I, like millions of other women around the globe, have been a victim of sexual harassment. I never thought it would happen more than once during my teaching career but it did and each time I said nothing. I didn’t want to offend the harasser and I was afraid of any retribution that would follow. Now, I know that my silence allowed them to do and say what they did to me to other women who kept silent as well.
The first incident happened early in my career when an administrator welcomed me and a few other new teachers to the building. His stare was a bit too intense as he groped my shoulder way too long. I kindly moved away from him and immediately felt he was someone I needed to avoid. My feelings were validated years later when he was moved to another building because of inappropriate comments he made. Everyone knew who he was and what he did but he was never fired.
The second incident happened in a public setting with lots of witnesses at a post-graduation party the school district held every year. The asshole walked up to me and asked when I was going to have his baby. He said we’d make a beautiful baby. I was speechless and anyone who knows me can attest that this never happens. I stood there in shock hoping someone would say something to stop this asshole from talking to me. When that didn’t happen I asked what his wife would think about this arrangement. He laughed it off and said she wouldn’t mind – especially if she didn’t know about it. I looked directly at a building administrator who was witnessing this bullshit and said, “You need to say something to him before this gets real ugly.” He pulled me aside and said the asshole most likely had too much to drink and was just having a little fun. This was a lie because everyone had just arrived at the venue. I couldn’t believe he was allowed to say these horrible words to me without any kind of retribution and I walked away.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened and a friend suggested we get a drink. She helped calm me down and I left a few minutes later.
The next day the asshole approached me again as I sat with a few co-workers at our end of the year breakfast. He once again asked me to carry his child and said I should think about it during the summer break. My friends awkwardly laughed as he left the table. I was once again incensed that he had the audacity to speak to me like that again. What I should have done, but didn’t, was find a union rep and tell my principal what happened. Instead, I hoped and prayed he’d never talk to me again but of course, that didn’t happen.
When I returned to school he apologized for his behavior saying he hoped we could someday be friends. I told him to get the hell out of my face and to never, ever, under any circumstances speak to me again. He somehow couldn’t understand why I was angry and said I should calm down. He acted as if nothing ever happened. He had no idea how horrible his words and actions made me feel. He continued to speak when we passed in the hall and I ignored him. I would turn my head and utter a few curse words under my breath. He would casually interject himself into a conversation when I was talking to a group of coworkers and I’d walk away. I couldn’t stand the sight of him and refused to play nice with an asshole who had disrespected me.
Writing about these incidents that happened so many years ago, could easily elicit the same kind of anger I experienced then because I could easily blame myself for not speaking up. Now I understand I was afraid of being attacked when I was clearly the victim. I also realize that I did the best I could during this traumatic event and to blame myself for not doing more makes me the victim once again. Instead, I chose to challenge those thoughts. I realize I couldn’t have done anything differently because I didn’t and that’s okay. I’m okay. I’m safe and I survived. I now get to release the anger and the fear and the hatred. I get to heal because to do otherwise means I’m victimized every single time I relive what happened to me and the embarrassment I felt every time he crossed my path. I was wronged and handled it the best I could. Knowing that helps heal the hurt and silence the shame. I get to be okay and that makes me feel a whole lot better.
You can do the same.
If someone is harassing you or making you feel uncomfortable in any situation please tell someone because by doing so you label them and bring to light what they hope is kept in the dark.
I’m sure everyone in Hollywood knew what Harvey Weinstein was doing and said nothing. He was allowed to ruin careers and force women to abandon their moral compass to succeed in a cutthroat business. We can’t let them win. My silence allowed those assholes to harass others. My silence subjected me to their harassment over and over again in different ways and we can’t afford to allow that to happen to anyone ever again.
Everyone deserves to live and work in a safe environment and I pray you are brave enough to speak up and end the silence if this ever happens to you or you witness it happening to someone else. By doing so you sound the alarm that this shit will not be tolerated in your workplace, in your community or in your country.
I believe we are strong enough to do this. Do you?