I’m exhausted. And the anger I feel is only making it worse.
Most of these situations begin with a compliment, or at least an attempt at a compliment. But can such phrases really be considered compliments if they leave me feeling dirty, objectified and scared?
Over this past summer, I was harrassed by four different men in my workplaces. These weren’t the first time I had received unwanted attention, but they were certainly the most prolonged and emotionally draining of my experiences.
“Was it really that bad?” people have asked me. I was never touched, coerced or attacked. I managed to show up to work every day and I didn’t quit my jobs ahead of schedule.
While I was not harmed physically, this harassment caused my mental health to spiral. To be continually on guard about how close my manager was standing behind me, to constantly avoid being alone with my coworker who growled in my ear and told me he loved me, to hide in my car during breaks to evade a coworker who was stalking me―yes, it really was that bad.
My anxiety skyrocketed. My underlying gastritis was awakened and continued for months afterwards, making eating difficult and causing me to lose over 10 pounds. My sleep schedule deteriorated, and my hair started to thin.
Not only did I feel scared, I also felt angry. I am still angry.
How could these men be so blinded by misled sexual desire that they believed harassing and stalking me was a way to get my interest? How could they not see that their behavior caused distress, not seduction? Why was I treated as merely an object at the expense of my mental and physical wellbeing?
Once school began again and I left those jobs, I tried to heal. Reunited with my loving and considerate boyfriend, it became easier for me to remember that my hurt and anger did not come from men in general, but specific men.
Feminists hate the phrase “not all men,” and I hate it too, albeit for different reasons. Men who treat women with respect should not be considered exceptions to what is masculine; instead, the abusers and harassers are the exception. If we expect men to be violent and sexually aggressive, we normalize harassment and assault.
Throughout last fall semester, my healing brought me to a resolution: to be intolerant of any behavior that makes me uncomfortable. I decided to stand up for myself immediately, not after the situation had escalated. No one could harass me as long as I didn’t let them.
Now, a few months later, I cannot help but feel that my bubble of healing and resolution has burst. Last month, a stranger propositioned me for sex in an Old Mill laundry room. Such an offer isn’t uncommon, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t feel too shaken by the experience.
Yet the stalking and harassment that followed did leave me shaken. My feelings and the stranger’s actions that caused them should not be an expected or acceptable part of life.
In the span of six days, I encountered the harasser four times. He staked out the apartment, followed me, ran after me as I ran away from him and tried to intercept my entrance into the apartment. He even approached my other friends in a seeming offer of friendship, but I saw it as a predatory action.
When I made a police report, the officers’ eyes went wide. They told me I should have called 911 days ago. With their help, the harasser disappeared and my fear for my safety slowly deescalated.
Regardless, my bubble of resolution dissipated; my idea that I was able to stand up for myself withered away.
If someone decides to harass me, they will. I can only respond. My response is important and necessary for my safety, but a response is not wholly preventative. I’ll continue to be harassed — not until I am old or ugly―but until people decide to stop harassing me.
The trauma that results from harassment invades my ability to feel safe, my ability to feel whole and my ability to function adequately. What about the anger and the brokenness those persons who have been manipulated, assaulted, kidnapped or raped must feel?
My experiences are not isolated. I am not the only woman who feels unsafe on a regular basis even in our so-called civil society.
Even at UD―with an uptick in reported rapes on campus, with an abduction attempt, with a man sneaking into Clark Hall―something is wrong.
I am angry and exhausted, and I don’t want to feel that way anymore.
Father Thomas Esposito offered this advice: pity those men who are such slaves to their lust that they indulge in such disgusting and demeaning behavior. A man’s treatment of me does not define who I am. My value is inherent to me; it is not reliant on a lustful man enslaved by his passions and thoughts.
This is April. It’s sexual assault awareness month. Remind each other of our inherent value and human dignity and treat everyone accordingly. Avoid degrading treatment and refuse to tolerate it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual assault and the feelings that either precede or accompany it, reach out to the numerous resources on campus: UDPD, the Title IX office, the counseling center, the OSA, campus ministry and the professed religious on campus.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 800-656-HOPE (4673).