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Comics shop owner claims mention of rape room was met with a stern frown; female employee still fired

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Comics got a brand new he-said/she-said with the story of Jennifer Williams, who was employed by Harrison’s Comics in Salem, MA for all of four days before being fired. According to Harrison’s it was for performance issues. According to Williams, it’s because

she complained about a remote storage area being called “the rape room”

and the manager hugging her without her consent. The controversy played itself out over social media, as these things do, with Larry Harrison, the owner of the store, claiming he didn’t now know of the firing but saying if people wanted to know the real story, they should come to the store to hear it.


Williams has not been shy about telling her side of things, and launched a blog to tell her version of Harrison contacting her. Accoridng to Williams, after she tweeted about the rape room, upon com gin to work the next day she was blocked from entering. SHe also says that Harrison seemed less concerned with the fact that employees of his store would joke about a “rape room” with a new employee than about her firing and how it went down.

Harrison finally released a statement on Facebook, and a whole new story has emerged, one that involves a staff meeting, five witnesses, and a different new employee hearing “stat room” and thinking it meant “stat rape room” and being met with “The group trainer frowned at the employee who mentioned rape and sternly said “We do NOT have a rape room.” This was the last first and last time “a rape room” was ever mentioned in Harrison’s until Ms. Williams’ took to social media and we were put in the position of having to defend ourselves.

Anyway here’s the whole statement:

Dear Fellow Comic Lovers and Gaming Enthusiasts;

As you may have heard, there are allegations of sexual harassment and unfair termination against Harrison’s being circulated by a former employee on social media.

Harrison’s takes these allegations seriously and denies them all. We do not condone inflammatory, intolerant, sexist, racist or family-unfriendly language or behavior in any of our stores. We are committed to running an inclusive, family-friendly business.

The individual making the accusations, Ms. Williams, was terminated for documented, performance-based reasons only. This was explained to her at the time of her termination, when she was given full pay for her time at Harrison’s. Her employment was terminated in a professional, impartial manner in the presence of another employee.

There is certainly no “rape room” at Harrison’s Comics (or anywhere, we hope!). Unfortunately, because this repulsive term has been so heavily publicized in connection with our stores, we feel compelled to explain how it originated:

Ms Williams was hired on a 30-day trial basis, as were five other employees she was being trained with. Training includes a tour of the store, including a room we call the “statue room.”

If you’ve been in our Salem store, you know we have many statues displayed in locked cases throughout the store. They are displayed behind glass because statues are fragile, valuable collectibles that can easily break if improperly handled.

The boxes these statues come in are specifically designed to protect them, so the boxes are stored in the “statue room,” a practice that’s been in place for at least ten years. When a buyer purchases a statue, an employee goes to the statue room, finds that statue’s box, and repacks it for safe travel to its new home.

While the group of trainee employees were being shown the room it was referred to only as the “statue room” or the “stat room” for short. This prompted one of the new trainees (not Ms. Williams) to question “Stat, like stat rape?” The group trainer frowned at the employee who mentioned rape and sternly said “We do NOT have a rape room.” This was the last first and last time “a rape room” was ever mentioned in Harrison’s until Ms. Williams’ took to social media and we were put in the position of having to defend ourselves.

I have been a comic store owner for 21 years and this is deeply disturbing to me. If anything like Ms. Williams described did occur here, the employee responsible would be terminated immediately. I ask that people look at the facts before concluding I am guilty. I have 9 female employees and 10 male employees presently working in my stores. The previous manager of our flagship Salem store is a woman, and she managed it for two years before leaving to open her own store.

We have an exemplary reputation in Salem, Massachusetts and the comic and gaming community as a professional, respectful, fair and welcoming workplace. We appreciate the support of those who know and defended us against these allegations while others leaped to judgment. We wish Ms. Williams the best in her future endeavors.

Larry Harrison

Now this being Facebook, there are many different opinions in the comments. Many past customers (mostly women) are not at all surprised by Williams’ allegations and there are a lot of stories that paint a picture of the store as being a real Android’s Dungeon. Other shoppers, mostly male, think it’s fine.

Now, as far as he said and she said goes, I would like to point out some of the fascinating comments here, like this one from a Marie Loging:

It’s between the owner and the ex employee. I still intend to shop there. Think it was a bad idea to publish this though. Makes the store look bad. I hope if it happened for real, that there is physical proof and I hope the store had a security camera there to cover their side. If she has sex in that room, it could have been mutual, and is just claiming it rape because a) got fired or b) because it was a one time thing and she wanted more


WHOA WHAT THE FUCK. This person has fabricated a whole sex act and security cameras out of the incident? This is how telephone works.

