I was getting this vibe as well. I’ve known upstanding people whose secretes surface and I give them the benefit of the doubt because they have proven themselves as decent. I ask about the rumor and I get an honest response. We all move on.
      BUT…If I’m working with a challenging personality and I hear a rumor that fits what I have observed about their personality, then I’m not so inclined to give them the benefit of my doubt.
      The best thing the OP can do is be professional, honest in all their work, be kind and supportive of their co-workers, and show them that the story from the past is in the past. They are not the same person as they were then.

    2. Tobias Funke*

      Completely agree – developmental trauma like you mentioned, OP, can teach us terrible, terrible things about ourselves, about the way the world “works” and about what is “true”. You deserve to be able to free yourself from these assumptions and to nurture your best judgment.

    3. winter*

      Well the something else going on could simply be being queer in a rural area. I would not dismiss that possibility as long as I don’t know more about LW’s situation.

      However, LW, I concur that you’ll need to have a good hard think if you have a chance of succeeding in your current situation. Moving/changing to a virtual job might be the only way to leave this behind you.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        This is what I was thinking. You and I could make a judgment based on LW’s recent work. But if there’s already issues in town with homophobia, transphobia, and/or kink-shaming, I think this would be one more pile-on.

    4. HumbleOnion*

      I think this is a really good comment. The OP has a fundamental problem here that needs to be addressed.

      If I heard a story like this about a coworker, I’d want to know first what they’ve done to make amends. Did they offer a sincere apology, did they accept the victim’s response to it, did they take responsibility for what they’d done? And second, I’d want to know what the person had done to address the underlying issues that led to the action. Did they seek therapy? Are they following a treatment plan? Are they getting help? If the answer to all those is yes, I think I’d be able to give the person a chance. At least I hope I would.

      I think you’re right about there being more to the story and I get the feeling the OP hasn’t dealt with their past abuse. Moving might help the immediate problem, but there are problems that run much deeper that need to be dealt with.

    5. Elle*

      Yeah, I commented elsewhere that if a brand new colleague told me this story, I’d think it reflected worse on the teller than the subject of the gossip. One of the people I line manage also started in April, and if we now got a new intern who said stuff like this about her, I’d be more concerned about the intern’s judgement than hers!

    6. Glitsy Gus*

      Yes, this is a great comment, and OP, I hope you see this.

      If you were putting out a professional, kind, and collaborative demeanor at your current job and someone told that kind of a story, most reactions would be, “whaaa? OP? How weird!” Even if they later discovered that it was true, that discovery would be heavily colored by the fact that they know you to be the opposite of that now. If the listener automatically believes it, or at the very least let’s it immediately color their perception of you, then it’s very possible you are still putting out a vibe that shows you are not happy where you are, aren’t especially fond of your coworkers, and don’t want to be there.

      I’m not saying that to be mean! It really sounds like you don’t want to be there, so it isn’t a harsh judgement of you to say you may be putting that out there. We all end up in that boat sometimes.

      I agree with EPLawyer about finding a good therapist that has experience with past trauma and talking through this and your other problems. You have a lot going on here, and I truly hope you can find a way through into a better, healthier situation, whatever that looks like for you. Good luck to you.

  15. Observer*

    OP, I know that you wrote about your job prospects, but what you wrote is so tied to the personal that it needs to commented on.

    Please give a good hard look at your marriage and your mental health overall. I’m seeing a lot of things that don’t really add up in a health marriage and with a reasonable level of mental / emotional health. This is not to point fingers or to blame anyone. It’s to say that looking at these areas could make your life a lot better, and at least give you some better tools for making decisions that are likely to work FOR you, not against you.

    It’s striking to me that your husband never comes up here, except to ask if you need to leave him. Why are your only choices “stay in a terrible job” or “leave my husband”? Have you even discussed the situation with him? Does he have any idea of what is going on?

    It’s also notable to me that your response to being in an environment you find difficult was to write this story about a coworker. And the you disguised that person so poorly that once someone knew who the author was, they figured out who the character was. It’s a really unusual way to handle a situation like this – and it was an extremely poor decision.

    I think that in order to move forward you are also going to have to grapple with what you did. There are mistakes and there are MISTAKES. This is the latter. You lashed out in a pretty bad way at someone who was really not responsible for your misery. I’m not saying that you are a monster, but it’s important to realize that when you do something like that the long term repercussions are likely to significant.

    The current pandemic has one silver lining for you – tele-therapy is far more accessible than it’s ever been, which means that you should have a better chance to find a therapist who can work with you, than you would have had had you had to look only in your immediate vicinity.

    I hope you get some help and figure out a way to move forward.

    1. Data Analyst*

      Agreed. I am wondering if the childhood trauma hasn’t been processed, and if so, the “poor judgment” (or, I would say, maladaptive coping strategies) will keep coming out in different ways. Hugs to you OP!

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      I inferred that her husband is set on staying in the small town (possibly to take care of aging relatives?), and LW wants to move away to start fresh. I do think she needs to talk with him more about this.

      1. Elizabeth Naismith*

        Agreed. And I think, while the majority of OP’s counselling needs to be private and individual, they also need some couples therapy. Because even if taking care of his parents is an absolute necessity with no other option (hiring a caretaker, for example), there are still other ways to do it than my staying in this town.

  16. Bruise Campbell*

    I am so sorry about this, everyone has something in their past they regret! No one is infallible, I am sorry yours is public and still coming back to bite.

      1. hbc*

        I mistakenly broke someone’s leg once. Mistakes can be actions that damage people. The nature of the mistake (negligence, freak accident, etc) surely affects the deserved consequences.

        1. Altair*

          This is actually a very good analogy. A lot of people here are arguing as if the fact that you were making a mistake somehow means the person’s leg wasn’t broken.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            So you would hold no people to the same standard just based on the outcome?
            Scenario 1) Say I walking looking where I am going and I trip and land on you and break your leg
            Scenario 2) I am playing a game watching a movie on my phone and not looking where I am going and trip and land on you and break your leg.
            Scenario 3) I jump and try to land on you to purposely break you leg.

            All else being equal force used that breaks the leg, type/position of break, time required to heal etc…. you would hold a person in each scenario to the same level of responsibility/culpability? For me personally S1) I would be upset at my broken leg and maybe hold slight negative feeling toward the other person S2) I would be upset and hold mild negative feelings towards the person for being reckless S3) I would be super pissed and hold high negative feelings and would want to person criminally punished for assault.

            1. Altair*

              I am not a lawyer, but wouldn’t someone who broke your leg be liable for helping pay your medical bills in all of these? Besides, in all three stories, your leg is broken with all attendant losses. Would you want someone to say “I didn’t mean to break your leg, stop using those crutches you’re making me feel bad?”

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                That is not what I am saying at all, my main point was asking if you would hold the same kind of animosity/ill will towards a person who tripped and accidentally broke your leg versus someone who negligently or intentionally broke your leg.

                If someone broke my leg on purpose or because they were careless I would be way more mad at them than someone who had a genuine accident and tripped.

                My main point being that even when the outcome is the same intent still makes a difference. I am not saying if someone didn’t intend to do something it makes it all okay just that there is a difference. As Oliver Wendal Holmes said “Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over.”

                I disagree that there are mistakes and then there are actions that damage other people. Often something IS a mistake BECAUSE it damage other people. Ultimately OP acted recklessly by making the story so identifiable but OP didn’t write the story and then send it to the coworker on purpose.

              2. hbc*

                Look, OP is not saying “How dare she not want to work with me!” or “She shouldn’t be going to therapy” or anything equivalent to “Don’t use crutches.” I think the equivalent in the leg-breaking situation is for CmdrShepard’s friends to see this person on the street and say, “Watch out, everyone, here comes a leg-breaker! Keep your limbs safe from this smasher of bones!” I’m not going to cry for the leg-breaker in situation 3 even if it’s decades later, but I don’t really see it as karmically fair if it’s just a stumble.

                Literally no one is saying the original victim should get over it. Impact matters *and* intent matters.

            2. miro*

              I see it less a case of “intentions don’t matter” and more a case of “regardless of intentions, harm is harm.” Now yes, the degree of intent/agency involved in the harm matters and absolutely does (rightfully) affect how the harmed person views the situation, including what measures they take. But the reason that intent is relevant is because it caused harm, and I think it can be dangerous to center intent over and above harm.

              How the harmed person interprets intent is important too. To take your example, it seemed like the person purposefully tried to break your leg when it was actually a wild accident, you will probably be more angry regardless of the person’s actual intentions. In some cases, there might be an opportunity for the person to clarify the situation, but in some cases your interpretation of the situation might make you so fearful of the perpetrator that that isn’t possible.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            First sentence should be *”So you would hold people to the same standard just based on the outcome?”

  17. KHB*

    It sounds from what you say like you never meant for anyone to make the connection between the character in your story and your flesh-and-blood coworker. (You thought you were posting the story anonymously and disguising your coworker’s identity, but it turned out that neither of those things were true.) To me, that’s a big difference between what you did and some of the purposeful abusive behavior people are comparing it to.

    I’m afraid I don’t have any helpful advice for you, but I wish you all the best, and I hope you can find a way out of this. You don’t deserve to be haunted for the rest of your life for a mistake that was never intended to be malicious (if indeed that’s what it was).

    1. Eyass*

      This 100%. I saw one poster say OP is a sexual predator. There is a big difference between deliberately posting a story for their coworker to see and using writing as an outlet for blowing off steam. I totally get that the end result is that the co-worker felt violated – that’s understandable – but it does not seem that the OP was malicious in their intent or deserving of what posters here are saying.

    2. DapperDev*

      I agree with this. The OP had a rough start to life. She made a mistake somewhere along the middle, and now she’s been paying for that mistake for 10 years. Enough is enough. People need to be allowed a chance to grow through their mistakes. If we ostracized every single person we met for making a mistake, we would all be alone. She deserves a chance to show she’s grown through her mistake.

      OP, I kind of know where you’re coming from. My own depression and anxiety has affected my ability to work well with people in the past. It was hard, but getting help and confronting my past helped me forge on. I wish you well, and I’m sorry you haven’t been given the chance to grow through this in a meaningful way.

      1. Observer*

        Why would the people who know what happened assume that the OP has changed? And absent that information, why would they NOT warn others about someone who behaves this way?

        The OP is not a predator. But she did something egregious which may very well still be affecting her victim. Are you going to tell the victim “enough, you don’t get to feel be rattled by this anymore”?

        Even if the OP tried to make things right – or even “better”, you simply cannot dismiss this as “a mistake” with some sort of expiration date on potential effects on the person who did it. Given that the OP doesn’t seem to have tried to make any amends or fix the problem and still doesn’t seem to understand the severity of the problem, that’s true several times over.

        1. KHB*

          The coworker is allowed to feel rattled. But at some point, the response to feeling rattled – especially by someone who didn’t mean to rattle you – is to get on with your life and avoid that person as much as you can. That’s easier said than done when you’re both in the same small down and even smaller professional field (which seems to be the entire source of the problem here). But I hope everyone involved can find a way past this.

          1. Ryn*

            Why is the onus on the victim to avoid the perpetrator, as opposed to the other way around? Shouldn’t LW own the responsibility of mitigating further harm, especially if, as you assume, the harm was unintentional?

            1. Anonymouse*

              There was a story on here a few years ago about an office in which one person tickled a coworker who freaked out. The situation was dealt with at the time, but the victim then proceded to bully the perpetrator until such a point that said perpetrator felt that she had to leave. If memory serves me correctly, the bullying extended to anyone who dared be friendly towards her and ended with the strong suspicion that the victim was taken into a HR meeting and told to “pack. that. [insert expletive here]. out or. you’re. fired.”

              My point is that there comes a point where a matter has to be effectively considered “closed” and if the victim continues to persue the original perpetrator then they themselves step out of line. This seems to me to be one such occasion.

              1. ceemploye*

                I don’t get the sense that the victim is pursuing anyone. It seems that other people are aware what happened and spread the story from time to time. The original victim doesn’t seem to be involved at all.

