Ever since the #metoo hashtag surfaced, disturbing images have come out of the shadows of my mind, and lingered at the edge of the circle of victims, wondering if my plight was as harrowing as theirs. Situations like:
- Community doctor – a friend of my parents, an uncle to me who smiled and laughed while his hands were “busy” whenever he gave me a hug.
- A friend of a friend who gentleman-like offered refuge when I had nowhere to go, and then demanded that I pay up with sex, threatening violence if I didn’t.
- The son of a distant cousin who offered me a ride to my college classes, and pulled out his penis in expectation – and broad daylight.
- The man sitting behind me on the bus who boldly reached out to rub my behind and then pretend he didn’t do it.
- The “cousins” who made me feel dirty with their sexually explicit so-called compliments that I never heard directed toward female family members who were blood relatives. (I’m adopted)
With all of those nightmares, I was young, trusting, willing to brush off the events because I figured I was overreacting and besides, who would believe me? And what could they do about it anyway? I wasn’t at work where the law could take over. I was among so-called family, or out in the community. What evidence of intentional harassment did I have?
But I did feel harassed. I didn’t ask for any of those advances. I didn’t do anything to make them think that their actions were the type of attention I expected or deserved. And regardless of whether the heinous acts I experienced are recognized by the law or not, with each one I felt dirty, disgusting, needing to vigorously scrub my skin in the shower to wash away the thoughts that somehow I’d encouraged these men. That it was my fault, the same way a former boyfriend said that the man who tried to break into my apartment was my fault.
“You’re always smiling at people. He probably thought you wanted him,” was his response to my hysteria that this guy had tried to break in early in the morning.
I’ve never had any formal counseling for those incidences. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve spoken about them. It’s taken me years to come to terms with their reality and realize that I was not at fault for those unwanted and unsolicited advances, that being friendly does NOT mean I want sex, and that I’m not going to allow anyone to make me feel like a victim.
No woman should have to feel that she OWES her body to anyone for any reason. Nor should she be made to feel that it’s okay for a male to use sexual intimidation on the job or off, implied or overt, to satisfy his lustful mindset.
So I applaud the women who are able to speak out against their sexual harassment, and encourage those who have not yet to reclaim your life. Silence is what the abusers count on.
Now is the time to shout.