CW: This post discusses sexual harassment, assault and grooming. Reader discretion is strongly advised.
Sexual harassment and assault isn’t something you should brush off.
What’s worse, there are still people in the world that have the gall to blame the recipient, rather than the perpetrator.
I’ve talked about this particular instance of being sexually harassed briefly on this blog last year but didn’t go in to details or how I reacted afterwards. When I was 18 I was sexually harassed by a former lecturer at university.
After this instance happened, the consensus was he was acting this towards many of the girls but was targeting me more, because I was known as the ‘sweet and innocent’ one of the friendship groups I was in.
Sometimes, there are people who get off on the idea of ‘corrupting’ the quiet, seemingly ‘innocent’ woman. While that’s a common fantasy between consenting adults, abuse of power when someone is under your duty of care is wrong.
I got used to brushing off remarks from peers or the general public, however inappropriate their comments were. I was aware there would be people with perverse motivations because of my nature I seemed to exude, so you tend to prepare yourself for batting away potential perverts. It’s a question of when, not if.
While you can joke around with your friends about your nature, these other people are different. They are questionable and perverse. And to rub salt in the wound, in my experience, in a more powerful position than you.
You act like it’s nothing, just harmless ‘banter’, because act up and stand up for yourself and you’re deemed ‘too sensitive’ in need to ‘lighten up’.
This instance turned incredibly scary, leaving a fear of being trapped that still lingers today. He was my lecturer at the time. Someone who you should be able to trust and feel safe around. And sadly, this wasn’t the first time I experienced harassment or inappropriate comments at the hands of a teacher.
My old form tutor made inappropriate advances online and when called out, justified his actions by saying ‘I can say it now you’re old enough.’ I was underage and he had to be reported to the police.
It was at a celebration university party being held in a house in the country. It went from him drunkenly telling me what an apparently amazing student I was, kissing my hands and saying suggestively that I needed to ‘loosen up’ (in regards to me not drinking alcohol) to holding me against him (thankfully not the genital area) without my consent, when I was repeatedly saying no and trying to push him off. He just ignored me. I couldn’t exactly break free, because he was around three times bigger than me and trained at the gym regularly, therefore much stronger.
If he was in the same room, immediately his arm would be round me and he’d be in my face. Think that scene from the Alien franchise. That’s what it feels like.
I thought I could just ignore it if I stayed away from him, but the longer it went on the scarier it got. I was afraid to say anything or ‘make a scene’ in case I’d get flack for ‘ruining’ the gathering or ‘making a big deal out of nothing’. Like I said, I was 18, young, naive and scared, and at the time support against sexual misconduct wasn’t like it is now.
I tried to leave one of the rooms in the house as it was pretty empty. I wanted to be around as many people as possible (Women’s safety 101: Safety in numbers) when he stood at the threshold, arm in front of the entrance with a dark look that those who have gone through something like this know, and can understand just how terrifying it is, coupled with the aggressive undertone in the following question:
“Where are you going?”
That was my ‘oh shit’ moment, aka the moment when potentially very real danger presents itself. When you can’t deny that something is seriously wrong, that you can’t ‘brush it off’ any longer as just ‘someone who’s just had too much to drink.’ It became crystal clear that I could not be left alone with this man under any circumstances.
The way he looked at me (like I said, those who have experienced this know that look. There’s nothing to adequately describe how scary and violating it is) The idea that he could try something if left alone with him became a very real possibility to me, and with him being much bigger and stronger, if he had I wouldn’t have been able to fight him off. I’ve never felt so small and scared in my life.
It took every ounce of courage I had to look him square in the eye, say ‘Out’ in my sternest voice I could muster. He looked morose and stepped aside.
I wanted to get out of there but I was scared to say anything, of being shamed for ‘ruining’ a party and I felt ‘Why should he ruin this evening with friends for me? Fuck you, I’m going to have the best night!’ as my own way of standing up to him, not showing any fear, like how you deal with bullies. But this wasn’t the case. I should have rang someone, and I knew that at the time.
When it comes to sexual misconduct, we’re constantly taught to just dismiss with a smile and not make a scene, because the amount of cases dismissed taught us you have everything to lose.
Especially if someone has more power. They could destroy your reputation, career, prospects, the works. In my case, it was the man marking a hefty percentage of my grade.
Two male friends saw him bothering me in the kitchen (arm around me, face in mine slurring his words, not leaving me the fuck alone) and discreetly took me outside.
They were disgusted with how he was treating me and made sure I was ok. One of these friends (we’ll call him Darren) stayed with me for almost two hours afterwards, talking with me and reassuring me until he was sure that I was ok.
Now, the go-to defence some people do can be: He was drunk! What do you expect?? That’s what happens when people drink!
No. It’s not. Alcohol is no excuse for predatory behaviour and also? Darren, the friend that stayed with me and reassured me that it wasn’t what I was wearing? He was an alcoholic. So using the ‘alcohol’ excuse? Riddle me that.
For a long time I didn’t report it. Like I said, this was a person who could fail me if I pissed him off by calling him out. Plus, what if I wasn’t believed by the powers that be? What if he did try to hurt me physically because I called him out while he was still teaching me? The thought frightened me too much. Like I said: everything to lose.
Eventually I did report it. Not until a long time afterwards when I felt safe enough to. I don’t know what became of him, but either way, I don’t have to cross paths with him again, thank God.
The reason why so many don’t report sexual misconduct until years, even decades later? Because we’re terrified shitless, that’s why.
All my love,