          2. Temperance*

            Whoa. From your comment, it’s as if the person sneaked up behind someone and scared them. This is a huge personal violation.

        2. DapperDev*

          Why would the people who knew what happened assume that in 9 years, the OP has not changed? What purpose does a warning serve if she has not repeated the offense? At some point, is the purpose to warn people? Or is it to alienate and punish?

          What she did obviously was wrong, but she also acknowledged this as something she regretted doing. Which meets the definition of a mistake. The people she affected have a right to feel hurt, upset, traumatized. What she did was messed up. But sometimes messed up things happen, and all you can do is move forward and try to pick up the pieces. It sounds like she’s been trying to do this for 9 years. Is she supposed to spend the rest of her life, treated like garbage? When does society decide to rehabilitate? When do we decide, as a community, to rectify a wrong in a meaningful way, and move forward?

          It’s fair to want the OP to try to make amends, but it’s not proportionate for her to be subjected to abusive work environments over the course of 9 years.

          1. Observer*

            OK, this was not “something that happened” it is something SHE DID. And she shows no sign that she realizes just how bad this was.

            And, no you don’t get to tell someone that there is an expiration date on their reaction to someone who did something this bad to them. Absent significant evidence that the person has changed, the victim and their circle have every reason to believe that this *IS* who the OP is, even now. Because children do outgrow some (not all) things. But adults are far less likely to change in fundamental ways.

            1. DapperDev*

              I’m not sure why the phrase “something that happened” is being quoted, since I never said that in my previous response. Interesting.

              You and I have fundamentally opposing views. I believe in people’s capacity to change and grow, even though decisions they have made that had traumatic consequences for others. We live in a society where people’s mistakes can haunt them for the rest of their lives. It can affect their ability to seek fair employment, housing..it’s the prison system. It’s supposed to, ideally, rehabilitate people. And instead recidivism rates are high for those that have been incarcerated. Likely because of the nature of their punishment.

              OP spent 9 years getting spat at, bullied over something messed up that she did. Like I said before, “what she did obviously was wrong, but she also acknowledged this as something she regretted doing. Which meets the definition of a mistake.” The people she traumatized have a right to be upset, and to process their emotions. But when people spend 9 years warning employers about her, it raises serious questions. What is a proportionate punishment? What is accountability? What brings closure to all parties involved?

              So let’s say the OP is able to move to a new state, or region – likely to be financially and emotionally draining. Likely to affect the OP’s relationship with her partner. Would it still be proportionate for these people to contact her employer? Would it still be proportionate for them to continue finding out where she works? Would it be fair, for the OP to continue experiencing workplace bullying?

              What the OP did was horrible, and traumatic to the people she affected. But at some point we need to realize that penalizing someone indefinitely isn’t very proportionate either.

              1. Observer*

                I believe that people have the capacity to change and grow, otherwise I would not be responding to the OP. But it’s dangerously naive to believe that someone actually HAS changed and grown after egregiously bad behavior, unless you have some evidence of change.

                Also, what her former coworkers are doing is not necessarily about punishing her. It’s about WARNING people about legitimately worrying behavior. That problem doesn’t just disappear with the passage of time.

            2. Anonymouse*

              Wrong.

              Look at this from the perspective of the person who came into OP’s new company and spread the gossip. How would they know whether or not OP expressed remorse or not, unless OP was still actively doing the deed (which does not appear to be the case from the availabl;e information), in which case a LACK of remorse would be presumed.

              From that perspective, it looks as though they walked into the new company, saw someone they didn’t like and decided to spread gossip. Granted, the content of the gossip may be factual (although I highly doubt that it’s 100% accurate either since it sounds as though it wasn’t the original victim themselves). You don’t get to do that. You just don’t.

              I am reminded of the letter in which the OP was effectively barred from her dream company because a girl that she used to bully/neglect as a teenager was their star player and was suspected to have told them that she wouldn’t work with the letter writer. At the time, I had sympathy with the letter writer, as I don’t think it is fair to effectively continue to punish someone years later over something considered “done and dusted”. However, the difference there is that the letter writer eventually harrassed the girl in a restaurant and provided ample evidence that no, she hadn’t grown up or matured, and thus blocking her employment was justified.

              Here, this doesn’t seem to apply. Unless the person coming into the company has a specific reason why that cannot be in direct contact with OP (in which case they should express concern to the manager and the manager alone), they should keep their mouths shut

              1. Observer*

                They didn’t come in and see someone they don’t like. They came in and saw someone who did something pretty horrible to someone. And they are not just “spreading gossip”. They are warning people that she has a history of really bad behavior – behavior that generally has long term negative effects.

                1. Just A Zebra*

                  Exactly this. The situation OP is describing isn’t a case of “I hated Britney in high school, so don’t hire her” a decade later. This is a case of “Yeah, Britney posted something really unsettling and disturbing about a classmate in high school. She makes me nervous”.

                  Obviously we don’t know the exact language, but the generic remains – one is a personal opinion, one is a tangible anecdote that speaks to someone’s character. Even if they have changed, unless I know that for certain, I’m going to assume they haven’t.

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            I see your point, but in the OP’s letter there is no mention of either an apology or official consequences, and given the overall tone of the letter I feel that if either of those things had happened she would have mentioned it. She’s acknowledged her regret *to us*, but there is no mention of her actually apologising to the coworker, addressing it with her coworkers at large or even whether she took the story down; she obviously wasn’t fired/suspended/demoted and there’s no mention of any disciplinary action; she was able to get another job (possibly with a reference from her previous employer?) and spent five years there before anyone found out, and then got another job after that. The worst official consequence to her job was not getting a promotion, which, I mean, a lot of people don’t get promotions.

            Many of the things OP mentions (the spitting, the Facebook groups, etc) are not okay and are, as you say, abusive. But in terms of moving forward, it doesn’t sound like she has made any significant attempts to rectify the wrong and she has experienced no official work-related consequences. In that context, why would these people assume she *has* changed?

            1. DapperDev*

              That’s a really good point, she spent more time talking about her experience navigating workplaces. We don’t know if she made any significant attempts to rectify anything, and maybe that’s what’s wrong. Maybe if she tried to rectify it, in some way, it would have stopped the bullying. I guess it sort of startles me to think that people could systematically contact her employers over 9 years. If people were this affected, it’s surprising to me that they wouldn’t contact her directly, either. I definitely think there should have been reconciliation

              1. Risha*

                I’m not sure where you’re getting that people are “systematically contact[ing] her employers” about what she did. It sounds like that in both cases, she got a new job and worked there for an extended period of time before someone who knew what happened got hired. In other words, no one hunted her down or reported anything – they just got hired at the same employer in a combination of coincidence and living in a small, rural area with a limited number of potential employers.

                1. Anonymouse*

                  Yes, but then that person who got hired decided to dredge it up again. Maybe that’s because, in their mind, the OP has not expressed enough remorse or something, but were they genuinely expecting the OP to be metaphorically flagulating themself and apologising in an out of context situation/setting out of the blue, around people that have no connection to the original incident, no less. Most people would consider that weird if they saw it.

                  If I was working somewhere and a former coworker I had wronged five years ago turned up, they wouldn’t find me hiding timidly in a corner and squeaking obediently because of that incident. Because it isn’t relevant there.

          3. Starbuck*

            With the nature of how easy it is to post stuff hidden on the internet – if someone did something like this and hadn’t sincerely apologized and given some context and really made it clear how they know what they did was wrong and why it was so violating – I would assume they were still writing such stories and had just gotten better at hiding them. Having read one, and knowing there could likely be more would be seriously unsettling. Fetishes/fantasies/kinks aren’t usually thought of as a one-and-done thing, you know?

            1. DapperDev*

              That’s a good point, I could see why someone would would be concerned they were still writing those stories about their coworkers. It would definitely unsettle me if I worked with someone who did something like that. It’s hard to reconcile too, because there is no definitive way of confirming that the OP never did this again

      2. Elle*

        I think for me, the bit that causes alarm bells is that colleagues of several years started freezing her out based on five year old gossip from a brand new colleague. To me that suggests one of two things: (1) OP was asked about it and responded so badly that everyone had been left horrified, or (2) OP has behaved in such a way that her colleagues were unsurprised about this. And for this to have happened a second time, apparently based on 3rd hand gossip from a brand new intern? Thag suggests to me that OP’s present behaviour is affecting this. If I had experience of someone’s work and a brand new colleague told me this story, I’d think it reflected worse on the teller than the subject of the gossip, unless I already had reason to be suspicious.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      It doesn’t matter of it was purposeful. Intent is irrelevant. The results are that the coworker was sexualized without their consent by a coworker in a public forum. That’s awful, regardless of whether or not the OP meant for anyone to ever “know.” And it was purposeful, because the OP chose to write the story and, more critically, chose to share it. They could have just written it and then left it on their hard-drive. They didn’t. Having said that, I am willing to accept that the OP feels regret and I believe they are truly remorseful. I just don’t see how they salvage their reputation after something like this.

      1. DapperDev*

        Yeah, I agree that it’s awful, and it definitely seems like the OP is regretful, in my opinion. I also agree about salvaging their reputation – moving seems like the only viable option.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That is where I fall too. Honest confession, I wrote a story for a contest once where I based a character on a creepy coworker. We were supposed to write a horror story that was set in the woods. The main character of my story was a woman (a generic character with no resemblance to anyone), who is being stalked in the woods by a creepy man, who resembles the coworker. I sent the story to the contest, got an email from a judge saying I’d lost points for “the male character being unrealistic”, and that was the end of it. Other than the “completely unrealistic” part being a funny story to tell at parties, no consequences occurred for me as a result of writing this story and sending it off. Never occurred to me that it could’ve ended up being a terrifying, life-destroying thing following me around! Isn’t every character in every story based on someone real in some capacity? Lysa Arryn is a close copy of GRRM’s ex-girlfriend and so on.

      Admittedly, I do not know how bad OP’s story was and how recognizable the coworker was (my guess is “very”, based on OP’s depiction of the last 9 years’ events).

      1. DapperDev*

        Yeah, I wonder how people in OP’s community figured out she wrote it. It must have been very descriptive, or maybe the plot took place in her community…who knows

      2. Georgina Fredrika*

        I think if she had thought she was posting anon it’s probably just obvious. If I said “my past australian co-worker with red hair who occasionally massaged my other co-workers during work” you would know exactly who I was talking about – even with only 2/3 of those details, you’d probably know, if it was attached to my name. Even if I changed the name from “Fifi” to “Lemi” you would know.

      3. Elizabeth Naismith*

        No, not every character in every story is based on one specific person. Most authors use a mash up of characteristics to create a unique character. Those who can’t often have trouble with large numbers of characters in their books, because they run our of people they know well enough, and have to repeat. Their books tend to become dull as a result.
        Also, most authors know better than to open themselves up to character defamation suits that way.

  18. Something Else Is Happening Here*

    I highly recommend therapy. It sounds like you’re seeing attacks from others even where they may not be happening. I read the Facebook reference as you thinking your boss was referring to something you might do to someone else:

    “’Don’t set up Facebook pages about a coworker. You are bullying them.’ I’m pretty sure it was about me, but I have no proof.”

    Likewise, if your past employer had a problem with what you did, they would have let you go altogether — not deny you promotions for years as you indicated here:

    “I was denied any kind of promotions (people who didn’t have as good of a performance were given promotions over me and the answer I was given on why was ‘wait’). ”

    My sense is that you are not viewing the world as it is. You are viewing it through a lens of being a victim. Your story focuses on you being victimized for years as a result of one BDSM story you published anonymously. I think there is far more to this, beyond lacking empathy for the person you wrote about.

    I am familiar with people who frequent FetLife and live alternative lifestyles, and I know plenty of writers who have written fetish-type stories, books, blog posts, etc. with thinly-veiled characters based on people they know. Those stories have not resulted in the consequences you have described in your letter.

