On Drowning Rats Book Launched at Gathering Volumes

Naima Moon sitting at the main table between her mother Rachel Richardson and Cami Roth Szirotnyak.

What do you do when you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? Cami Roth Szirotnyak and Rachel Richardson decided when they realized that they were both the victims of the same harasser they would help each other stand up to him, leading eventually to the launch of the book they co-wrote on the experience: On Drowning Rats.

“If I ever write another book I’ll have to figure out a way that Cami is involved,” Richardson told the Toledo City Paper.

Cami Roth Szirotnyak

Szirotnyak said she was relaxing with her husband several years after enduring the initial sexual harassment from The Harasser, scrolling through social media while they watched a TV show. She said she startled him by the way she jumped when someone shared a social media post – made anonymously by Richardson about the Harasser – and immediately knew it was the same man. She reached out to Richardson’s anonymous profile, and they connected the dots, and collecting evidence, the collection of which eventually turned into a blog, and eventually turned into this book.

Both women have writing experience and wrote from their corresponding perspectives and not as one voice. What this means is that each chapter has a little drawing of them when the book transitions to sections that Rachel wrote, and then there is a drawing of Cami’s voice when the book transitions to Cami’s voice.

The audience listened attentively during the authors’ remarks at the book launch for On Drowning Rats at Gathering Volumes

The two authors hosted a packed crowd at Gathering Volumes on the evening of April 27, a cute and eclectic bookshop inside a Perrysburg strip mall. Sitting on one side of a table across from their audience – the number of people sitting were probably outnumbered by the number standing – they took questions, acknowledged help from friends personal and professional as they explained their journey and read a chapter from the book.

“There’s cussing” in this book, Richardson warned her audience before she started reading her part of the chapter. Her daughter Naima Moon, who was sitting between her and Szirotnyak, wordlessly pumped both of her fists into the air when she heard this. The crowd laughed.

On Drowning Rats is just as much a how-to-guide for surviving and confronting sexual harassment in the workplace and volunteer space, Szirotnyak explained, as it is a memoir for both women. By staying away from dates and names and identifying characters as The Harasser or The Co-worker, and by identifying organizations as The Paper or The Foundation they are hoping to create a one-size-fits all guide that isn’t too specific, and

Rachel Richardson

therefore is applicable to any reader looking for help. There are practical guides and worksheets within the book to stop the harassment and prevent its recurrence.

“The reason we specifically focused on the workspace and volunteer space is in theory there should be policies and protocols in place we can lean on. So, we created worksheets and a how to learn on,” Szirotnyak explained over the phone. “Really it is kind of more of a menu than a how to … to make it fitting to their situation.”

The book takes great pains to not specifically name the harasser, the organization he used to run, or the publication that was involved is also partially to avoid defamation accusations, partially to protect the privacy of third parties, and partially, Szirotnyak said “we’re done saying that person’s name.”

The Toledo City Paper reached out to the Harasser for comment but did not receive a response.

As proud as they both are of their vanquishing of a sexual harasser and the publication of their book, the two women acknowledged their work’s limitations. The book is specifically meant for women in offices or non-profit arenas. And they acknowledged multiple times that they had a certain amount of protection and power as White women, which Women of Color are unlikely to have to the same degree they did.

“Cami is a colleague of mine and she reached out to me and asked me if I could discuss with her an initiative she was working on in regards to sexual harassment because she was seeking the perspective of African American women in the professional arena and non-profit arena as a compliance officer,” attendee and collaborator Tava Scott said. “I think that they did an amazing job … of taking a very tough situation and providing a compass for other women so they will know the direction to go to … and ideally a warning to dangers in the future.”

Both women encouraged their audience to purchase their book through any independent bookstore they like. One woman in the audience, Linda Alvarado-Arce, said she plans on promoting On Drowning Rats that with her mobile bookstore, People Called Women.

“I’m very eager to see it come out. I am glad that collectively it can actually make some good. It can empower other women to take down sexual harassers, and actually change the culture – the way men talk to women, the way they can treat women,” Alvarado-Arce said. “I think it is a wake-up call to the city of Toledo.”