As a straight, white male, I never really expected to find myself victimized by sexual harassment.
So when it happened, you could imagine my surprise. Disbelief, really. Sheer denial even for a while. And those feelings served to compound the problem: making it even harder for me to address an issue that was already difficult to tackle in the first place.
Recognizing unwanted physical contact is an easy thing to do. Confronting the perpetrator is a lot harder. Yet, sadly, verbal warnings are very often not enough to talk sense into someone who’s committing harm. In fact, in many cases (indeed in my own case) it can make things worse. Because calling someone out for being a dick, an asshole, or just generally inappropriate is an affront, and few of us possess the required tact to get around that gracefully. So, the abuser feels cornered, and lashes out.
This unfortunate reality leaves the victim with only one recourse: going through official channels to seek the help of some kind of an authority. In my case this was an employer, since the incident was at work. This could have been a police officer in the subway. Regardless of situation, however, this step is even harder than the previous ones. And that’s because to accomplish it, you have to finally admit to yourself – in your admission to someone else – that you are a victim. And nobody likes to face that, however true it might be.
My heart was racing when I finally found the courage to do it, and that was after 24 hours of talking myself out of it. It was only thanks to a trusted friend, an ally, a confidant, who helped to persuade me to “make it official,” shall we say. Encouraging me to take action, this friend reminded me of what I was too ashamed to admit I already knew was true:
that this was real, it was a problem, it had to stop, and there was only one way to fix it (correctly).
Once my eyes were opened to this realization, I knew I had little choice. And – boy howdy! – was it such an incredible relief to have done it! I felt better instantly – better than I even imagined I would or could have felt.
Emotions are deep and powerful things, yet they remain cryptic to us, and are largely unfathomable. It is not often that we, as humans, have an accurate perception of our own emotions in real time. It takes the passage of time (sometimes a lot of time), and the experience which follows, to reveal the true nature of our own emotions to ourselves. But they are so very important to our personhood – emotions underpin everything we do and are.
And so it is with this writing that I hope to encourage and empower anyone anywhere who is made to feel uncomfortable or powerless by anyone else. Or, just as importantly, to encourage and empower the friend of someone who is made to feel that way, to speak to them from their heart and offer a helping hand when they need it.
You do have the power to stop it. There are ways to help.
And the first step is to talk to someone you trust.
I can’t urge you enough.