    You need therapy to get to the root of this.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      From someone who has lived in a small town, tried to get work, this could be legit attacks. I do think she should get therapy, if she’s not. But I’ve seen people who know the business better than the current manager not get promoted just because he didn’t have the right name (i.e meaning he didn’t come from money). This was a person with 2 degrees, worked his butt off at 2 jobs always stayed late worked the crap hours. Never even got the option to try just because he was diffrent (queer in this case).
      That is one example of what can happen In small towns.

      1. valentine*

        Likewise, if your past employer had a problem with what you did, they would have let you go altogether
        Not necessarily. Maybe they think they can’t do anything about activity that happens after hours or off-site or that firing is un-Christian. Maybe the victim doesn’t want anyone, especially OP (because what might she do to retaliate, especially with more time on her hands?), blaming her for the firing and also was hoping it would blow over, hence the spitting and shunning, but nothing said.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Small-town setting definitely adds to the problem. I grew up in a town of 100K, and could not walk down the street without running into everyone I knew. Nothing could ever happen to anyone without the whole town finding out within days. A few years ago, dated a guy who lived in a town of 10K and it was so much worse. We’d go to a grocery store and he’d know the full life story of everyone in the store, and they his. I know living in a small town would mess with *my* head really badly – some people (like my ex) love it there, but it’s not for me. Maybe just the simple fact of moving out would improve OP’s situation.

    2. Observer*

      Well, the OP says that the story she wrote makes the coworker look really bad. So, along with apparently not realizing just how bad of a decision this was, it’s not surprising that the fallout was significant. But, yes, DEFINITELY get therapy.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I don’t 100% agree with your conclusions, but I do agree that therapy would be massively beneficial to the OP – she’s clearly had a lot of trauma and things in her life that don’t seem to have been dealt with. It would help her both deal with the past and figure out how to move forward.

      I also agree with Alison that moving out of a small town will help – it sounds like being in a close-knit community is not doing anyone any favors.

    4. Serafina*

      Yeah, I’m with you on this. I feel for the LW a little, but along with agreeing with others that she hasn’t really acknowledged her own fault in her situation, she also seems to have developed a persecution complex as a result – maybe just more hating on the place where she lives, imagining everyone in it is out to get her.

    5. River Song*

      This is how I read it, too. Not that I think OP is lying, but that she views the world through a very dramatic lens. If you have to move because of this, and your husband isnt willing to come with you, that’s a relationship issue and not the fault of former coworkers. I hope you can work through this, OP, for your own sake

    6. Diahann Carroll*

      Your handle pretty much sums up my thoughts on this letter – something else is definitely going on here. The details given here in the letter and the coworkers’ reactions (spitting on OP over a story?!) are very odd and don’t track for me.

      1. winter*

        OP is queer in a rural area and wrote a sexual story on a fetish site. That reaction does track perfectly well for me. (Meaning I can imagine it, not that I think harassing the OP was okay/the right solution to the situation.)

    7. Thankful for AAM*

      I am familiar with people who frequent FetLife and live alternative lifestyles, and I know plenty of writers who have written fetish-type stories, books, blog posts, etc. with thinly-veiled characters based on people they know. Those stories have not resulted in the consequences you have described in your letter.

      I also confess to confusion over why the consequences described by the OP from one creepy/sexually explicit story. From the context it does not sound like the OP did it AT the coworker. I see everyone has taken it that way but I feel like something else had to happen here to make people feel it was AT the coworker. For me that would change the solution; I think it is the other thing that we are missing that needs to be addressed as much as the story.

      1. Cercis*

        Having lived in a small town, I would say it’s the reactions of the folks around. They are probably still harassing the coworker and still bringing it up. I remember when I moved back to my small town, a slip of the tongue in 2nd grade was brought up to me as an example of what an awful person I was. People saw me talking to the friend (it was one of those really bad malapropisms that created a racial slur when I mixed up two first letter sounds, my friend knew exactly what I meant and saw my horror when I realized what I said – we were good, no hard feelings) and gave them crap for even being willing to still talk to me.

        In my case, I was always the town scapegoat for reasons I still don’t understand. So people were always looking for examples of things I did that were wrong (wearing the same jeans as the popular girl on the first day of school – because I must have somehow known what she was going to wear and copied her), etc. They would take every single small action and make it seem like I was being aggressive in some way.

        I will never move back. When my mom was dying there was a period where it looked like they’d want me to move back to help care for her and I was mortified that they’d expect that. She died more quickly than expected so I didn’t have to face that possibility.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I remember when I moved back to my small town, a slip of the tongue in 2nd grade was brought up to me as an example of what an awful person I was.

          A classmate got mad at me over a FB comment once and retaliated with “how can you say this, when I always defended you when everyone else considered you crazy, in first grade”. We were in our 40s. Screw small towns. Hope I never have to go (back) to one.

      2. anonanna*

        Because OP took something clearly identifiable about the coworker- whether it was personality, appearance, etc- and used it to create a character in a highly sexual story without the coworker’s consent. That’s a major violation of privacy. I’m a survivor of SA so I know how abuse or assault screws with your perceptions of healthy sex and boundaries. So while I empathize with the OP I cannot excuse what they did.

    8. ES*

      I’m wondering if the story was posted to a private local kink FB group, that sort of thing would explain how it wasn’t as anonymous as the LW hoped and how the coworker was recognized so easily.

      1. Cercis*

        And apparently there was a situation a year or two ago where Facebook messed up and private groups were suddenly public. When that happened, several people said “it happens every couple of years, it’s why I have two facebook accounts, one for my kink stuff and one for my normal stuff, I’m not about to trust Facebook to stay private” (although part of why I knew about it was that Facebook recommended a kink account as someone I might know and I asked my friend what was up with that).

        (Have I mentioned I love how open my friends are with me about their lives? I am loving learning about all these different ways of living, things that I never even knew to wonder about.)

        1. LGC*

          …I’m more shocked that people use Facebook for kink, period! Mostly because you then run the risk of seeing – like – dropshipping ads for ball gags all over the Internet if you’re not 100% careful.

          Also, the risk of Mistress Sweetjuice showing up on everyone’s PYMK, too (as you observed). People You May Know has precisely ZERO chill.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Ooh, that’s not something I’d considered and it seems like one way this could have happened.

  19. I'm just here for the cats!*

    It sounds like you live in a small town or area and you moved here to help with your husband’s parents. Is there anyway you can move to a city in your area? For example I grew up in a small town where everyone knew you, your parents and everything about you. And if you were different in any way, even just being poor single mother, or you weren’t the town royalty you were treated unfairly. Even moving a few towns away i still ended up working, going to school or just running into people who had that bad attitude that I wanted to avoid. I moved about an hour away to a semi-large city and it’s completely different. Even though the town I lived in was the county seat, and not that far away people have no idea where it’s at or what I’m talking about when I say something about back home.

    Is their a city in your area that you could move to where you could get employment? Or maybe you could just move to get away from the small town life and start fresh.
    Good luck!

  20. Delta Delta*

    Also joining Team Change Your Name. I’m acquainted with a lovely woman – let’s call her Christina Watchwinder. She did something that wasn’t great (illegal, but not the worst thing). Her name was in the paper and there was lots of whispering about her around town. But, she knew she had done something wrong and that people would talk. Now, a few years later she’s doing very well and running a successful business. But people still google Christina Watchwinder and find out she did something dumb 8 years ago. She has since changed her name to Tina Timex (she has always used a shortened form of her legal name) and although people in town still know her by face and associate her with the old thing, new people just know her as Tina who runs the Alpaca Manicure salon and things are fine.

    I suppose the potential downside is if/when the former coworker finds OP under her new “Tina Timex” and starts talking to coworkers and employers and saying she changed her name to avoid being known.

    1. WS*

      Yes, a friend of mine was accused of doing something illegal and bad, and it went to court where she was found factually innocent (which is stronger than not guilty, and the person who had first accused her was then charged and found guilty of malicious false reporting). It made no difference in our small town and she had to move states and change her surname to be able to resume her career. She didn’t change her unusual first name, but it seems to be enough for locals to not be able to find her.

  21. Maggie*

    While it’s true that nothing ever truly disappears on the internet, some content can be removed by web administrators. Some fetish sites are run by individuals, just as AAM is run mostly by one person. OP, did you ever make any effort to ask the site to remove the story you wrote? Is it now defunct, or can it still easily be found by internet search? Some stories can still be easily found, even though 10 years old, while other MySpace and tumblr pages were long ago removed because of a lack of activity. So long as it’s still easily found, it’s still “current,” even if it’s a decade old to you. If you haven’t, I’d consider working with an IT consultant to try to get the story scrubbed as much as possible. Then, if people asked you about it, you could develop an honest response you can practice: “I’ve matured so much since this. I did X, Y, and apologize directly to the victim, and unfortunately that’s the most that I can do.” But until you’ve really done the most that you can do, this will follow you. Confronting it head on and then incorporating that into your personal narrative will be better than moving alone. If you move but do nothing else, it can still follow you.

    1. blink14*

      I was going to suggest this as well. OP, if you take a proactive approach to removing this story as much as possible from the internet, if it still exists out there, I think it would go a long way. A lot of sites are no longer active, but the content can still be located.

      But, even if you can do this, this situation will probably still follow you to some extent if you remain in the same location and/or the same industry locally. People do make horrendous mistakes, and it can be very difficult or nearly impossible to shake those mistakes if you stay in the same location or the same company, industry, etc.

      Perhaps look at this as a time to try jumping into a new job, taking some time off if you can, or potentially even moving.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s worth a try. Locate any copies of the story on the internet and contact the site owners to get them taken down.

  22. anonanna*

    LW, putting office advice aside, you need help. Those scars from your childhood won’t go away without professional work and from your letter it seems they still affect your decisions today. Hope you can find compassionate care to get in a better place.

    1. Anonym*

      Everyone deserves help in dealing with trauma and just the normal difficulties of life. OP, if you’re not already in (or open to) therapy, please know that you deserve the benefit of having an expert in your corner.

  23. Forrest*

    OP, I think other people have covered the work advice here, but I wanted to add something else. There is something about the way you have linked this story, your experience of abuse and having done sex work and the idea that you “don’t have good judgment” which makes me think that you are still carrying a lot of trauma.

    I think you know what you did was wrong, and you feel a great deal of regret over it. But the way you describe yourself as “not having great judgment” makes it sound like you still don’t really understand on a deeper level what motivated you, or that you completely trust yourself not to do something similarly or differently awful in the future.

    I don’t know if this is related to the way that you are struggling at work when people find out your history–I’m wondering whether your history means that you don’t build very strong bonds with co-workers, so when this story comes along, it’s quite easy for people to say, “Ah yes, I thought there was something off about her” and distance themselves, or the fact that this judgment reflects what you still think about yourself makes it impossible for you to react in a way that both recognises the seriousness of what you did, but also holds a space where you can move on and rebuild. Either way, if it’s in any way possible for you, I would recommend speaking to a therapist or counsellor to try and untangle some of this stuff. You deserve to heal from your background of abuse, and to understand what the connections were between your history of abuse and your actions to your ex-co-worker, and to find a way to make restitution, accept that part of you and move forward.

  24. NyaChan*

    I wonder if there’s be any point in preemptively bringing this up at a new job if she really is in a small town. Right now, it seems like people think not only that she did this horrible thing (true, she did, but are they being told the correct details or an exaggerated version) but from their reactions, I wonder if they think she has no remorse for it. I wonder that too just because the post included history meant to explain her poor behavior but nothing about an apology. Problem is that if she lucked into a new employer that has no clue, she’d be exposing herself for no reason, but at this point, would it really hurt to get her version out first?

