Comic Relief

Life has a way of hitting the Reset button, and I must admit that I appreciate that.  And, honestly, this Reset is too good not to share.

One might perceive that I am all Doom and Gloom what with writing a blog like this, but that is far from the truth (In fact, I just spent ten minutes dancing to K-Pop in my bedroom as a study break.  I highly recommend BTS’s “Illegal”).

Anyway, after the visit to the Respondent’s attorney this morning to sign the settlement agreement, I went to visit my lovely esthetician for some *ahem* personal waxing.  I just wanted to feel like a normal human being again, and, besides, I already had the appointment scheduled.  I felt it was time to get my focus back.  There’s nothing like having hair ripped out of sensitive body parts to do just that.

Brazilian waxing is an odd experience.  I won’t lie.  I am by nature a very modest person.  I hated labor and delivery for this very reason.  All those people sauntering in and out of the room while your body is on full display? I never grew accustomed to it.  I could say it’s my disposition combined with being raised by stoic Scandinavians in a very gender-biased Southern culture.  The advice I was given for almost all contexts of life was, “Remember to keep your knees together, dear.”  Consequently, the fact that I can even lie on a table in a Figure 4 position and tolerate hot wax being poured and torn off my lady parts is an authentic victory for me.  I feel empowered and ultra-hygienic when I leave my esthetician’s house.  It’s one of those luxuries that I don’t take for granted.

So, there I was today, lying on her table, recounting the past month’s events as she loudly empathized with me.  She’s like my Jewish auntie: “Oy, no! Did he really? I can’t believe it! What did you doooooo?” ::rip::

As I waited for her to finish, I looked up at the ceiling.  It was then that I saw it.  A spider.  Before I could say anything, he descended directly onto my chest.  I managed to yell out, “SPIDER!”

My esthetician shrieked and started hitting me in an attempt to kill the spider.  I was stuck on the table.  There was wax on me, and, you know, I had no pants on! Where was I going to go? I couldn’t offer any assistance at all.

“Did you get it? Did you get it?” I asked, feeling helpless.

“No…no….not yet…no,” she quickly answered.

More hitting.  Then shoving.  It crawled on my arm.  I felt it.  I screamed.  Then, it crawled under me.  She shoved me to the side of the table.

“Is it in my hair?” I asked beginning to panic.  I am somewhat terrified of spiders.

“I got it!” she exclaimed.

For a moment, we were silent and wide-eyed, and then we started laughing almost hysterically.  I’m not sure why.  I think that she is afraid of spiders, too, and we were experiencing a massive dump of stress hormones.  I felt ridiculously vulnerable lying almost buck ass naked on her table while a spider crawled on me, and she had to kill an insect she feared.

I gave her an extra big tip and left her house feeling a little more like myself than when I arrived.  So, I’m hitting the books, studying for my first midterm tomorrow, and getting on with things spiders and settlement agreements be damned.

And thank you for sharing the journey with me.  I have appreciated that more than I can adequately say.

Shalom, MJ

 

 

 

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Meet the Parents

If you are new to my blog, I will bring you up to speed.

In January 2017 I enrolled in 4-year graduate degree program in order to specialize in Traditional Chinese Medicine and integrative medicine.  A month after I began my program, a man in my program began harassing me.  At first, I brushed it off as obnoxious behavior, but I started changing how I dressed in case it was more; I was anxious.  I stopped wearing make-up and started wearing hoodies, ponytails, jeans, and Converse sneakers.  In other words, I dressed like my 14 year-old.  Alas, he continued to target me including unwanted sexual touching and battery.  This continued intermittently for a year.

I documented every encounter in detail.  I reported it to my college’s administration, thusly, beginning what has come to feel like the Battle Royale.  The college administration would not implement Title IX procedure or policy due to cronyism.  I had to attend classes with him, tolerate continued nonverbal harassment, and then finally another confrontation.  Finally, I petitioned the court for an Harassment Restraining Order (HRO), and it was granted although temporarily because the Respondent (the harasser) contested it meaning I have to appear in court for a hearing.