A few more:

Kain Mcgreed — Just look how the Feminist eat this up.

Renee Mallett — I was sad to see this story about the store. But, honestly, was not surprised. I lived in the North Shore area when I was about 18 and the shop wasn’t even it’s own stand alone store yet. It was my go-to store for several years and I watched it grow into one of the best comic stores I’ve been to anywhere. I got a LOT of comments from employees about how I looked and what I wore back when I was younger. It’s been a long time since I was a customer of the Salem store (I did frequent the Manchester location with my kids over the past few years and was never treated with anything but the greatest respect and courtesy) but if the culture today at the Salem store is ANYTHING like it was back in my day I can totally see this kind of comment being said.

Kathryn Pickett — Larry, as someone who spent years as a faithful patron of your store, I am sorry to inform you that the language and attitude of your employees was frequently NOT family friendly, with cursing, explicit sexual comments (sometimes directed at me, when I was underage) and even derision concerning my purchase choices.

I have loved your store and had many wonderful positive experiences there, but the negative experiences I lived through as a customer make these allegations completely plausible to me. I am personally familiar with some of your current and former employees, and find Ms. Williams’ account much more likely than your own above.

If you are truly trying to make your business the kind of place described in your above statement, let this serve as a wake-up call. It is not there. It hasn’t been there. Denying this is a problem doesn’t do a thing to convince me as I know through first hand experience that it IS a problem. Until you accept that there may be an actual issue with the culture and attitude of some of your employees and take measures to rectify, you are going to lose business and suffer bad publicity. That’s not a threat, it’s simply fact.


There seems to be a fundamental ignorance among those blaming Williams for being a disgruntled ex-employee: she made the claims of the rape room BEFORE SHE WAS FiRED. The sequence of events was that she allegedly heard the comment, complained about it, and even tweeted it, and then showed up for work the next day and was barred from the store. The cause and effect here are entirely with Williams’ chain of events.

And if you’re going to go with a chain of evidence, the many real customers at Harrison’s who think there is a real problem there indicate that where there’s smoke, there may very well be fire.

Harrison’s has a PR disaster on their hands obviously, and waiting five days to make a statement hasn’t helped matters any. And as armchair sleuth Gene Ha wrote, according to Massachusetts employment laws, they may have a king sized legal headache, as well:

Yep, that’s the key. In Massachusetts any business with 6+ employees has to create and follow a sexual harassment policy. [Note: I’m a comic book artist not a lawyer, yadda yadda]

What happened could be considered a “hostile work environment.” From the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Guidelines” website:

In some circumstances, a hostile environment may be established based on a single incident, due to its severity, despite the fact that the conduct is not frequent or repetitive. Moreover, purely verbal conduct, without a physical component, may be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. However, minor, isolated conduct does not constitute sexual harassment.

The rape joke and the embrace were bad but not a big liability yet for the shop.

What Harrison’s owner should have done is talk to the manager and make sure that he doesn’t continue being a jerk and that he can’t retaliate. If they’d done that then there would have been no problems. Got that, everyone? The joke wasn’t the big problem.

Instead, after scheduling her for more hours the shop tells her she’s fired when she reports back for work. More from the MA government website:

Employers should instruct recipients of sexual harassment complaints to inform complainants and alleged perpetrators that they will:
*keep the complaint confidential to the extent practicable under the circumstances;
*conduct a prompt, neutral investigation into the allegations; and
*not tolerate any form of retaliation against the complainant for having complained of sexual harassment.

Yep, it looks like they screwed up every element of their legally required response. More from the MA gov on what Harrison’s was supposed to do:

Generally, remedial action consists of the following:
*promptly halting any ongoing harassment;
*taking prompt, appropriate disciplinary action against the harasser;
*taking effective actions to prevent the recurrence of harassment, including conducting a sexual harassment training where appropriate, and
*making the complainant whole by restoring any lost employment benefits or opportunities.

There’s a saying: it’s not the crime it’s the coverup… that’s the bigger crime.


More to come, I’m sure.

23 COMMENTS

  1. I’m from Massachusetts but have never visited this store. I have friends who have and there’s a strange level of store defending/victim blaming (especially among friends of friends who visit the store regularly) that I would never have expected. I’ve pretty much pledged at this point that I don;t plan on visiting this chain of stores or giving them any money, and the statements by the store haven’t done anything at all to loosen that stance. The reaction from some of the stores regular customer to other women who have come out and expressed potential problems in the store is mindblowing and sad.