    1. Friday afternoon fever*

      No. This is not really something you hear about and want to hire someone after. I’m open to others’ opinions on this and curious how to talk about why they left their job in interviews. But my first instinct is don’t VOLUNTEER this.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I was also thinking the OP may want to vaguely bring it up if asked during an interview. “Why did you leave your job”, or “talk about a challenging situation” kind of questions. I’d respond with, “A long time ago I said something inappropriate about a co-worker. I was very, very immature and I’m very embarrassed that it happened. This incident has managed to follow me through my career and I’m hoping to start new.” If they prod, I’d still keep it vague and reiterate how much has changed, “I posted something on a webpage that I thought would be anonymous, and of course it wasn’t. I was frustrated with my current situation and took it out on a co-worker that absolutely did not deserve it. I’ve grown so much since then and I strive to make every workday a collaborative and enjoyable place for my team.”
        I only think the OP should bring it up because it seems very likely that it will come up. If OP gets the job, then the company will have been informed and the manager should shut down any gossip.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          No, that would totally make me want to hunt up what they said, and if I found it, not employ them. OP should not bring it up themselves.

          It’s an ok script if someone else brings it up, though a little minimizing.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        I think that NyaChan meant after starting a new job, not during the interview. (I still think it’s a bad idea to bring it up out of the blue.)

  25. Invisible Fish*

    Move. If you want to stay in your marriage in a traditional “we live together” way, move together. If he needs to help family, pack them up move them with you. Sure, none of those things sound easy (because they are not!), but the life you’re in right now doesn’t seem to be meeting your needs. Yes, you made a poor choice – that’s unfortunate. Assuming you haven’t done anything similar since then, move. Use a different name (preferably, change it legally). Life is too short for this sort of “punishment” and struggle.

  26. Buttons*

    If it is still on the website where you originally posted it, you need to get it removed. You might also consider hiring a reputation defender company who will search the internet and scrub it of your name. You may also consider going by your maiden name or married name.
    Even with all that it could follow you forever.

  27. feather*

    I have to wonder if there’s a less extreme solution here. Maybe address this head on next time it comes up. State that yes, you did this awful thing in the past. However, it’s been a long time since then, and you’re a different person. Ask that they judge you on who you are now, not on past mistakes. Word could get around that you’ve improved as a person, and eventually this might become less of an issue. There’s no guarantee, and maybe I’m being overly optimistic here. But you shouldn’t have to go into hiding because of a past mistake.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Ask that they judge you on who you are now, not on past mistakes.

      There is a risk there. As others have pointed out, people who have known her for years are having a reaction to this story and they do have a long history to base it on. The OP doesn’t seem remorseful or even particularly aware of what she did wrong, and still cares a disturbing amount of hate for the place and people where she has lived for a decade. If (not saying absolutely, just if) she’s an angry, bitter person and then they hear this story, they are judging her for who she is now.

      I would second a lot of the other posters who are encouraging therapy. And, if at all feasible, maybe not working at all until her head and heart are in a better place.

    2. Tired*

      I had a similar thought. A lot of the advice here is for LW to distance themselves from this as much as possible, including changing their legal name and moving. But unless she’s also cutting off all contact with everyone who ever knew her as the old person, I don’t know if that is actually going to work.

      Instead, I wonder what LW has done to make amends? Has she gone to therapy to work out whatever caused her to do this? Has she fully owned up to the mistake, can she say with perfect honesty and no excuses that she’s sorry for the harm she caused and has taken steps to ensure she will never do it again? Has she demonstrated with her actions that she is a different person now? Because while I feel a lot of sympathy for LW, I still see excuses and an aversion to taking responsibility in her letter.

      Once she has done all that, can she find someon ewho is willing to hire her on KNOWING about her past and giving her a new chance? Like how there are often programs for convicted felons to reneter the workforce after serving their time.

  28. a lot to think about*

    OP you seem to have gotten a lot of good advice. Have you considered working an online job for now. Maybe do some volunteer work in the community to get in better standing, even if its something simple like helping an elderly person shop or mow the lawn. Also it sounds like you have overcome a lot, grown, matured, have you considered counseling?

  29. Mayor of Llamatown*

    OP: I genuinely believe you are remorseful and wish you hadn’t done what you had done. We have all made mistakes we would rather just be forgotten.

    I think there is a big difference between blowing off steam about a coworker you don’t like, and actively posting a heavily sexualized story about them on the internet where others can see it, in a way that makes it obvious who they are and who you are. That represents a huge error of judgment for a potential employer.

    If I were the person you wrote that story about, I would feel very violated and traumatized. And you may get that, but I am not seeing that in your letter. You say you are sorry for making a mistake, but that mistake was a big, public violation of someone else, sexually.

    I recommend the book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It is all about people who have made these kind of mistakes, been called out very publically, and many of them found redemption and a way to move past it. It might give you some ideas, and maybe some hope.

  30. Thatoneoverthere*

    I am not sure how easy this is, given where you live but can you work farther away from your home? Maye 45-1hr away, where people are less likely to know you?

  31. Lurking Tom*

    I have to say, if I was working with someone who, when angry at current circumstances which didn’t involve me at all, might choose to write sexualized fiction about me that painted me as an aggressor as a way of dealing with that anger, I would 100% want to know and I would be thankful to the person who brought it to light so that I could request a transfer or otherwise decide for myself to extricate myself from that possibility.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Agreed I would want to know. I think I’m mature enough to simply remove myself from the situation now, but if this happened to me 10 years ago when I was less confident and less mature, this would be terribly traumatizing. I really feel for the victim in this situation.

  32. drpuma*

    I wonder if there is any successful way for the OP to proactively bring this up when she starts her next job? “I was in a low place and I did this thing, I’ve done these other things to get to a better place and now I make a point to treat my coworkers like XYZ, but I’ve worked places before with other folks who’ve tried to bring that old thing up so I wanted you to hear from me.” Of course with the caveats that the OP needs to have actually done the work with herself and made the changes.

  33. Bananers*

    “I still have trouble getting and keeping employment because these same coworkers make it their job”

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s an accurate read of what’s happening. Those former co-workers aren’t constantly bent on tracking you down and hurting your job, they’re naturally sharing the rather alarming information that’s likely to come up when they cross paths with you again (or learn that someone else close to them has). I agree with a lot of other posters — I think your best bet is to move. That may not be easy or even feasible right now, but you’re a lot more likely to make a clean break of this somewhere new.

  34. Alec*

    I don’t entirely get what she’s asking for — it seems like this letter boils down to “how do I avoid the social repercussions of being a sexual predator?” You just have to live with the consequences of some things, and sexually harassing and violating a coworker falls firmly in that category. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like she understands that she’s not the victim here, at all, and her colleagues and ex-colleagues aren’t wrong to not trust her! I find it especially disturbing that she uses her queerness (I am a queer person myself fwiw) and her past sex work as a way to deflect culpability for her actions — that strikes me as a classic manipulation tactic to minimize what’s she’s done. Her identity and past experiences don’t change the harm she did to her co-worker at all.

    1. Forrest*

      I do agree, but I have a lot of empathy for the OP. None of this is adequate as an excuse or an explanation for what she did, but it reads to me like a first-level mental self-defence for someone who knows they were messed up by CSA and subsequent sexwork but hasn’t yet done the work to figure out exactly how they were messed up and what that means for their ability to form relationships, deal with difficult emotions and recognise and respect other people’s needs. It takes some pretty deep analysis and work to be able to truly hold in balance “I was hurt” and “I have hurt others”, and to be able to understand the relationship between the two without either making yourself a monster who doesn’t deserve anything good or a victim who can’t be held responsible for the way you’ve hurt others. I hope OP gets the opportunity to do that.

      (also queer though I don’t know if it’s relevant to this response!)

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Yep. I see a lot of minimizing language in this, and no real recognition of the harm done.

      How does OP get past this, addressing it instead of running away? Maybe (but maybe I’m wrong, I’m open to that):
      – Therapy to deal with the anger / trauma that lead to OP becoming an attacker
      – If it comes up in conversation, be open and sincere, not joking or dismissive:
      * accept responsibility (“yes, I hurt Co-worker, who didn’t deserve it, and I was wrong to do so.”)
      * discuss how you are working to stop harming people (“I don’t want to address co-worker directly and re-traumatize her, but I know what I did was wrong, and I have had therapy to address the reasons for my behavior.”)
      – Make sure you’re not still projecting the emotions behind that story. If you are still angry about being in this state, or dismissive of your co-workers and work, that will make it easy for people to believe that you might have another episode of ‘bad judgement.’

      That’s hard work, and won’t always be received well; running away is emotionally easier. OP, whichever path you take, please see a professional therapist.

    3. Observer*

      I do agree with most of what you have said. But I don’t agree that the OP is a sexual predator. Hyperbole is not useful here. What she did was quite serious enough, though, that it’s reasonable to expect that there are going to be long term repercussions. And also, that negative reactions are not her being victimized for “something that happened”.

    4. Jessica Fletcher*

      LW is not a sexual predator. The actions described in the post do not fit that term, and if you took sexual assault seriously, you would know that’s not a term to throw around lightly.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        OP wrote a violent, sexually explicit story about a coworker without their consent, and posted it on a publicly available forum. There is little mention here of how that fallout affected the coworker, but I would consider trauma to be well within the realm of possibility.

        I’m not sure this meets any technical definition of sexual assault, but it certainly feels predatory to me.

        1. Jessica Fletcher*

          Well, you are mistaken. You are certainly welcome to research sexually predatory behavior if you would like to educate yourself on this topic and why it’s not a term to be thrown around.

    5. Sylvan*

      I’m not sure if it was a deflection, but I was also not getting the connection between being queer and doing this. I understand being queer in an insular place can mean experiencing a lot of homophobia or transphobia, but…?

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think being queer and being married to a transman likely makes a big impact in the story. This is a small town so the town likely knows the husband by the deadname they used to go by. What OP did was bad no doubt about it. But part of the reaction may very well be fueled by homo/transphobia. Sometimes straight people feel that their straightness is being attacked/questioned because a queer person finds them attractive in a “How dare they find me attractive, like I would ever be interested in them.” kind of way.

        1. Sylvan*

          Yeah, that all makes sense, and I’ve definitely been angry enough at homophobic interactions to say/write things I regret. I’m just not understanding writing this story as a reaction to it.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I took the part of mentioning being queer more as context for the situation not that being queer and/or experiencing homophobia specifically caused OP to write the story. My take was that OP was dissatisfied angry with their life for various reasons (did not like living in a rural area, in a small town, in a state that is judgmental (part of that judgement may have manifested as homophobia), had a hard time finding a job, the job they did have was crappy.

            I am 100% speculating on very little facts, if OP felt their life was out of their control they might have looked for something they could control. In this case it was writing a story where OP could control the narrative, in the narrative they wanted to be able to control the coworkers actions, or the coworker was a stand in for how OP felt that she was powerless in her life was controlled by outside forces in her story the outside forces manifested themselves as the coworker.

            Ultimately no one besides OP (maybe OP isn’t even sure why they wrote the story) may be able to understand why they wrote the story.

  35. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am sorry for your troubles, OP, but this is something you cannot fix. This is the sort of action that would spur others to say, at the very least “Be careful around this person.” Coworkers bullying you would not be OK, and it sounds as if you had at least one supervisor who shut that down, but people will avoid you as much as possible. Promotions will pass you by because showing good judgment is usually more important than general job performance.

    I am assuming the remark about leaving your husband was due to the fact that your husband wouldn’t be able to pick up and move. Your only choice may be to adopt a new professional name and stay far, far away from social media. Maybe it’s time for a different field or to try to find work that can be done remotely. You need to find a way to create your own fresh start.

    Also, I feel compelled to say this – I get that you’re frustrated, but you need to stop blaming everyone else for your situation. That kind of thinking does not help. Giving a co-worker a heads up about frightening behavior from a former workplace cannot be brushed off as “Someone stirring up trouble.” Don’t assume the bullying comment was people talking about you. Even if it had been, thinking “They’re all ganging up on me again” won’t help you cope.

    Finally – Yes, this would all still be happening if you were a man. Scary behavior at work is disturbing no matter the source.

    1. Academic Addie*

      I agree with all of this.

