Teach Your Children Well

My roommate from college is a filmwriter in Hollywood.  It’s been fun over the years to hear about the starlets he’s dated, the exotic locations he’s traveled to, and how some of those unbelievable stunts in the movies are done.  But as he’s also told me, most of the time Hollywood is a fantasyland; it’s not real out there.

Which is why I was so surprised to have recently watched a movie in which art seemed to mimic life. 

A number of years ago, “Jane” (a pseudonym), the 21-year old daughter of a client of mine approached me with a most disturbing case.   Jane was working for a fast food place in Maine as a waitress when someone saying he was a police officer called the restaurant.  The officer claimed that he was with a female customer who had just left the restaurant and was accusing Jane of stealing money from her purse.  The customer described Jane to a T, down to the clothes she was wearing. 

What happened next was truly incredible.  Although Jane adamantly denied stealing the customer’s money, the officer stated that he had the district manager of the restaurant chain on the other line, and that the district manager had authorized a strip search of Jane.  Either Jane could come down to the station where she would be booked and then searched, or, if Jane preferred, her female supervisor could do the strip search in a back room at the restaurant.

Both Jane and her supervisor were flabbergasted.  There was no provision in the employer’s personnel policies for a strip search, and the supervisor wasn’t anxious to conduct one.  On the other hand, Jane wasn’t anxious to go down to the police station to be searched by someone she did not know—possibly the male officer.  Ultimately, Jane elected to have her supervisor do the strip search.

Jane and the supervisor then repaired to the back room, where the officer directed that Jane remove her clothing article by article.  At each step of the way, the officer directed that the supervisor describe what she was seeing, whether there were any visible tattoos or piercings.  The officer even directed that Jane remove her underwear, leaving her stark naked in front of the supervisor.  Of course, no money was ever found.  Both Jane and her supervisor were humiliated.

But the ultimate humiliation was yet to come.  Jane and the supervisor soon learned that the entire strip search was a scam.  There was no female customer who had accused Jane of theft, and the district manager never had authorized that Jane be strip searched.  Unfortunately, the supervisor had lacked the presence to ask to speak to the district manager and Jane was too afraid to question authority.  The “officer” actually was some jerk who was getting his jollies undressing Jane.

I was reminded of this sordid chapter in the annals of Maineemployment years ago when a colleague text messaged me that Friday night.  She was at home looking for something to watch on TV when she came across a movie called “Compliance” (pictured above). This movie’s plot, while ostensibly fiction, is eerily similar to Jane’s story. What’s even more disturbing, though, is the fact that the story in Compliance happened to over 70 other women in real life just like Jane, some of whom were also physically assaulted during the scam.

The showing of “Compliance” at the Sundance Film Festival led some viewers to walk out.  Other critics simply don’t want to believe it happened.  Unfortunately, it did happen, and it happened here inMaine, not once but I understand twice.

“Compliance” underscores that employees and employers have the right – and even the responsibility – to step up if they are asked to do something that doesn’t feel right. We need to teach our children not to be afraid to stand up, to say no, to ask questions, to be true to their moral compass. While we can’t rid the world of sick people who find happiness through humiliating and abusing others, only by teaching our children to stick up for their values and their rights can we decrease the power of the abusers.  Only then will movies like “Compliance” be more fiction than fact. 

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