A common form of sexual harassment, in my case, is through technology. Someone I briefly dated many years ago sent me unsolicited and unwanted explicit pictures and videos shortly after socially reconnecting online. He was married, I was not interested. I immediately broke our connection and blocked him. For months afterward, I beat myself up about it. Did I lead him on by accepting his friend request? Should I have ignored him? What would his wife think about me if she knew?
I am an adult woman in my 30’s who knows better than to blame myself for that. Imagine a young girl experiencing that. It happens.
This scenario has played out so many times, I can’t even recount each individual experience. The DM’s and private messages on social media, wherein a stranger or casual acquaintance casually drops sexual suggestions or nude photos, or both. Sometimes the comments are even public. Ah, the anonymity of the Internet. You might be surprised how often that type of behavior goes unchecked or is accepted as commonplace.
When I was a teenager, it was worse. Men twice, three times, four times, five times my age gawked at me, tried to touch me–and sometimes succeeded–without invitation or permission. They sat too close, exposed themselves to me, made sexual suggestions, stalked me, invaded my privacy, and much, much worse. Most of the time it was a complete stranger. Sometimes it was a neighbor or parent of a friend or other trusted adult figure. Other times, it was boys my own age, coworkers and students.
A man in a sports car once pulled alongside me as I was walking home from a car accident. He asked me for directions. I knew better than to get too close to his car but I didn’t need to in order to see that he was completely nude and touching himself. I ran the rest of the way home and tearfully told my mom, who immediately called the police and filed a report. I was 15 years old.
At a crowded live music event in my home town, I was repeatedly grabbed, pinched, and touched while navigating through the crowd. My t-shirt was ripped, I had bruises. I never even knew who was doing it. I was 16 years old.
Two different ex-in-laws grabbed and molested me–one of them had to be pulled off of me with force (it took two adult men) because he was drunk and wouldn’t let go even while I was pushing at and kicking him. I was almost 21 years old and 7 months pregnant with my first baby.
I won’t horrify you with the details of the more serious incidents. The recounting is a form of reliving these experiences and I have no interest in that. But I want everyone to know, if there’s any doubt in your mind, that this happens on a daily basis. Sexual assault and harassment take many forms, happen in many settings, and come from many people of different ages and backgrounds and levels of familiarity. Victims can be any age, any demographic. It is always unwanted, unsolicited, uncalled for, and wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It should be a crime with consequences. Every. Single. Time.
It is beyond wrong that we allow this to happen and that victims are afraid to tell anyone. Our fearful silence is another form of abuse being perpetrated on us by a system that punishes, doubts, and blames victims and lets the criminals go. I know the world can be a horrible place and we have many big, important issues to tackle. But this is one we have complete control over. Let’s stop it already.