      The fact is that some cats just can’t go back in the bag. A few years ago, a co-worker was sexually harassing me at work. People found out. I know people who bring it up whenever this coworker is mentioned. There are people who I don’t even know personally who bring it up. The fact is that once information is out there, people get to have their own feelings and reactions to it. As the victim, I don’t necessarily want to have that brought up all the time. To be discussed that way. But it’s out of my hands.

      You need to make a fresh start because an error in judgement this big will stick in people’s minds, and you cannot stop that from happening.

    2. 867-5309*

      I came down to also suggest remote work. In the era of COVID and need for flexibility, that would be an easy explanation as to why you’re leaving your current job.

      I would also avoid LinkedIn because as others have noted, unfortunately if one of your coworkers see that you have a new job (if at a global company doing remote work) there is a chance they will contact them.

  36. mcr-red*

    I know its hard to read tone 100 percent online, but you really don’t sound sorry, OP. You justify what you did “I was mad we moved there” and you’re complaining “If I was a man, they’d just look the other way!” You don’t seem sorry at all that you freaked out your coworker, and I can’t tell if you chose her because you hated her or because you liked her, not that it matters really, but your coworker could have thought of you as a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance and then you write thinly veiled violent fantasies about her and publish them.

    As I said upthread, I have two friends that similar things happened to – guys they were friendly with wrote violent explicit fiction about them and posted it online. Names might have been changed or user names involved, but everyone knew who they were writing about. And it got back to them and they were completely freaked out. In both cases, the men involved did have to face consequences. But I don’t think you or they realized how much that messed with their subjects’ heads, created trust issues, etc.

    We are not free of the consequences of our own behavior. I’ve made stupid mistakes in the past too, and had to deal with the consequences of what I chose to do.

  37. AKchic*

    I am really not happy with the minimizing and excuse-making on LW’s part. I know this is supposed to be about career advice, but until we actually address the problem, we can’t even look at how to help the career.

    Look at the minimizing language, the deflection, and the excuse-making even when claiming not to make excuses. I’m not going to say LW is hiding behind her childhood trauma, but she most definitely is using it here to avoid a lot of blame. You can be a victim while still victimizing others. I see nowhere in the timeline where LW apologized, where she took down the story, where she attempted to make any kind of amends for her actions in victimizing a coworker who didn’t have anything to do with LW’s personal frustrations at all. Depending on what was written in that BDSM story, people may be very concerned for future coworkers of yours, especially if you haven’t gotten any kind of therapy for your past traumas and if they have managed to link you to other stories or profiles and maybe have discovered anything else about you (maybe even your traumas).

    How do you move past all of this? By facing it, not shutting down and pretending it didn’t happen and just letting people heap more abuse on you as a punishment for what you did (as a result of your inappropriate outlet).
    Others have described changing your name, moving far away, etc. These are more running/avoidance techniques. Yes, they are great, but are they practical? Maybe. But they will take just as long and cost just as much as therapy, and really, the therapy is going to be more beneficial in the long run. Do I suggest you move? Yes. You don’t like it in that location anyway, to the point that you are acting out in really horrible ways.
    It is time to stop minimizing the pain you have caused to your former coworker(s). Acknowledge it. Sit with that discomfort. Don’t reach out to any of them, but put yourself in their position and think about how you would react if you’d lived in the same small town your whole life and had that happen to you. Would you be doing the same thing to protect your friends/family?
    If you haven’t already – take down the story. There is no reason for it to stay up. Anyone else that has it up can explain why they are keeping it up, but that’s on them. You are removing it because you regret ever creating it, and regret basing characters off of individuals from your real-life experiences and would like to spare them further pain and embarrassment by being associated with the work of fiction.
    Continue being a good employee. Document your experiences of bullying/harassment by the former coworkers (just in case). I don’t believe that someone should be going around spreading tales, even if they *are* true, and I don’t believe they should be keeping you from advancement, but this is a small town with small town mentalities. At some point, you may have to just suck it up and either deal with an attorney (at which point, deal with the fact that your victim can actually do something about you, too) about the person chasing you from employer to employer, or an attorney to deal with the employer letting personal grievances stop you from advancing.

    Ultimately though, leaving the small town will be your only option. Unfortunately, I think you are going to need therapy to ensure that you do this right. I say this as someone with childhood SA traumas and a stint as a SW in my own past.

    1. sunny-dee*

      either deal with an attorney … about the person chasing you from employer to employer

      I could be mistaken, but it sounds like both instances were several years apart and simply do to OldCoworker still being in the same industry and area. It didn’t sound like anyone was stalking her.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I’d agree. I also don’t think there’s any legal recourse for somebody sharing a truthful statement even if it is a deliberate campaign.

        1. Shelly574*

          There isn’t. I mean, I’m not your lawyer and you shouldn’t take anything I say as legal advice, but the ultimate protection from libel is truth. If what people are saying is true, then you have no real legal recourse. As a lawyer I once knew was fond of saying, “The law doesn’t protect you from facing the consequences of your actions.”

          1. fposte*

            I can think of situations where the employer would be legally forbidden from taking action based on that truth–say, if somebody called employers informing them about their employee’s arrest record in a state where it was illegal to take adverse action based on them. But telling the employer that truth would remain legal.

    2. Observer*

      There is nothing an attorney can do for her. An employer is perfectly withing their rights to refuse advancement to people for any reason good or bad, as long as it’s not based on protected categories. And this is NOT a protected category. On the other hand, if her employer cares about legal issues, they may be worried that promoting her into any sort of position of authority could put them in a precarious spot in terms of liability for sexual harassment.

      Which leads to another point – calling in a lawyer could backfire on the OP in a very big way. It’s not just that everyone could lawyer up just like she can. It’s that the reactions to a lawyer coming and essentially saying “how dare you refuse to promote this person who sexually harassed a coworker” and “how dare you tell people about this actual thing that this person did.” is going to be very, very bad.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      Yep to all of this, except maybe the attorney. OP fighting against someone saying true things about them… is not going to help the overall situation.

    4. miro*

      I appreciate this comment and agree with much of it, though I do want to push back on the “I don’t believe that someone should be going around spreading tales, even if they *are* true” comment. Obviously, I see that that’s your belief and respect you holding/communicating that, but for me, this comes back to the idea that threatening and disturbing behavior (as writing this story was, not least for the person affected) is something that people may feel compelled to inform each other about, just as people tell their friends which sleazy men to steer clear of or even just which managers will blow up if you admit making mistakes.

  38. KS*

    I don’t understand, at all, how this was identifiable. There are tons of literotica sites, and it would be nearly impossible to happen upon one and be able to identify not only the author, but the subject, unless you were looking for them. It’s possible that she accidentally put some identifying information in her profile, but even that would require someone else happening upon it, which seems pretty unlikely.
    It just seems like there’s more to this story – unless she was publishing on “Wyoming-Fet-Life.com” and changing Susan to Shmoozan, I find it highly unlikely she could have been identified with any certainty.

    1. Luke G*

      I wondered the same thing. My guess was that the LW’s full name was accidentally attached to the story as an author and someone in her work life googled her name (for whatever reason), and the name is unusual enough that the story popped up as an early result. If I googled my colleague “Philomena Warbleworth” and it turned up a sex story with a main character that had an eyepatch and greeted everyone with “well howdy there,” and my boss had an eyepatch and greeted everyone with “well howdy there,” I’d know.

      (Note that my real boss neither has an eyepatch nor greets everyone with “well howdy there,” but I wish they did.)

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Also, most sites will let you delete your own stories. Even if I was hell-bent on posting this kind of story to a site, once I saw it had my unique and easily-identifiable name associated, I would delete it immediately and then repost with the correct pen name.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, that’s the only way this entire scenario makes sense (not in an “I don’t believe OP when she talks about what happened” kind of way but in a “How on earth can this many coincidences possibly have happened?” one).

      3. Quill*

        I presumed that route or “this got posted to a very large social media platform that other people from my real life could find it on”

        Unless OP’s coworker had a birthmark the exact shape of mexico or something. (The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great movie, in case you were wondering.)

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Thank you. I was wondering the same thing, too. I agree with Luke G above me that somehow OP’s real and unique name was attached to the story, but even then, I’m a little confused. I write and post fanfiction online and there is no way I want it traced back to me in real life and most sites understand this and allow for pseudonyms and pen names where appropriate. Heck, even here on AAM, pen names are allowed! I just don’t understand how OP’s real name got associated with a fetish site. I would think that especially site runners of BDSM fiction sites would understand most writers would want discretion and cater to those needs.

      The only thing I could think is that OP linked their email address to their regular email that is identifiable rather than a burner gmail account. But this kind of slip, combined with not changing enough details to create plausible deniability in the story of who it was really about, makes me question their judgment a lot.

      1. valentine*

        Heck, even here on AAM, pen names are allowed!
        Often, people who go “anon for this” forget to overwrite their usual name when replying to replies.

        something went very wrong for it to happen.
        Could be as simple as not logging out before submitting the story to Fantasy Curator, so it’s listed with their posts/comments, or someone they know reads Fantasy Curator. If there have been zero discussions of the incident, it’s possible everyone thinks OP proudly put their name to the story.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          It’s true that other websites where you can post your writing may have different submission procedures as I’ve use in my own posting, but even then, once it’s gone up, I would hope that sites would be willing to delete/repost with the correct authorship. Especially fetish communities. Further, if OP is a regular on these sites and is commenting, someone googling them is going to have to wade through a bit to find this story. Not saying people wouldn’t do so, especially if it’s in a community as unconventional as BDSM writing, but as has been stated there are a LOT of different communities where this could be published and it seems strange that a coworker in a small town just stumbled upon it.

          I do think that Bree below might be onto something in that the OP may have shared they often read a site called BDSMfetishstories.com (or whatever) and that got others interested where they noticed the similarities. I, myself, worry that me mentioning AAM at work will identify myself to coworkers if I am too specific in my comments and they read the site on my recommendation.

      2. going anon for this lmao*

        I will say that for some godforsaken reason, a lot of porn sites have “Share” buttons right under the videos just like a youtube video or something, and every so often you do come across stories of some unfortunate person accidentally sharing their favourite videos to Facebook. There are also similar stories of (for example) celebrities or politicians on Twitter not realising their likes are public and liking porn tweets, people forgetting to switch between their public and private accounts before posting, etc etc. I don’t know how likely it is that a fiction site would have similar mechanisms (I think AO3 has a Share button?) but it’s not completely unbelievable to me that she could have somehow accidentally associated her real name with the work, even on a site that you would think was discreet.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I think the “not logging out/not switching between public and private accounts” thing is how some of the notorious company social media blunders have happened. Like the infamous “vagina plane” tweet from a few years back…

    3. Luke G*

      Rereading the entire question I’m not not even 100% sure it was identified. The OP seems ready to believe anything is an attack (the Facebook comment, for example, which seems more likely to be a comment about a facebook page involving someone else rather than a backhanded reference to some other internet thing).

      OP, I don’t want to say I doubt you, because I believe YOU believe it’s because of the story. But are you SURE that the dislike you received at that job is because the story came to light? Is there any chance something else happened around the same time that, rightly or wrongly, made your coworkers dislike you that you may have incorrectly read as “they must know about the story?”

    4. Bree*

      I agree that doesn’t add up and I think the most likely explanation is that the LW shared the story with someone she knew IRL and it spread from there. Which is a serious lapse in judgement, and would also take this even further out of innocent mistake territory.

      1. KS*

        Yes – sharing it with someone in real life is 100% different from posting it on some random repository.

        1. Bree*

          I was thinking posting it on some random site, but then giving the link to someone she knew IRL, who spread it further or made the connection. But yes, it would makes things more plausible and more serious.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        This is one of the scenarios I came up with, OP sharing the specific story.

        Second is that OP recommended the site / had it recommended to her by someone in that town, which means OP’d know that someone else in town goes to that site.

        Third is OP has a *really* unusual name and the story comes up in the google results, but OP’d have to have a really unusual name. My dad’s name is pretty unusual (like, say, Alphonse Dreger), and there’s over 1m hits on his name. (Heck, there’s 410K hits on Alphonse Dreger, a name I made up at random)

        I can’t think of any other realistic way for two people in a small town to end up reading the same porn story.

