There has been so much in the news lately about sexual assault. A lot of it has to do with Harvey Weinstein and everything that he did over the last few decades. And then there’s talk about what our current president has done. But sexual assault is sadly something so common that it seems like most of us have dealt with. If you were on social media, you might have seen all the “Me Too” posts. Women (and men) who have dealt with sexual assault or harassment posted this so that hopefully others will realize how big of a problem this is. And I was one of those who shared it.
I consider myself extremely lucky. I’ve been in some pretty bad situations and have usually gotten out of them without too much harm. I questioned originally if I should post about it because I know what others have gone through is so much worse than what I’ve dealt with. But then I realized that by downplaying what I went through I was a part of the problem.
My issues have included things from strangers and from men that I knew. They were both physical and verbal situations. And it sadly has happened to me a lot. I’ve had a guy tell me on a date (not recently) that he could do whatever he wanted to me because nobody would believe that a fat girl would be raped. I’ve had a guy who was my friend get into a bed with me when I thought he was going to be sleeping on the couch. I was at a party once and in telling a story to a friend I grabbed my boobs. Someone I had never met at that party saw that, came up to me, and grabbed me while introducing himself. He said that since I touched myself that I was telling others they could do that too.
The verbal stuff has been both in my personal and professional life. I had a day job many years ago where my manager liked to talk about my weight and how all guys must find me disgusting. She questioned how I could be intimate with anyone. And she liked to say this in front of others too. And because we were all scared of losing our jobs (we had seen others get fired for telling her to stop), nobody said anything. I guess I should be happy that at my jobs it’s only been verbal and nothing physical has happened to me.
But there is one thing in common for all of these situations. Even though I might have been disgusted, embarrassed, or wanting to punch someone; I didn’t really do anything. When I’ve been physically threatened, sometimes I am able to fight back and stop it. But in the case of the guy at the party grabbing me, my friend and I were shocked into silence. And we didn’t really think to tell anyone for a bit and we weren’t able to find the guy after that to find out who he is.
Part of the reason I didn’t do anything was because I was too shocked to do anything. But a bigger part of it was because I didn’t think it was a big enough deal to make a fuss about. I’ve had friends who were raped and I feel lucky that my situations have been so minor. And in some situations, I didn’t necessarily think that anything was wrong until years later when sharing the story with someone else. I just assumed that everyone dealt with it and it wasn’t a big deal.
And that thinking is a huge part of the problem. As a friend of mine put it, we have normalized sexual assault. When we are in school and a boy snaps our bra straps or pulls at a skirt, we are told that he’s just teasing because he likes us. When we are catcalled while walking down the street we are told that we should be flattered. And there seems to be an excuse for almost any situation we are in. Even if you are raped, you are told that it happened because you were drinking/wearing a skirt/wearing pants/walking outside/inside your own home at nighttime/dared to exist.
Fortunately, it seems like a majority of people are horrified by what happened. But it makes you wonder what took so long for people to notice. Maybe we did need the “Me Too” campaign so that people who haven’t been affected could see how widespread it is. Unless you are avoiding social media you can’t help but see that a majority of the post in your feed have to do with what others have encountered. Some people think that women are faking their stories and I’m aware that someone might accuse me of that. But I’m willing to take that risk because I know what the truth is in my life
And for anyone who is feeling helpless, you don’t have to be. If you witness something, stop it. If your friend is making jokes that make you uncomfortable, you don’t have to tolerate it. My co-workers were in fear for their jobs when my manager was harassing me, but if one of them had stood up for me I think that would have given me the courage to do something at the time and not waiting until I was planning on leaving the job anyway. And you can believe people when they tell you something happened to them. Don’t blame the victim. The only person at fault for harassment or rape is the one harassing or raping someone. The victim wasn’t asking for it and can’t be held responsible for someone else’s actions. We need to stop this rape culture of victim blaming and normalizing harassment and start standing up for each other.