Monday, October 1, 2018

Why We Don't Speak Up

*I am not a victim of sexual assault, but I have experienced bullying and sexual harassment in my life - as a child, teen, and as an adult*

I'm triggered.

Why didn't she say something sooner?

That's the big question, right? Why don't victims speak out RIGHT WHEN IT HAPPENS. Right when they are at their most raw? 

I mean, my six and three-year-old children tell me about an offense practically while it's still happening.  

Why can't we speak up right after we are hurt? Right when the evidence is the most fresh and the witnesses have the clearest memories?

Because we want it to go away.  In the moments when we are at our weakest, we aren't worried about consequences for the harasser.  We want it to stop.

In the case of ongoing harassment and bullying, we hope that, one day, we will show up at work or school, and it won't happen anymore

As a Junior in high school, my biggest harasser was a Senior.  I knew he would leave the school before I did. There was a timeline on his verbal assaults. 

I could make it through. 

I'd made it through before when my mom's best friend's son (yep, swallow THAT) harassed and bullied me every day, in a school with fewer than a dozen people.  I could certainly make it through this.

As an adult, with a master's degree and a "real job," I repeatedly said no to sexual advances from a library customer. He would get the point eventually, right?  He had to.  

And what if we do say something? What happens then?

First, the questions. Are we sure that it happened?  Did that other teacher really pinch my side?  Did he also really inappropriately touch several other female teachers on campus? Or did we misinterpret?

I waited over a year before saying something about that fellow teacher, and then it was "too late" for administration to file a formal complaint.  Because it took me time to process what happened, took me time to share my story with my peers (who encouraged me to speak up), it was too late for the information to mean anything.  There's an inherent injustice in all of this.  

If I smiled more. If I giggled when saying no to a come-on.  Maybe then, said numerous supervisors. Maybe then, it wouldn't escalate. 

What's the point in saying something if it's going to get turned around on us? 

We aren't flirty enough. We should ignore the rude comments about our looks, although, to be fair, if we got a haircut more frequently or really did fix that problem skin or wear more fashionable clothes, maybe we wouldn't get attacked quite so frequently.  We should giggle and look away, let it all roll off our backs.

No matter what we wear or how we look, whether it's too sexy or not sexy enough, it's our fault that a man chose to dehumanize us, chose to stomp his feet and tell our supervisors that we were rude and said no. 

So, why don't we say something earlier? Why don't we shout from the rooftops?

Because we have been taught that it doesn't matter.

Now, what are you going to do about that?

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