        The first two make it worse, to me, and that OP doesn’t discuss this *at all* makes me very concerned about their narrative reliability. “I wrote the story then told my husband about it and he told his brother and then it got around to the co-worker” is a whole ‘nother level of ‘bad judgement.’

        And OP didn’t *notice* that their name was attached to the story? um, what?

    5. Kara S*

      I was thinking the same thing. I wonder if the story was intentionally meant to be easy to find and OP downplayed the situation to make it seem not as bad.

      There’s also the chance this was posted on a personal blog (like WordPress or Tumblr) and not a niche fetish site. The former would be a lot easier to identify someone.

      1. KS*

        Oh, yeah, if you have a blog, again, that’s a whole different ball of wax. I’m leaning towards they accidentally left some identifying information in their profile (personal email, location, etc…) that came up on Google. Having used the literary erotica repositories, it would be pretty much impossible to trace without it. There are hundreds of thousands of stories, and they get highlighted for a day or two, tops.

    6. K*

      Yes, not to get too far into the nitty-gritty of what might have happened (because those details ultimately don’t change OP’s advice) but I had the same reaction that something went REALLY wrong here if people were able to correctly identify this as a story by OP, about Coworker.

    7. RSD*

      The fact that the LW thinks the Facebook comment was about her when there’s nothing to otherwise suggest Facebook was involved in the incident (what does making a harassment page on Facebook have to do with publishing erotic fiction about a coworker?) makes me worry that it did take place on Facebook, and when she says “I thought it was anonymous” she means “since the fetish page/community I posted to was members-only, I didn’t think I had to worry about my name being attached.” Then it turns out that someone she knows is a member of that community, and, well… It would be a whole other ball of bad-judgement wax if that was the case, but I’m really confused about the Facebook comment otherwise.

      Other than that, though, I think posting on Fetlife with location details would do well enough to identify the coworker if the person that discovered the story was known to both of them/a third coworker, honestly. Particularly if the story was written in the first-person, but even otherwise, if there were details about this person’s job role plus physical characteristics, I think that would be enough.

  39. Luke G*

    This really, really reminds me of a question from quite a while back about an employee whose abusive husband was also a coworker, making her feel unsafe asking for help directly even at work, so she framed a coworker for fraud in order to trigger an investigation and have no choice but to speak with authorities in private. The overall tenor of the replies there was that the fraud-faking coworker almost HAD to be let go because of what she’d shown she was willing to do.

    LW, I can’t imagine how the weight of your past affects you, and I sympathize. I know from my own experience that when you’re overall unhappy, the brain can dredge up ugly instincts and you end up doing something that you look back on later and say “holy crap, what was I THINKING?” The fact that you included enough details to identify a specific coworker- even considering that your real name was accidentally attached to the story- shows a startling lack of concern and judgement. As your theoretical new manager or colleague I wouldn’t be saying “she’s the one that wrote that gross sex story,” I’d be saying “what’s the next thing she’s going to do without thinking, and end up creating drama or damaging the business or losing us clients or other employees?” I understand that doesn’t help you with what to do next, but it’s something to consider as an alternative to “it’s because I’m a woman” or “it’s because they like to gossip.”

    I think it might help you with planning your next moves if you stop looking at this as “a bad choice from the past that people keep bringing up” and start looking at it as “a major business mistake that makes people justified in questioning my performance.” If you’d done something like not logged a series of major transactions that cost your company a ton of money, how would you go about trying to repair your professional reputation and affirmatively show that you have improved and aren’t a risk of that sort of thing again?

    1. high school teacher*

      That letter (about the abused coworker who set another coworker up for fraud) has haunted me more than any other letter on this site. The idea that someone could totally ruin your life like that…it honestly gives me chills.

        1. Luke G*

          I still have no idea how they COULD make it right, for anybody. That was one where not only can it not turn out ok for everybody, I’m not sure it could turn out OK for anybody.

  40. Jennifer*

    I think moving may be the only option to fully move on from this. Maybe a remote position would also be an option? Hard to know without knowing your job. Is there another city within driving distance that you could potentially commute to? Could you do your marriage long-distance for a short period of time until your husband is ready to move?

    FWIW, I think it’s possible for people to be remorseful for past, terrible actions and to have compassion for the victim that may not ever be able to truly move on. You might have to accept that the person you hurt may never forgive you, choose to forgive yourself, and move on, which may literally mean moving away. I’m rooting for you.

  41. The Grey Lady*

    Not to excuse the severity of what OP did, but I think that’s a tad harsh. The OP needs to do everything you said, and that’s why she needs a good tele-therapist as soon as possible. She has a lot to unpack (and–as an abuse victim myself–let me say that trauma can F you up) before she can get to a place of true remorse for her actions and decisions.

  42. Elbe*

    As usual, I agree with the advice given here.

    The LW is framing these word-of-mouth warnings as a deliberate attempt to harm her. But I think it’s more likely that it’s a genuine response that people are having as a response to her behavior.

    What she did is genuinely alarming, and I don’t think it is surprising that people still remember it and have a reaction to it all these years later. These people don’t have a way of knowing the LW’s past, or if she’s remorseful of the behavior, or if she’s done similar things since then and has simply learned to cover her tracks better. There’s decent cause of lack of trust here, even after a decade.

    I hope that things get better for her, and I hope that she’s able to move if she wants to.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      That’s a pretty good point. People probably just point blank don’t feel safe around her, and that’s a matter entirely separate from whether she “deserves” to be punished. Others have good reason to feel creeped out by her, and are not obligated to pretend otherwise just b/c OP feels sad about leaving the big city.

  43. Career HR person*

    OP knows exactly why she was not promoted at previous jobs. She said so herself in the opening paragraph- she knows she has poor judgement.
    OP, I’m glad to hear that you are self-aware enough to be able to admit this, not just to your self, but in a public forum. That does take guts.
    But that is the thing about poor judgement. It isn’t isolated. And you writing and posting a disturbing sexual story that could be identified as written by you, about a co-worker, is an astounding lapse in judgment.
    But as a career HR professional, I am certain that it wasn’t a one off. You have no doubt displayed a pattern of extremely poor judgment in the workplace. I’d be willing to bet that is typified by your response when this was initially discovered. No where in your letter do you say that you acknowledged what you had done, you don’t ever say that you apologized to your victim, and you haven’t provided any information to indicate that you have learned anything from this experience, or have attempted to grow beyond it.

    1. Elbe*

      I’m interested in this angle, too.

      During the job that she held while she wrote the story, it seems like she knew pretty directly what was causing the behavior from her coworkers. It’s unclear why she thinks that the story is responsible for the (less extreme) behavior since then.

      Did someone tell her that they told her colleagues about the story? Or did she just assume that when people were more cold? Is the story the reason for the lack of promotions, or have there been other lower-level instances of poor judgement at that workplace?

      If people are directly commenting that they know about the story, then that’s an opening for the LW to express remorse and demonstrate how she’s changed since then. If they’re not, though, it makes me wonder how she’s getting the info that she presents in the letter. Is it an assumption or is it something that she can verify?

    2. Copier Company Admin Girl*

      I hate to agree because I want so badly to be helpful and supportive… but I completely agree with this. As a lot of other commenters have written, I see nothing that shows OP apologized, attempted reparations, or tried to learn and better themselves from this.
      OP, if you have not already sought intensive therapy, now would be the time to begin. Perhaps online so if you move you can still connect with your counselor. With all gentleness, it seems you have a lot to work through and a long way to go. I’ve been there. I know how it feels to be ashamed, embarrassed, furious… but you can’t put any of those feelings down without facing them first.
      I was also stalked online for 5-6 years, so that experience is in the background of what I’m writing here. Someone became obsessed with me, wouldn’t leave me alone, and eventually figured out how to contact people I knew in real life to try and sabotage legitimate relationships of mine. It was insane, and to this day anonymous profiles make me deeply uneasy. All this is to say that I have been able to move on (it’s been 4ish years since it all stopped) but if I stop to reflect on it, my feelings about what happened to me are very strong and real and I’m not obligated to change them.
      This is also true of what you’ve gone through, OP. I hope your past experiences allow you to have heightened empathy for your former coworker. You have been traumatized. You traumatized someone else. People saw it for what it was- a trauma- and reacted strongly (though not always appropriately). I think at this point, moving and perhaps going by a different name either personally or professionally. would be in your best interest.

      I truly wish you healing, OP.

  44. Scarlet*

    Hi OP. So sorry this is happening to you. I have a couple ideas:

    1) Is there anything you can do to get the story off the website? Sometimes emailing the admins directly works. Otherwise, if you have the resources to copy write it you can have it taken down where ever it appears on the internet (although that will require some continued vigilance on your part)

    2) Can you change your name? Even just your first name might be enough for people to lose the trail. Often times in background checks for jobs, even HR doesn’t get to see what you put down for “other names” or whatever that line item is called.

    3) Shut down your social media – this will help people lose your “scent” so to speak. Or, if you do change your name and decide you need to create a LinkedIn, start a brand new one with the brand new name and brand new job – do not post a photo and do not add any of your old connections. Sucks, I know.

    4) What Alison said – move away. If this is following you 10 years later, there’s a good chance it will continue to do so. Leaving the area (and industry, if it’s a small one where people talk) could be the ticket to finally getting out from under this. This is a huge step that I’m sure you and your husband will have to work together on, but unfortunately desperate times, desperate measure and such.

    5) If all else fails and if these people continue to find you and put your job in jeopardy – a cease and desist letter might be in order. Of course, please consult a lawyer if you need to go this route – you may have options available to you – perhaps even a harassment suit if it gets really bad and people keep at it.

    No one deserves to have their life ruined by a mistake like this. Please keep moving forward and learning and growing. You CAN come out from under this, even if it’s tough. Best of luck to you and please keep us posted.

    1. Why are we always recommending lawyers*

      People are not finding her and putting her job in jeopardy. It’s a small town, and people find out that their friends new coworker is someone who did a terrible, frightening, and violating thing to a coworker.

      If I knew that Linda’s new coworker had assaulted someone, I would not assume they had grown and changed and it would be fine. I would warn Linda.
      These people are finding out that someone they know is working with someone who wrote violent and graphic sexual fiction about a colleague. They can warn people about that.

      1. Scarlet*

        This is why I said move away, like Alison. It is one of a few steps I think OP should take; it’s what I would do if I were him/her.

        1. Quill*

          It has the added benefit of potentially reducing stress in the victim, who then will have fewer encounters in which she, for example, is at a party and someone says “Yeah, I was talking to Gretchen Weiners about the TPS accounts -” “Gretchen Weiners? Don’t you know what she did to Regina George?”

    2. Shelly574*

      The problem with Number 5 is that nothing people are saying is untrue. It’s not harassment to tell your friend Fergus that his new coworker wrote disturbing sexualized content about Wakeen a few years ago. I mean, I’m not your lawyer and you shouldn’t take anything I say as legal advice, but I don’t see a harassment suit here, expect maybe with the spitting thing, but even then. Frankly, I’d look for non-law solutions to this issue.

      1. Scarlet*

        You can still send a cease and desist for people harassing you. It’s different than a libel/slander suit, although IANAL so OP will want to discuss those options with one.

    3. Observer*

      A cease and desist letter would be like putting gasoline on a fire. At the moment there is a possibility for the OP to convince at least some people that she’s grown and changed, if her behavior in other ways supports that. If she sends this kind of letter, that becomes utterly impossible. Because what people are going to say, with good reason! is “She wrote graphic and violent stories about a coworker. Not she is THREATENING me! For telling people about it! Watch out for her, she’s trouble.”

      1. Scarlet*

        Right. A cease and desist would be in the cases of ongoing personal harassment or if her former coworkers are reaching out to current employers with the intention of damaging her career. It’s a way to get people to stop and leave you alone.

  45. Another Trash Panda*

    A lot of good things have been said– seek therapy, change your name, move away, etc.