  2. Shops are a very mixed bag some are exquisite and good for the industry others are a plight on society as a whole. One day someone will make a major chain of comic book shops and become a walmart of the industry. Hopefully they’ll incorporate a built in donut shop of some kind.

  3. No, Chris.. hiring women in the past does not mean that your manager didn’t create a poor work environment with sexually charged jokes.

    I think you would make a pretty bad judge if you think people so.

  4. I’m amazed that someone beginning work at a new job in a training environment would hear the trainer say “stat” as an abbreviation of “statue” and immediately jump to “stat rape.” Even as a (lame) joke, it shows a real lack of employee sensitivity and judgement. It really makes you wonder who this company is hiring and it’s an odd thing to say as a defense.

  5. “I’m amazed that someone beginning work at a new job in a training environment would hear the trainer say “stat” as an abbreviation of “statue” and immediately jump to “stat rape.”

    Then you’re very sheltered.

    ” It really makes you wonder who this company is hiring”

    You would also be amazed at who most companies are hiring then because this sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME. You don’t exactly get the cream of the crop when paying minimum wage to work in a comic book store.

    Also, ask anyone brave enough to be a teacher and they will tell you that they’re lucky to get through the day with fewer than 10 such instances.

    If she was really done wrong, then she should get a lawyer and they can settle it in court. If not, let it drop. I wouldn’t let it influence my purchases until the store and its employees were fairly judged in a court other than the court of public opinion.

  6. Eric Scott, did it ever occur to you that the vehement defense of the store owner and staff coming from ” friends of friends who visit the store regularly” might just be because the accusation is outrageous enough that we, the ‘friends of friends’ (or maybe just ‘friends’) of the store respond to this the same way you would if your father/brother/best friend were accused of the same heinous behavior. I know these people. They come to my children’s birthday parties. I cannot and will not let them be crucified in the public forum without defending them. Take your money where you want, but always remember you’ve made your decision based on a one sided accusation… and I sincerely hope you never get called for jury duty.

  7. Who’s telling the truth? Does it matter? It’s the Internet’s favorite pastime — The Battle-of-the-Sexes! ® Once an accusation is made, regardless of the evidence, regardless of the defense, the people who want to believe the accusation will believe it, and the people who don’t, won’t.

    Stand back! The story is clearly running under its own inertia now — and in Salem, too. How ironic.

  8. I think they are all in the wrong. As a new hire, why post negative information about your employer? Why does the employer already have such a bad reputation? Why the drama?

  9. Um, that statement released by the store is even worse- they are saying that a new hire made a rape joke in their training and all they did was cluck their tongue; but then fire someone else (after 4 days?!) for “performance issues? Ugh.

  10. Andrew Grilz, how are you being any less “one sided?” Do you know her, too? If not, and you are sticking up for your friends at the store, you are also biased. Better than not knowing anyone involved at all and making a passionate defense of one side or the other, but still quite biased, and you ought not be chiding others for doing exactly what you are.

  11. Well, the important thing is that we all pick which side we’re on as quickly as possible and then rush to its defense with 100% commitment, dismissing all differing opinions, so that we can solve the issue together as the Internet.

  12. It’s too bad that this is devolving into a “he said/she said” fight and that, as usual, Internet trolls are jumping on both sides. Sexual harassment is a real problem deserving zero tolerance, whether or not it occurred at this shop, which I have visited in the past.

  13. Hey, important side note: Ms. Williams wasn’t just a totally new hire. She worked for Harrison’s back int he 90’s, apparently for awhile, with no problems between her & her employer. I myself have had a comic book store job many years ago. Although tons has changed in that time, the basics of service, some knowledge of the material & stuff like that remains. I guess? it’s totally possible that the store had planned to fire Ms. Williams anyhow, based on merit. Since she already had prior experience at the same job, I’m less likely to believe that after 48 hours she bombed that hugely.

    It coulda happened. The timing Heidi points out above – that Ms. Williams was fired right after her complaint hit the Twitterverse – should also be noted.

    The only thing that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me about Ms. Williams’ telling of events is that her mentioning she had zero way to contact Mr. Harrison. If the Julian/manager guy was running the store’s Twitter, sure, that wouldn’t be a good option. But nothing? No Email? No cel phone #? Who’s in charge of hiring at Harrisson’s, anyhow?

    From the store’s end, it sounds like it was handled poorly. Like Ms. Beat, I’ve seen comments both strongly pro-Harrison’s – from people who work there, live near there &/or shop there – but I also heard from a former Harrisson’s employee on my FB discussion about it. He said:

    “True story : I worked at that store for over a year. I know exactly what room is being referred to. And that place is definitely a boy’s club. I’m not surprised at the outcome.”

