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The former Fox News anchor spoke to Good Morning America‘s Amy Robach her experiences with sexual harassment which began after she was crowned Miss America and continued throughout her journalism career.
“We’re still in an environment where you’re not going to be believed,” she said. “Women should not have to face this in the workplace, period.”
She lives with her husband of 19 years, sports agent Casey Close, in Connecticut with their two kids, Kaia, 13, and Christian, 11.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to be sitting home at the start of the fall and being very sad every day because I’ve worked my whole life,” she said. “And the only day that I really felt that way was the first day of school, and it was a fleeting moment where I thought, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be on a conference call.’”
Carlson, a Stanford graduate, began meeting with TV agents after being crowned Miss America. They told her she had impressed them with how collected she seemed on air and approached her about working in TV.
“I decided to give it a shot,” she said.
It was while she was searching for her first TV job that Carlson said she was sexually harassed for the first time.
“It was a shocking experience because with this particular man, he spent most of the day helping me. He made a lot of phone calls for me. And I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s being so nice,’” she said. “And we went to dinner and we were in the back seat of a car going to my college friend’s apartment at the end of the evening. And before I knew it he was on top of me and his tongue was down my throat.”
The experience left her shocked and distressed.
“I quickly got out of the car and I was flustered, and started sobbing … and I remember being inconsolable — and thinking, ‘Well, I’ll never speak to him again.’ And I didn’t.”
She experienced sexual harassment again a couple of weeks later in Los Angeles when a high-powered public relations executive grabbed her.
“Again, we were in a car and he took my head and my neck and he shoved my face into his crotch so forcefully that I couldn’t breathe,” Carlson said. “And I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is happening again.’”
Early in her career, she was harassed for the third time by a cameraman who placed a microphone under her blouse and made sexually suggestive comments about her breasts.
“When situations like that happen to women … you fear that it’s going to be your fault, you’re not going to be believed, you’re going to lose your job,” she said, adding “You’re going to be that woman — a troublemaker.”
Carlson said she is focusing on testifying in front of Congress against what she calls “forced arbitration,” the fine print in some employees’ contracts that prevents them from taking harassment claims to public court. It also keeps them quiet and private from the public.
“What it technically means is that if this happens to you at work nobody will ever know about it,” she said. “We as a country have to come up with a solution for every single one of them, to feel comfortable enough to come forward and not feel like they’re going to lose their job. And that’s what I hope to at least start the discussion on.”
Her daughter, Kaia, said she thinks her mother is “a very powerful and strong woman” who “isn’t afraid” and is “very courageous.”
“I do think my mom is a hero for many woman and also for many men in the world,” Kaia said. “She’s teaching them how to treat women and how to be with women and it’s very important not only for girls but also men.”
Carlson added that it was important to realize that children are always watching.
“And if the only thing I accomplished was that my children would be proud of me, that would be enough,” she said.