    The one thing that I keep combing back to is *how was the story found?* LW says it was intended to be posted anonymously to a fetish website, but it turned out not to be anonymous, and then people recognized the details.

    Did you accidentally leave a printout? Did you post it with a work email address?

    I realize none of this has to do with the ethics of writing or posting such a story, but that you were found out is really the puzzle piece I can’t find.

    1. Carla*

      Yes, there is something missing here about how the story was discovered. Someone stumbled on to a website that contained a story about a barely veiled version of their own co-worker? That seems…well, let’s say highly unlikely.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      3 possibilities:
      1) OP shared it themselves
      2) OP wrote on a site that they talked about with someone else
      3) OP has an incredibly unusual name

      1 & 2 make this worse. 3… mm, maybe.

      But: OP didn’t notice their name was attached? OP couldn’t unpublish the version with their name? mm. Not consistent with anyplace I’ve ever seen. I once accidentally commented on a major news site with my name, and was able to get it pulled within an hour.

      1. Another Trash Panda*

        If OP hadn’t specified it was a fetish site, I would have guessed 4) “Posted to LJ and forgot to f-lock it/didn’t realize a coworker was on that filter.”

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Or, related to what trashpanda said–maybe the LW was using the same pseudonym/handle in more than one place.

        The only place I use “the Gollux” as a handle is here. But I have an AO3 account with the same handle that I used to use on LiveJournal. Someone might have seen this story and been curious enough to google the handle. There might be a lot of people using a handle like “Buffy,” but if I posted as “the Gollux” elsewhere, someone googling could connect the two, even if there are a few other people who have used it.

        I knew someone who connected a LiveJournal acquaintance to his real-world identity because he happened to mention his best friend and that friend’s sister’s by their first names. And my friend happened to know his best friend’s mother…

        1. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, I think some people are underestimating how easy it can be to connect someone’s anonymous or pseudonymous accounts to their real identity (or to other pseudonymous accounts that themselves link back to the real identity). I also think it’s pretty likely that the story itself contained some clues to the OP’s identity — this sounds to me like it may have been “a story/fantasy about me and Susan,” in which case, if the character based on “Susan” was recognizable to someone who knew her, the OP’s self-insert character probably was as well. It’s not impossible, I guess, that the OP is leaving something out about how she was identified, but I don’t think there’s any reason to assume she went around sharing or publicizing the story herself — it’s just as likely to be something relatively innocent like “I mentioned that I used this website to a different person I knew, not expecting that they would be able to figure out which profile was mine,” and it’s also not impossible that it really was just a horrible (for her, anyway) coincidence that someone she or “Susan” knew stumbled upon the story and was able to identify them from it.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      Might have posted it on fetlife, with the location mentioned in her profile. Like, “fictionwriter” lists “Podunk, NB” as her home. Then a third coworker searches for ‘bisexual women within 50 miles of Podunk’. And the story pops up, complete with identifiable characteristics.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I learn something new every day.

        Given the stigma around fetishes / sex in the US, I am kinda boggled that anyone would put their real town, tho. I’d pick LA or NY if one was required.

        1. Eliza*

          Well, it’s not just a site for posting stories; people also use it as a dating/hookup site, and if you’re intending to use it to meet people in person then giving out your real location is kind of a necessity. The fact that the coworker in the OP’s story was identifiable does still suggest at least a worryingly cavalier approach to obscuring personal details, though.

    4. going anon for this lol*

      So the vibe I’m getting from OP (based on nothing more than my gut feeling) is that they are not someone who habitually writes this kind of stuff and wrote it as actual fap material, and would therefore have experience of how these sites work and how to post anonymously. I think this is more like… I’m thinking of that scene in Mad Men where one of the guys from the art department thinks Joan is too bossy and draws a horrible sexual cartoon of her and hangs it on the wall to humiliate her. I think the OP wrote this thing in a fit of anger without taking any particular care to anonymise the details – it being specifically about this coworker was probably the point – and thought it would be funny to post it to a fetish site, and made some newbie error while posting like putting their actual full name as the username. Or maybe even showed it to somebody, justifying it as just a joooooke. Still just as creepy, but that might explain a degree of carelessness/sharing that somebody who writes and posts porn regularly and knows the deal wouldn’t do.

  46. Bennet Sisters*

    I do not agree with OP saying a coworker who warned someone was “stirring up trouble”. It is not stirring up trouble to relate a frightening and sexually violating situation to people who are going to have to work with the perpetrator. If I saw the way this affected the victim, I would absolutely warn someone away from getting too close to you, and I would worry about that person constantly.

    It sucks that it feels unfair to you, but it is a natural consequence of your actions. The internet is forever.

    And for the record, I do not believe that it would have been shrugged off if you were a man. I think our culture has decided to take a step forward in recognizing how pervasive and terrible sexual violence, harassment, and objectification are, and I think your coworkers would have reacted similarly.

  47. WellRed*

    To OP: Change your name and maybe discuss with your husband what the future looks like for you two. Does he expect you to live in this rural insular area indefinitely?

    To everyone else with a shitty life: stop taking it out on others, but especially your coworkers. Nothing excuses violent sexual stories (published!) about them, or framing them for financial fraud.

    As an aside, I”m genuinely shocked anyone in this puritancal place saw this story, but it does to show, the web isn’t anonymous.

  48. Rusty Shackelford*

    This reminds me of the LW from a year or so ago who had bullied a friend in high school, and the friend was now such a prominent person in their mutual industry that the LW couldn’t get a job. There’s a similar “wow, my past behavior is impacting my current life; how is that even fair” vibe. I feel for both LWs, but I also think both need to accept that they did bad things, and people aren’t evil simply for remembering the bad things.

    1. WellRed*

      Although in that letter, I think the OP wound up publicly losing her s*@t! at the person she bullied and blamed her for ruining her life. She’s really going to have a hard time moving on from that.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        True, but there’s a very similar “it’s so unfair that people still care about the bad things I did in the past” attitude.

    2. Jennifer*

      In that example, the OP didn’t bully the friend. She just decided she no longer wanted to be friends. Maybe she handled the end of the friendship awkwardly and it was hurtful to the other person, but that’s not bullying. I think most people have handled the end of a friendship poorly, especially at that age. I thought the former friend was ridiculous for still holding a grudge and not even attempting to talk to the LW about it after all those years. People in the comments projected their own bad high school experiences onto that situation instead of seeing it for what it was.

      I don’t condone her losing it on the ex-friend but I got the frustration.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Social exclusion during those high school years is very much bullying. And why should the victim be the one to reach out? The OP in that case only thought about her own shitty behaviour once it impacted her life, no thought about it beforehand.

        OP then proceeded to corner her former victim in a restaurant and had a screaming breakdown at her about how she’d ruined her life. Which pretty much proves the victim was correct in the first place not to want to work with her.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        No, the OP didn’t just stop being friends with her. She got her entire friend group to do the same. That’s textbook bullying behavior.

        1. Jennifer*

          They were only friends with her because the OP was friends with her. It makes sense that they would move on after the OP did. I didn’t see it as a “You can’t be friends with her” situation.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s not how I remember it. And the OP said that one of those friends pointed out, years later, that her treatment of the bullied girl was pretty harsh. So, if even your buddies are calling you a bully…

      3. biobotb*

        I may be misremembering, but it was more than just the OP deciding she, personally, didn’t want to be friends. If memory serves, she also convinced their *whole friend group* to drop the girl as a friend. That’s so, so cruel. Honestly, probably more far-reaching and a much deeper betrayal, emotionally speaking, than other forms of bullying from non-friends might be.

        1. Rectilinear Propagation*

          I think part of the problem with that letter is that OP only revealed the worst of what happened in the comments, not in the initial letter.

    3. Elbe*

      There’s a similar “wow, my past behavior is impacting my current life; how is that even fair” vibe.

      +100. If people are using a past mistake as leverage to hurt you, then that’s bad. But I don’t think that’s necessarily happening in either of these cases. I think it’s more likely that people are genuinely concerned for the victims and concerned that the behavior could be repeated.

  49. Rebekah*

    You wrote “I still have trouble getting and keeping employment” but you were at the previous job for 5+ years, and it sounds like you have currently have a job (where the intern started and spread the information about you), correct? I understand that when people find out this, it changes how they think about you and how they treat you and that sucks. But I’m also thinking… if someone is 99.9% pretty cool and I find out about something awful they once did, I’m able to put the awful thing in context compared to the person’s many other positive traits. If you’re doing good work and acting like a decent human being, maybe it’s possible people will move past their initial negative reactions. It might take time, though.

  50. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I recommend going by your middle name, especially if it’s not well known. Especially with the pandemic, you might start seeking work from home opportunities that would avoid this situation altogether.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      A name change isn’t going to help unless she leaves the area. She’s in a small town and people recognize her face.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        It will help with a job hunt for work-from-home positions with companies based elsewhere, which is the point.
        Day to day in the small town will still suck, because OP has fouled the water. But she can start creating a new professional reputation under a different name, with jobs based elsewhere.

  51. Cubicle Conundrum*

    I honestly do not understand how you weren’t fired on the spot. Your letter reveals a complete lack of ownership for the situation you are in. You should strongly consider counseling to sort out your issues.

  52. mayfly*

    So I see anger at a crappy job and a move to a rural, judgmental area, but where does the victimized coworker fit in? I don’t see anything indicating that the coworker wronged the LW or was in anyway a bad person, except that she lived in a rural area and worked at the same crappy workplace. Am I missing something?
    Not that it would make any of this right if the coworker was a bully, but if she wasn’t and the LW picked her as an archetype or stand-in for the rural area and crappy job, I think that would explain some of the ferocity of the backlash. People will respond more harshly if you’re seen as bullying “sweet Cheryl” versus “mean Myrtle”. Couple that with the LW’s poor judgment and potentially on-going interpersonal issues with new coworkers, and I can see why they can’t shake this.

  53. Death before dishonor*

    LW, you’re in a tough position, but I worry for you. You’re not showing any concern or acknowledgement for the damage you have done by writing that story. You seriously hurt people to the point where you can’t be trusted to be professional about your co-workers. Someone who experienced this isn’t “stirring up trouble” when they warn someone about your past behavior.

    An apology right now would be self-serving. Please don’t offer any explanation, it will only look like an excuse. Apologies are about the person harmed, not the perpetrator.

    I’m not saying you’re not deserving of human compassion, but I agree with others in that you’re not going to get it where you live. Do yourself a favor by finding a fresh start where you can apply the lessons learned here.

  54. It's mce w*

    OP, has the story been taken down and is that a possibility? If not, I recommend you try everything you can to have it deleted or removed from the web.

    Would the subject of your story be accepting of an apology, if you haven’t already done so? And would they feel comfortable receiving it?

    Maybe you should seek counseling to help you move forward along with figuring out what you can do in the future for employment.

    I say this as someone who was the burnt of ex-colleague’s damaging scorn, so much that when I got a job that she applied for – and was told by others that I got it – she contacted my new employer. I don’t know exactly what she told them about me but my first few weeks there were very awkward. Thankfully, they saw that I was a good person and a good worker. In hindsight, I wish I found out and spoke to a lawyer. Since that time, I’ve blocked every possible online social interaction I could have with her and asked mutual ex-colleagues I could trust to not to tell her anything about me.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Would the subject of your story be accepting of an apology, if you haven’t already done so? And would they feel comfortable receiving it?

      The only way for OP to find out the answers to those questions is to pose them directly to her victim who deserves peace. None of the OP’s issues are going to be resolved by reopening that wound.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Not necessarily. In a small town especially, there are always folks who know what’s going on with everyone. OP could possibly put the question to one of them, who might know if her victim would appreciate the apology.
        Personally, an apology from my abuser would go a long way toward helping me heal. I am sick and tired of folks insisting that it’s all in the past and I shouldn’t hold it against her, despite the fact that she hasn’t changed and doesn’t care to make amends.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Thankfully, they saw that I was a good person and a good worker.

