‘I was raped by a colleague from McDonald’s’: Elizabeth was a teenager in her first job. She’d buried the attack until this week, when the chain was accused of a culture of sexual harassment. Bravely waiving her anonymity, she tells her shattering story

‘I was raped by a colleague from McDonald’s’: Elizabeth was a teenager in her first job. She’d buried the attack until this week, when the chain was accused of a culture of sexual harassment. Bravely waiving her anonymity, she tells her shattering story

No one tells you how much it hurts when a man forces himself into your frozen, shocked body. There is no manual that prepares you for the pain — the sheer, deadening terror — of losing your virginity to a rapist.

It was January, just eight days after my 18th birthday. I remember the Christmas tree was still up in our living room. I was shivering both from terror and the winter chill.

It’s odd how such prosaic details as the weather stick with you alongside the horror: my skin crawling as his hands held me in place.

The sound of his voice, the awful pitch of my whimpering. The pain, shooting through to my stomach.

I said all the ‘right’ things. I told him I didn’t want to. I begged him, repeatedly, to stop.

I’d just turned 17 when I joined, and had been unsure of what a job at McDonald’s would entail

But the man — a longer-serving colleague from McDonald’s where I worked part-time — raped me anyway.

And the chilling fact — perhaps as awful as the assault itself — is that the prevailing culture at McDonald’s not only failed to check this sort of outrageous behaviour, but turned a blind eye to it.

By failing to address procedures, complaints processes and rules about sexual harassment in the workplace, it tacitly endorsed appalling sexual abuse of vulnerable young employees.

In short, predatory men were permitted to run amok.

There was no duty of care shown to female employees as young as 16, who had no recourse to help if they were harassed.

And male staff who flirted, made lewd sexual comments and touched young women inappropriately never faced reprimand from their seniors who were often as culpable of bad behaviour themselves.

An unspoken rule decreed that pretty female employees should be deployed in customer-facing roles. ‘Tits on tills’ was the crude aphorism used.

Nobody, in my experience, ever acknowledged it was a policy, but it happened routinely: attractive women worked front of house; men almost always in the kitchen.

Around 200 employees or former employees of the fast food chain have now come forward with allegations

What’s more, abusive customers were given free-rein to harangue staff and no training was given in how to handle them.

Little wonder then, that the McDonald’s colleague who raped me, would be unlikely to face penalties at work for his crime.

Actually he felt entitled to abuse me without any fear that his actions would have consequences.

I had tried, in vain, to bury the memory of the assault, but this Tuesday I woke to a raft of headlines about the toxicity of the work culture at McDonald’s.

The fast-food giant is now embroiled in a harassment and bullying scandal after hundreds of staff spoke out about the abuses I already knew were endemic.

Employees have alleged that sexual assaults, racism and homophobia are rife. In a BBC investigation a former employee, Shelby, who started working at a branch in Berkshire last year when she was 16, alleged that a male co-worker would touch much younger female staff sexually, in the cramped confines of the kitchen.

I read the accounts of a string of young employees who had bravely spoken out and for the first time I realised I wasn’t alone: what happened to me was monstrous but mine was not an isolated case.

My rapist was not a lone bad apple. The tree, I realised, was rotten to the core.

Indeed, three years ago McDonald’s fired its former chief executive, British-born Steve Easterbrook, after finding he’d had a consensual relationship with an employee.

A further investigation uncovered ‘indisputable evidence’ of three other sexual relationships. Suddenly I knew this was the time to tell my story.

I wish I was surprised by what the BBC uncovered across McDonald’s UK branches. I desperately want to be shocked. But I’m not.

The allegations are not news to me — because I worked there and experienced the pernicious culture first-hand.

Employees past and present have told of managers having sexual relationships with junior staff, although this is strictly against company policy.

In one branch in Northern Ireland, it was so rife there was an alleged outbreak of gonorrhoea.

A former teenage worker in Devon claimed a senior manager choked and groped her.

Managers in Wales are alleged to have bet on who could sleep with new recruits first. The litany of abuses is sickening.

Others have reported racism: one young woman claimed her manager told her he wanted to have a ‘black and white baby’ with her.

Young women are allegedly made to feel like fresh meat.

Teenagers and young women would be abandoned to deal with abusive, angry customers.

There was no training, no back-up, no monitoring. We sucked up swearing, name-calling, threats and worse from customers in store and on drive-thru.

I was on the frontline, always working on the drive-thru. I was known as the polite one, the shy one, but the one who could always be relied on to smile robotically and exclaim with enthusiasm: ‘Enjoy your meal!’ — no matter how scared or upset a customer had made me feel.

So I worked shift after shift handing bags out of windows, and smiling — all for £4.50 an hour.

I’d just turned 17 when I joined, and had been unsure of what a job at McDonald’s would entail.

But if a corporation routinely hires thousands of workers from the age of 16, you would think some clear safeguarding or welfare protocols, or even just basic supervision would be offered. It was not.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that we were given just one, six-hour day of training before being plunged into the deep end, with the sharks of the workforce just waiting to rear their heads.

I didn’t notice that I was given no information about company policies around colleagues dating or harassing others.

I certainly didn’t hear alarm bells when there was no welfare support, advertised complaints process or even policies for vulnerable teenagers — some of whom can be hired while still in secondary school — on how to deal with abusive or threatening individuals.

Neither did it seem strange to me, a mere schoolgirl, that issues such as sexual harassment, racism and homophobia were not words I ever saw, or heard, in relation to McDonald’s or its processes.

It was my first job, and I was just excited. I had no idea about my employment rights.

