Freshman year of high school I did not know what sexual harassment was. A year and a half later, I look back at my experiences and realize how serious they were. If I could tell my first day of high school self anything, it would be ‘don’t deal with it, it is not your fault, you are wonderful.’
The first time I can recall being sexually harassed was when a boy in my freshman year P.E. class from the popular group stopped me as I was walking out of the girls locker room with a few friends. His friends stood a couple feet behind him, almost snickering. I tried to keep walking and then he said, “Hey, Person A, [his friend] wants head can you help him out? (hook him up)?”
I froze. How had my reputation turned into that when the most I had done was kiss my middle school boyfriend? I didn’t answer him. It was still sinking in. I then finally said, “No, find someone else.” My friends didn’t say anything. His friends laughed and looked at me like I had just slipped and fallen on a banana peel. I didn’t tell anyone till a year later.
Compared to the awful stories of rape and sexual assault that have been reported by survivorsvictims in the past couple months, this seems minor but it was just the start of an entire school year of harassment. I knew what they wanted was a reaction, so I tried to ignore it, but the shouts in the hallway and the rude gestures got hard to bear. I started avoiding the parts of school where I knew I would run into them. My friend’s didn’t stand up for me nor realize the seriousness of the matter.
My mom told me to not let it get to me and for a while I listened. Then it stopped being something that I could let pass over my head.
A boy in my grade with differing political views from me posted a picture of me on his instagram mocking my expression of feminism. I was blocked from the account shortly before the post was made, so I found out through a friend following the account. He also made demeaning comments on my posts and screenshotted things on my story. I blocked him from every account I had and blocked some of his friends that I guessed would do something similar or at least supply him with my posts. I talked to my friends; they said he’s an asshole but nothing much else. I had no physical proof because I did not have access to his account. I didn’t not know I was being bullied.
The first time I talked to a trusted adult and was actually heard was the middle of my sophomore year, approximately a year and a half after the first instance in which I was sexually harassed. It was my school-assigned counselor, who is normally a person people refer to for schedule changes and college credits, but for me she is also a person I can express my social and academic problems to without judgement. I was more knowledgeable, the media was talking about it and it was finally being named something that is not OK. She had a talk with the boy who had been the biggest problem for me freshman year. Because it had been a while since the last time he harassed or bullied me, I felt that talking to him now would be ineffective.
He has not done anything for a while but maybe that is because I distanced myself as much as I could from him in fear of being disrespected. Or maybe it is because I’ve changed the way I express myself in the public eye because I am worried that I am “asking for it”.
Sexual harassment is not something that you should just put up with because ‘boys will be boys’. It is a gateway to assault and should be stopped at all costs. Every person, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, is subject to these crimes and every victim has the power to stand up and speak up. Now is the time!