    & for people criticizing Ms. Williams for how she chose to handle it..maybe she’s being dramatic, or exaggerating her fear in reaction to what happened, if it came down exactly as she said it did. Maybe she had heard other friends deal with harassment through official channels & get nowhere. (This happened to me before.) Maybe she saw the squeaky wheel get the oil, & decided to take control of the situation before she could be discredited. Maybe this guy Julian really was exactly as described, leaned in on her physically / etc. If that happened to me, day 2 of training for a gig that I otherwise thought I was doing well at – IDK how I would’ve reacted.

  14. Also, a smart creative comics friend of mine, Ted Naifeh, said this:

    “Co-Worker: We call this the Rape Room, haha!

    Jennifer(to boss): Do you really call it the Rape Room? Cuz that’s not funny, that’s actually messed up and I take a lot of offence at it.

    Boss: hey, you’re right. Sorry. Hey guys? Let’s not call it that anymore. It’s kinda messed up.

    Jennifer: Thanks, guys. You’re the best.”

    ME: “^ THIS is what shoulda happened! Spot on, Ted.”

  15. “Jennifer: Thanks, guys. You’re the best.”

    Um, yeah. I hardly think it would have gone down like that. At all. Not in the current internet/twitter climate of gamergate. A more likely scenario is that she still would have tweeted the event regardless of the outcome. Enter: tumblr/twitter outrage and cries of boycotts. The End.

  16. Andrew Grilz, seeing as your clearly not even a little bit impartial (and you couldn’t even take the time to spell my name wrong after it being printed right there for you) you can excuse me if I take anything you say with a grain of salt.

    These people’s coming to your children’s birthday parties has no bearing on whether or not this event happened. As far as jury duty goes, if this were the evidence as presented in a court of law, I’m sorry but your friends probably wouldn’t have a very strong case. Simply because you don’t believe your friends are capable of this doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

    Just so you know, I actually do have jury duty in November. I look forward to doing my civic duty. =)

  17. Am i misreading this or does the chain of events go roughly:

    “Co-Worker: We call this the Rape Room, haha!

    Boss: Hey guys? Let’s not call it that anymore. It’s kinda messed up.

    Jennifer:

    Boss: You’re fired.

    All i can say is, criticizing your new employer on social media isn’t a great idea, and the legal stuff from Massachusetts sounds a little… onerous for a small store.

  18. Mr Nobody, the timeline does NOT work like that. The laws are not onerous unless you’re too disorganized to write up a time sheet.

    The Massachusetts sexual harassment laws come down to this. If an employee reports possible harassment, look into it. If it happened, tell everoyone to cut it out. Don’t let anyone punish (eg FIRE) someone just for reporting the incident. Simple. Harrison’s looks like they screwed that up like a Boss. Would you have to be an idiot to mess up something this simple? Yes.

    And the timeline looks more like this:
    Saturday:
    Manager Julian calls a back room the “rape room”. (Harrison’s claims it was a trainee calling the statue room the “stat rape room” and un-IDed trainer cracked down on the joker)

    Jennifer Williams objects to the joke, says that isn’t OK (Harrison’s account doesn’t mention this)

    Manager Julian says it’s OK if she can’t take, ba dum bump (Harrison’s no mention)

    Jennifer Williams says Manager Julian later embraced her in a way she found uncomfortable (ditto)

    Jennifer made her single tweet about the joke before her firing on Sat Aug 30. It did NOT mention the store by name.
    https://twitter.com/JenWilliams13/status/505766962568626176
    Jennifer Williams ‏@JenWilliams13 Aug 30
    Dear male comic shop employees, do not EVER refer to your back room as the “rape” room. EVER. #comics #retail #rapeculture

    Sunday
    Jennifer’s work is satisfactory and she’s scheduled for more work (Harrison’s denies this)

    At the end of her second day, Jennifer quietly talks to the store owner and reports the joke and the embrace. He tells her not to make waves. (Harrison’s account pointedly has no mention, because if she did then her firing was a HUGE screw up)

    Tuesday
    Jennifer Williams shows up for work. Manager Julian physically blocks her from entering the store and tells her she’s fired. (Harrison’s claims she was allowed into the store and had her firing for good legal causes explained in front of other store employees)

    Jennifer only now goes off on Harrison’s Comics by name on Twitter.

    Harrison’s does NOT claim they fired her over saying male comic shop employees shouldn’t refer to their back room as the ‘rape’ room.

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