Come in. Nice to see you . . . cut that out]: Women who work at home may feel safe from sex pests. Anthea Saxon did - until the day a man old enough to be her father turned up for a business appointment

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS week sees the start of a BBC series about harassment at work. It comes in the wake of a Mori poll which surveyed 686 women in full- and part-time work between 20 and 24 May this year. One in seven said they had been leered at, one in eight touched. If they had waited until late last Thursday before interviewing their sample, and if they had included me, that figure would have been nudged higher. Except I might have been excluded because my home is my workplace.

That means the word-processor I was working on was in the dining room, and the man who had the business appointment came in through the kitchen.

'Just a minute,' I shouted, 'while I press 'file' and get this on to the disk. Otherwise the cat might tread on the keys and cancel everything.'

So we talked about word processors a bit and slowly he turned the conversation round to what he sees as the unscrupulousness of the press. This despite the fact that I work as a journalist. 'I have no idea why he had a nervous breakdown,' he said of a mutual acquaintance. 'Journalists are so thick-skinned you wouldn't think they could break down. Especially as he was only being bullied and pushed out of his job by one person.

'There were two journalists with me during the war,' he went on, 'and they were as tough as bolts.' The dehumanising of journalists went on for a bit. In his sixties, he was easily old enough to be my father.

How the conversation drifted from there to his not-too-happy marriage, I'm not quite sure. But by now his manner was making me regret the builders had gone home early and that he had somehow sussed out a rare occasion when both the children and everyone else were out.

'Are we alone?' he asked more than once, and I found myself fabricating a piece of guttering the builder had gone to buy, with which I said he would be returning shortly. As he sat there I could swear that his face changed. I can handle this, I thought to myself. After all, I've known him in a business sense for four years. It's not as if he was a total stranger.

'I must be getting on. I've a deadline and . . .' I said tentatively.

'I won't keep you,' he lied.

We got into the garden and towards the gate. At this point he grabbed me, kissed me and held me so close that I couldn't restrain him. In the end he let go. I said I wasn't interested in him in that way. He promised never to do it again. 'You seem so vulnerable,' he said, rather at odds with what he'd been saying about my profession. 'I felt you needed taking in my arms.'

Not wanting to be thought prissy, I walked him to the car. Talking it through a bit, I thought we were ironing it out.

There is an argument that runs that assault and harassment really start at the point when one party has said no. After all, being pounced on in your own garden is the stuff Mills & Boons are made of.

It was only the second time, as he pinioned me against his car, slobbering all over me, pressing himself against me, that would be called harassment bordering on assault. How much further things would have gone had I not announced that the man next door was nearby and taken the chance to break away from him doesn't require much guesswork. My first reaction, after locking the doors and washing my face, was to hope the neighbour had not indeed been there.

I also had the classic reaction of blaming myself. When I telephoned a friend who has met the man, I heard myself starting self-deprecatingly: 'You know how screwed up I am,' and then asking: 'Do you believe me?'

'Of course I believe you. I've heard of this sort of thing happening time and time again,' he said. 'I bet he makes a habit of it, and judging by the way he's still going on he must have quite a lot of success. You should realise that women see these things differently from men.'

The next day the man rang up. He'd left his things behind and wanted to collect them. My attitude had changed. I no longer blamed myself. I was upset and very angry and told him so. He said he was sorry and would never do it again. He sounded as if he was going to cry. I agreed he could collect his things and go. There would be lots of people here anyway.

When he came, he sat outside unasked and, because of my general coolness, began promising gifts for my son. He says he will come back again sometime. I've asked him not to. If violation is too big a word for what he has done to me (and I don't think it is), he has certainly violated my privacy and my home. I don't feel as much at ease as I did.

He also affected my work, as any harassment will do. The deadline I had set myself for the article I was writing when he came has not been met. It's on a jolly, happy-go-lucky theme and I'm just not up to it. I don't think I will be for some time.