By Chris Heide
This month, Alyssa Milano tweeted about sexual harassment and abuse, using the hashtag #MeToo, to encourage women to feel empowered to share their own experiences. Since then, the two-word protest campaign has gone viral, as countless women and men have come forward to share their own stories.
Telling anyone they shouldn't speak up about sexual harassment and abuse is just wrong. The #MeToo campaign is shedding light on the horrific abuses that women face everyday. I'm now seeing more and more people share their experiences as sexual harassment and abuse victims. Saying that anyone, man or woman, shouldn't speak up- that is not okay. That makes you part of the problem. No matter how the campaign started, no one should be silenced. Your truth is valid. To all the women in my life who are survivors of harassment and assault- I love you and support you. To to the men who have experienced sexual assault as well- I support you and understand you too.
The following is a collection of personal experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape. While these stories are harrowing, there is hope. Perhaps, one day, behaviors can change and society will no longer tolerate such abject behavior and deplorable toxic masculinity.
It’s rare that I’m intimidated by anyone. My extroversion and tall-frame give me a privilege both socially and physically which means that even though I walk ladies to their cars at night, or loiter before driving away when dropping them off at home for their safety, my own victimization would never even register in my brain. No man would ever put his hands on me without my consent, and if he did I’d be quick to call him out. Right?
When that stranger in the clean denim and bright white sneakers first made eye contact with me in the narrow hallway of the Police Department I thought maybe he knew me from somewhere? I’m equally as forgetful of both names and faces so faux greetings and niceties are second nature to me. He started to chat and I obliged since I was stuck in that line to pay my pending citations with no end in sight...but in moments I knew that he wasn’t some forgotten acquaintance.
He pushed himself behind me, all of him up against my body, and began whispering in my ear. I knew that I should object, but there were so many people around and I didn’t want to make a scene. As his hand roamed anywhere it wanted I bit my tongue instead of swatting it away. Suddenly my “extroversion” didn’t matter. My “tall frame” was insignificant. All of my years of telling others to speak up and fight back seemed to evaporate in that fluorescent hall and the seconds ticked by with aching intrusion.
We were in public, and I still didn’t say anything. He was much smaller than me, and I still didn’t stop him.
Minutes later when he finally took a seat to “wait for me” because I was “going with him”, I approached the counter to pay my fines. Instead I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and wrote a note to the officer behind the plexiglass.
“Please help me. The man sitting by the doorway sexually assaulted me, won’t leave, and I don’t know what to do.”
Sometimes I still don’t know what to do.
As a highly uninhibited, free-spirited, and sex-positive individual, I’ve always accepted that I’m at times subjecting myself to being seen or treated in a certain way. That said, it had never really registered until this whole #metoo campaign—where I’ve admired countless courageous women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment or violation—that some of the situations I’ve endured have been completely unacceptable. Some of these scenarios ranged from a stranger out of left field at a bar shoving their hands entirely down my pants after an immediate “WTF” reaction (and continued anyway) and an ex-classmate who I trusted taking complete advantage of me after I told them to “stop” and gave them zero indication I was ever interested. I thought it was a combination of the energy I give off in general, or being too drunk, and thus took on the blame.
Being gay especially can make the lines seem a little more blurred at times, too. With that aside, we as adults should always know to respect other people’s boundaries, and we should always know than to now listen immediately when someone is telling you how they’re feeling—no excuses. This campaign is reminding me that we (any identity*) shouldn’t have to tolerate this behavior whatsoever, and moving forward I will call it out when faced with it next time, no matter how uncomfortable I make that individual.
My ass has been grabbed at a club before by a stranger, but I don’t just keep walking. I don’t just ignore it. I make a point to say something. I will chase you down to say something. I don’t have a problem saying no or getting up in a guy’s face. I avoid situations that are unsafe and I don’t let anyone walk all over me.
Have I slept with a guy because he fed me some line? Absolutely! But, I learned from it. Do guys sometimes take it too far and hit a grey area of harassment? Yes. Do they even realize they’re doing it? Most of the time - no.
I feel as women we need to use our voice. I was raised to “use my words”. I’m not saying sexual harassment is ever the women’s fault. It never ever is. I’ve also never been raped and my perspective would probably be different if that were the case. What I’m saying is, no matter what – no one should be the victim. There are survivors of rape – not victims. There are survivors of sexual harassment – not victims of sexual harassment. At the end of the day this is an everybody problem. It’s so important to empower women to not be ashamed of the harassment and/or abuse they have experienced. Anytime I have experienced harassment, I go straight to fucking pissed. I think it’s great that other women are finely channeling that pain and anger and using their voice.