      Frankly LW this is telling. You get hired, then someone else gets hired who knows your history and tells the story, and then you are blacklisted. Why didn’t your reputation at the last two companies survive the story of what happened in the past? Why didn’t your coworkers hear the story and know you had changed and know you as a good co-worker based on their experience with you? Why couldn’t your actions today, prove you had changed?

      Again, as I said elsewhere, I do think you need to move somewhere else. Based on what you’ve said I don’t think you need to change your name because it doesn’t sound like anyone is chasing you around trying to make sure everyone know about your past mistake.

      But definitely don’t contact your victim and ask for forgiveness now. They probably want to never hear from you again. It’s not about how you feel; it’s about how they feel.

      1. It's mce w*

        Yes, originally I was writing this from my POV of being a victim (like the person mentioned in LW’s story). But I guess it can also relate to her side of what’s happening. I did leave the area I lived and worked in (but stayed in my field) and started fresh (I was laid off from that job in 2010 in part due to the economy) in another part of the country.

  55. President Porpoise*

    OP, this sounds like a terribly difficult situation. I’m sorry you are in it.

    Part of my approach to dealing with life is identify some things as ‘life limiting decisions’. Some of these are really obvious – for instance, the decision to drop out of high school generally limits your life choices to lower paying jobs, having a child limits your life to only activities that are compatible with keeping a tiny person alive, etc. Some are less obvious – for example, getting caught watching porn on your work computer will make it impossible to get a job requiring a security clearance, or your decision to be mormon might make it really hard to be successful at the Culinary Institute of America – where you have to be able to pair wines with the dishes you make.

    This is one of those less obvious life limiting decisions. You decided to take the time and effort to write this story, post it without verifying anonymity, and leave a character identifiable as a coworker. I don’t believe you meant this coworker harm – but real, legitimate and lasting harm was done. Your reputation, which is so fragile, was broken beyond repair, and your life options are limited as a result.

    Alison is correct that you need to move away from anyone who might know about this. But you need to think beyond geography. You need to make sure you end up in an industry where this story won’t be passed around and attach itself to you. You need to change your name or get off any social media sites where your reputation might follow you. This is hugely inconvenient and will upend your life, but you’re learning the hardest way that in business, reputation is everything.

    I wish you the best of luck.

    1. Actual Vampire*

      On the topic of life limiting decisions, I think OP should think really hard about where she is currently living. OP, this sounds like a place where you are not happy and not healthy and will probably not find much career success. I understand you want to be close to your husband and his family. But choosing where to live is always a life-limiting decision – I think you should think really hard about what limits you’ve placed on yourself in that regard, and whether you are really willing and able to accept those limits.

  56. Not Quite on Topic But...*

    Alison, thank you for sharing your personal story in your response. I’m sorry that you had a similar experience that left you feeling threatened and violated.

    I’m humbled and impressed that you shared a part of your story in order to give advise to this OP. Thank you for being brave.

  57. Leela*

    OP I’m sorry to say but I would also feel obligated to say something, even 9 years later. The risk of not saying anything is far greater than the risk of assuming you’re a different person if they have no proof, even if you are.

  58. Jessica Fletcher*

    At the start of your letter, you share that you were abused as a child and were once a sex worker. Immediately after, you say your judgment isn’t the best, as if those two experiences are evidence of your judgment. I just want to assure you that being abused was not your fault. It is not a reflection on your judgment. Even if you were victimized at different ages, it was not your fault or a reflection of your judgment. It was the predator’s fault. Being a sex worker at one point is not evidence of poor judgment.

    Have you ever been to therapy with a provider trained in trauma-informed treatment? I think that might be really helpful to you as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and maybe other experiences you may have had. It’s not typical to respond to stress with stories of sexual violence, but sometimes that’s caused by trauma.

    As everyone has said, even a hint of sexual violence or creepiness is usually scarring. Even if you were not the victim, being around it makes you collateral damage. That’s probably how those coworkers feel. What you did was so out of left field that they genuinely feel like they need to warn people about you. Could they also want to harm you as a queer woman with a trans spouse in a small, probably conservative town? Maybe. But they would probably feel just as violated either way.

    I don’t know how small your town is or what your industry is. I live in a town of less than 10k, but my company is in a big Midwest city about 25 miles from my home (though currently working from home due to covid). If something like this situation happened to someone working in my town, I think it would follow you no matter where you worked, because so many people do know each other. I am going to unfortunately agree that you should do everything possible to move, or at least get a job out of town or a job based elsewhere that can be remote. If you haven’t talked to your husband about moving, show him this page and have a serious talk about how this is going to continue to follow you if you continue to work in that small town. Consider options of shifting to a different industry.

    And then don’t list your job or location on LinkedIn, lock down your social media and use it sparingly, etc. I don’t know if you need to change your name if you move, but maybe start using a nickname or full name, add your middle initial, something like that. Read up on how to manage and improve your online reputation.

    Was the story removed from wherever it was posted? If not, you need to get it removed.

  59. Emily*

    You’re at work to do a job. If your coworkers are acting in such a way that keeps you from doing your job, document that and make your manager deal with it. Leave out everything personal. “I need the files from Tom in order to do x. Tom doesn’t respond to my emails. What should I do?” If there’s a larger pattern, document that. “Can you help me come up with a course of action when I’m not able to get responses that I need to do my work?” Every time a coworker doesn’t do their job and it hurts your ability to do your job, write it down and say something as dispassionately as possible. Make this the problem of the people who are paid to solve these kinds of problems.

    If they’re doing their jobs but they’re just really unpleasant, you have options there as well. Name the behavior that is happening. “I noticed you all got really quiet there when I entered the room.” “That was a rude thing you just said.” Also, cultivate your life outside of work. And if it’s just that your coworkers don’t want to be friendly– well, they get to do that, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave.

  60. animaniactoo*

    People are avoiding you now. But you HAVE a job. And it doesn’t sound like you have done anything to try and mitigate the effects of how people see you now that they know.

    It is likely at least worth talking to whoever you are closest to at the new job, starting there and saying “I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about this incident. I was a lot younger and I was having some major issues, and I screwed up badly. I never intended for her to see it or know it was out there, and I had no idea how damaging it would be even if she never did. On the list of mistakes I’ve made in my life, that registers at the top of the Richter scale. I’ve never done anything like it since*, and I really wish there was a way to go back in time and stop myself from doing that.”

    This is the only shot you have of climbing out of the penalty box, and having people see it as something you did but would not do now. This last part is the key. They are less concerned about something you did almost a decade ago, then they are by the possibility that this is something you would do now – again. And the only way you can even have the smallest chance of convincing them otherwise is to have them see you acknowledge the incident and what your attitude about it is.

    *Only say that if you really have not done anything like it since. If you have, figure out how to stop so that you CAN believably say “I haven’t done anything like that in a very long time and I have sworn never to do so again.”

    1. Observer*

      Also, only try this if your attitude about the place you are in doesn’t come through. If people see you as contemptuous or disrespectful, this is not going to be believable.

  61. Serenity Now*

    OP, I think your letter shows that you’re dealing with some serious depression. What you’re going through is not just about a horrible thing you did years ago. It’s about hating basically everything about your life right now. The place where you live is making you miserable. Work sucks. The people you encounter are not people you want to hang with. (You don’t mention having other, supportive friends.) The line about wondering if you even have to leave your husband may indicate issues in your marriage–most people would not leap to ending their relationship because of problems at work, no matter how severe. And the fact that you brought up being queer in a small town, having a background of abuse and having worked as a prostitute indicates that there’s a lot to unpack about all of those things.
    This letter sounds like a massive cry for help. Please see a therapist NOW. Figuring out what got you to the point where you wrote that story in the first place can help you figure out how to move forward.

  62. jereichwrites*

    I solidly agree with Alison’s advice and pretty much the general gist of what everyone is saying here (that there seems to be a lot of missing puzzle pieces here regarding the full story, that OP needs to seek professional counseling if they haven’t already done so, that OP is deserving of sympathy to some degree, but there seems to be an alarming lack of accountability, etc.), but I also think it’s important to address two things at the very beginning of the letter — the mention of childhood abuse and sex work, followed by a statement about OP having poor judgement.

    Abuse, especially during childhood, is horrible, but it’s not a coverall for bad behavior in adulthood, and it has nothing to do with having poor judgement (or by that measure, good judgement) — at least in the sense that someone’s judgement makes it somehow okay for them to be victims or survivors of abuse. There’s no correlation here. (And OP, I hope you’ve been able to seek out counseling to be able to process what you went through during your formative letters, and to begin the process of healing.)

    As for sex work — sex work is work. Sex work has nothing to do with poor judgement. Being a sex worker? Literally just a job. So again — not related to the concept of having good judgement or bad judgement. It’s like saying someone being, for example, a firefighter, or food service worker, or an employee in the nonprofit sector, or a camp counselor, or a number of other random jobs somehow serves as a barometer for having good or poor judgement. (It doesn’t.)

    1. Tobias Funke*

      The reason those were all mentioned together was because developmental trauma – experienced while you are still learning and growing – impacts one’s ability to nurture and grow good judgment. It’s not a moral value thing – it’s a statement of fact. Please don’t turn OP’s acknowledgment of the impacts her experiences have had on her into something else.

  63. Social Commentator*

    OP is asking Alison for advice in regards to her professional reputation in her community. I get that that is the issue that we are being invited to respond to, but this is what stood out to me:

    The original impetus for the OP’s action against her coworker was that
    “I was angry that we had to move to a very rural, judgmental state and wanted an outlet for the anger, but obviously this was a poor decision.”

    Not, “I had a personality conflict at work and made a bad decision.”

    And the actual question posed at the end is not about how to handle the issue within the professional world, but:
    “Do I have to basically leave my husband?”

    I’d like to suggest that OP give a lot of thought to her boundaries between family/home life and her professional role, and the way her feelings and actions from one sphere spill into another. Not the Really Obvious Boundaries like “don’t write your coworker into a sexually violent, easily recognizable story” again, but

    “Don’t transfer family and personal life frustrations to your worklife” in general and

    “Don’t assume that the first/only response to gravely serious professional challenges is to abandon a beloved spouse.”

    OP doesn’t elaborate on her husband’s presence, response, and role throughout all of these years, but then her ACTUAL question for us at the end of it is, “Do I need to leave him?” I find that really telling.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I think the question was shorthand for, “My husband has to stay here to care for his ailing parents, but I may need a fresh start in a different place.” I agree that she needs to talk this out with her husband.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      A good separation between work and home life is key. That’s yet another thing OP needs to address with a counselor.

  64. Kara S*

    It really rubs me the wrong way how the LW uses their gender, queerness, and their husband’s gender as reasons why this may have happened. This situation didn’t happen because of those factors — they happened because of LW’s actions. This incident would be viewed as equally disturbing whether it happened in a big, liberal city or a small, conservative town. Writing a sexual story about a co-worker (and then posting it online!?) is a huge violation of someone’s safety and boundaries. It shows poor judgement and lack of empathy.

    Are your coworkers potentially more disturbed by this story due to the queerness? Maybe, but they would be extremely disturbed regardless. This isn’t a situation where if LW was straight or a man, suddenly people would be okay with what happened. People don’t feel safe around her and they have a good reason to feel that way.

    LW, please, please get to therapy. There is so much going on here and I think you need to process the root of why this happened and how you see the world before you can begin to heal. This situation will never go away fully. That’s the consequence of your actions and you need to own it without making yourself into the victim. Learning, growing, and moving on requires accepting responsibility. Best of luck to you as you go through this process.

    1. Littorally*

      If anything, my thought would be that the OP being queer & her husband being trans would be likely reasons unrelated to the story that she’s having trouble advancing her career in what sounds like a very small, conservative region. Especially if it’s widely known, ie the husband grew up here and people remember him pre-transition.

    2. Delphine*

      It’s a stretch to imagine that homophobia wouldn’t affect people’s reaction to this kind of thing. My guess is that the OP feels the same–that people view this as more “deviant” because of her and her partner’s gender and sexuality.