And to begin with everyone seemed friendly. But over the next few months, it dawned on me insidiously, that something didn’t feel quite right. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

Perhaps it was the way male employees made a habit of introducing themselves to me and making up excuses to talk and flirt with me away from prying eyes. Or perhaps it was the slippery feeling they gave off when they sneaked up behind me.

Over time I was aware that praise and flattery had turned into flirting and emotional manipulation.

My rapist often worked out of view of the main restaurant and kitchen. He would corner me while I was in the middle of tasks.

Then he graduated to flirtatious online messaging, but his compliments made me uncomfortable.

In hindsight it was clear he was skilled at picking up women. And the moment I told him I was set to leave the job late in 2016, things changed.

Suddenly he claimed to be devastated. He’d had a crush on me since my first ever shift and had been terrified to tell me, he said, adding that he was determined to make me his girlfriend.

He invited me out on a date and arranged to meet me shortly after my final shift one morning.

As I told the police in a gruelling hour-long video interview after the attack, I didn’t feel able to say no, so adept was he at controlling and coercing. So against all my instincts, I agreed.

He spent around two hours with me on that fateful day, insisting — he was very manipulative — that he came to my home.

There I endured, I think, around 30 minutes of assaults and rape.

He hurt me. He may not have punched me or strangled me, but the pain I felt that day was the worst of my life.

I had never had sex before, so when he suddenly roughly groped into my underwear, my body clamped into a spasm of shock.

But although he assaulted me, forced me to carry out a sex act on him, it is the moment before he raped me that haunts me the most.

There was nothing but pure, primal terror. He had pushed me to the floor, was on top of me, and in a split second I knew there was nothing that I — a skinny young girl — could do to stop him. My powerlessness, the blind panic of it, overwhelmed me.

He’d brought a rucksack which I later found out was empty except for a pack of condoms — which he then didn’t even use until I tried to stop him by telling him I wasn’t on any contraception.

Then when he was finished with me, I made him leave. I told him to get out of my house; that I needed to study for my exams. He even tried to kiss me before he went.

And then he acted as if nothing had happened, even messaging me later to say he couldn’t wait to see me again.

I was still in shock, confused, terrified. I phoned ChildLine in tears, desperately needing the solace of a listening ear.

When the kind operator told me I had been sexually assaulted, the enormity of it all still did not sink in.

Desperate to rid myself of his lingering presence, I showered and threw my clothes in the wash — but in doing so I inadvertently destroyed vital DNA evidence. I never wore the clothes again.

The next day I told my best friend. She helped me send a message confronting my attacker about the rape.

He responded with apologies and claimed he ‘didn’t really understand’ that I had begged him to stop.

At no point did he deny the rape. In fact he claimed he would ‘take it all back’ if he could and ‘would never treat you like that ever again’. I felt disgusted.

It was ten days before I found the courage to tell the family member I was living with at the time.

Then I went to the police who did not follow up the case for six months, by which time the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was not enough evidence to convict my attacker.

So unsurprisingly I buried my secret for years — until now, in fact.

The man who raped me had, I believed, systematically and deliberately groomed me, then gas-lit me into believing rape was just a normal sexual encounter.

And I blame, in no small part, the culture at McDonald’s which encouraged this blasé belief that women were just pieces of meat.

I wasn’t a human to him: I really didn’t mean it when I told him I didn’t give consent or when I grimaced or cried out in pain and squeezed my eyes shut, turning my head away as he held me on the ground.

And when he had got what he wanted, when he had finished destroying me, he continued to work at McDonald’s — even though the police had imposed bail conditions on him after I reported the rape.

Indeed, he even began a relationship with a teenage girl hired to fill the staffing gaps caused by the ever-revolving door of employees joining, then leaving, McDonald’s.

Because I was raped by a colleague after the end of my contract, it didn’t even occur to me to report it to McDonald’s.

And even if I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have known how. I wasn’t aware of any process to report such an attack or any welfare support at all.

McDonald’s relies on teenagers to make up its rank-and-file staff. And so pervasive are the abuses, young men pick up cues from their older colleagues about how to get young women into bed.

I believe incontrovertibly that McDonald’s does nothing to hinder the sense of entitlement its male employees feel they have over women’s bodies.

I know, too, I was not alone in being aggressively pursued by my rapist: he had sex with other women and was even seeing another employee when he raped me.

His actions caused me immeasurable mental and physical suffering. It was not until I went to university that I finally confronted the severity of what he had done to me. I became suicidal and was admitted to hospital after self-harming.

In the six-and-a-half years since — I am now in my mid-20s and have forged a successful career as a writer — I have had painstakingly to rebuild my confidence and every vestige of my old self.

After the attack I descended into a spiral of shame and self-recrimination.

Finally, after years of therapy, I am happier, healthy and confident in asserting that what happened on that awful January day was the fault of my rapist and him alone — although I’ve never been able to set foot in that restaurant since . . .

And it is no longer my darkest secret because, after reading the courageous accounts of current McDonald’s employees who have spoken out about the disgusting behaviour that pervades the corporation, for the first time I don’t want to hide.

I will no longer be silenced by my rapist. And McDonald’s must be held to account for its part in fostering a culture in which abuses flourish.

It must implement fundamental and systemic changes, now. Until it does, I will keep speaking out. I will keep telling my story. I will shame them into action.

A McDonald’s spokesperson said: ‘These allegations are appalling and deeply disturbing, and we commend the bravery it’s taken to speak up through the media. We have now shared our contact details via the Daily Mail with the individual to ensure we can investigate thoroughly and take the swiftest necessary action.’

  • If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact Rape Crisis on 0808 500 2222.
What’s your Reaction?

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *