My Experience With Sexual Harassment: A Message to the Fearful

When is sexual harassment okay? Hint: never. Here's what I learned in looking back on my experience.

He asked me at least once every shift if I wanted to go out with him. No. I did not. First of all, I was dating at the time, second of all, I was just plain not interested in this flirtatious boy I worked with three times a week but knew next to nothing about. But, and here's a phrase I'm sure you wish you could just stop hearing, he wouldn't take no for an answer. 

When he wouldn't stop, is it my fault for not asking him to?

I'm not going to sit here and talk about how my sexual harassment case was special or particularly interesting or different, but I do believe I have an important point to bring to the table, in light of the "me too" discussions that have been going around.

I never believed I had the typical sexual harassment case going on. For months, I was hesitant to even label my experiences as sexual harassment. The barely-18-year-old boy who flirted with me (also 18 years old at the time), constantly asked me to go out with him, made comments about my body, and touched me almost never received discouragement from me. I answered no when he asked if I wanted to go out, but I didn't tell him to stop flirting, I didn't tell him he couldn't touch me, I didn't tell him those words he said made me uncomfortable. Furthermore, unlike the typical sexual harassment cases, I received support. Many of my coworkers agreed that he was sexually harassing me even when I wouldn't admit to it, and I was told multiple times by my friends to report him to management, but I never did.

So when I discussed the "me too" trend going around earlier this year with my roommate, I dismissed my sexual harassment experience as my fault. I was the one who never did anything about it. My lack of action is to blame.

The Lies We Believe...

Just saying these words in a slightly different manner immediately brings to light the ridiculousness of it. The lack of action on my part is why he sexually harassed me. Is that true? No. Even if he was fueled by my lack of action, does that make his actions okay? Again, no.

And my roommate called me out on this instantly. Unwanted sexual advances are not made okay because you haven't stood on a table and declared to a crowd that you do not like the way this person is treating you. They are not made okay because you have not directly told the person that you do not want to be touched in a sexual manner.

Unwanted sexual advances are not made okay because you are terrified of confrontation. Because you don't know how your boss will react. Because you don't want to make trouble. Because you're scared that you will only make things worse. Because you are scared of being dismissed and laughed at. Because you are scared of retaliation.

Unwanted sexual advances are not made okay by anything. The very word "unwanted" vetoes all opportunity for them to be "okay." 

I will not use you, and I will not let you use me.

We use people and let people use us in ways much more than just physically or sexually. How often have you let someone use you? Unfortunately, I believe that this is something we can all say "me too" to. But it is also something we can all make an effort to change in our lives. While sexual use may be the most hurtful and damaging, people should never use each other or let themselves be used in any way. I will not use you. And I will not let you use me.

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My Experience With Sexual Harassment: A Message to the Fearful
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