This brings me to the present.  His family asked to meet with me in order to reach a settlement agreement to avoid the hearing.  Initially, I thought, “Why would I do that? I’m going to do my best to keep that HRO.”  Then, I spoke to another woman at my school who has endured the same process.  I’m incredulous.  What are the odds? Two women in four months filing for HROs from two male students in the same graduate program? I then opted to file an official complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and, after a telephonic interview and review of my complaint, they will be officially investigating my college for discrimination.

So, yesterday, I met with the Respondent’s family for three hours at a local restaurant.  It was surreal.  They don’t want a hearing.  They want to reach a settlement agreement.  It was long and exhausting, and, to be honest, I truly empathized with them.  I’m a mother.  I understand their point of view.  They were honest with me.  They recognized their son’s deficits and his wrongdoing.  It must be noted that his family is from another country and culture.  Their culture’s family norms differ from popular American family norms.  If an eldest son commits acts like he has towards me, then it brings shame to the family as a whole; and, the family as a unit takes on the debt–not just the individual.  I understood this, and this is largely why I agreed to share a meal with them.  I am not litigious by nature and prefer negotiations when at all possible.  As a lawyer who is near and dear to me said, “If you are litigating, then both sides have lost.”  The pending hearing would require litigation.

They did not bring their attorney with them.  I mirrored that as a sign of cooperation.  And, what I can say with complete confidence is that you should never attempt to do anything like this without an attorney.  They wanted me to sign a contract agreeing to drop the HRO.  They were very concerned that their son’s life would be ruined with the label of “harasser” or “sexual harasser”.  As concerned as they were for me and my sense of safety, their concern was always first and foremost for the future of their son.  I expected that.  Parents are the best advocates for their kids–even when their kids behave very badly.

I had to push quite hard for strong contractual stipulations and be able to defend my position in a persuasive way in order to convince them.  I succeeded on the points that mattered the most, but the experience did not feel empowering.  I felt blamed somehow.  They blamed me because I sought out the legal system for help because their son would not respond to “Stop,” and “Leave me alone.”  This morning as I negotiated on the phone, his father asked me, “Are you trying to ruin his life and future?” I paused, took a breath, and answered, “No, we are in a settlement agreement because your son refused to comply with the school’s code of conduct and violated his second warning.  He is now suspended for a third violation and restricted by an HRO granted by a judge.  He is ruining his own life.  I’m merely insisting that the document I sign is enforceable in a court and protects me and your son.  Isn’t that what you want, too? Legal protection for his interests?”

After that, the negotiations went smoothly.  I am not thrilled with any of this.  In the end, the Respondent will continue on with his life and educational privileges, and I will have absorbed the wrongful acts.  It doesn’t feel just enough.

I have been sitting around in my pajamas all day today.  I have midterm exams next week, and I just don’t care.  That will pass.  I will rebound, but what I can say is that this is the “real” reality of sexual harassment.  The other woman at my school who was forced to file for an HRO? Her harasser will return to complete his education after she graduates.  My harasser will continue his medical education as well.  What are the truly meaningful consequences for these men for harassing two women for over a year? What kind of medical practitioners will these men become?

I am profoundly troubled by the unknowns, but this is what I do know:

Never sign anything without consulting your attorney.  

Also, attorneys cost not a little money which is likely why victims of harassment probably don’t receive the advocacy they deserve nor report the harassment.  It has been a pain in the ass the whole time complete with insomnia, panic, anxiety, and crying jags.  And, it’s not over.  The OCR investigation is only just beginning, but I’m ready for it.  Appropriate changes will be made and enforced–by the Feds!

At least when I leave this school, I’ll have left a mark on it–for the better– even if my harasser still gets to attend classes there.

 

 

 

 

What’s Behind Victim-Blaming?

I feel like I’m writing installments for a weird soap opera–“Tune in today for the continuation of the saga.  Will there be an investigation? Will the administration give up their lazy ways and comply with Title IX? Will there still be a hearing? What about the other known harassers at the college? What happens when parents get involved? Find out what’s next on ‘The Cowardly and The Compliant’.  Brought to you by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.”

The current situation is not what I imagined when I decided to return to grad school.  Sexual harassment was not on the menu.  Sure, I anticipated that a graduate medical program would be hard.  It should be difficult.  And, when I realized that my harasser was going to continue in his pattern of predatory behavior after a year of intermittent harassment, I anticipated that reporting him would be unpleasant.  Reporting sexual harassment is always unpleasant because you are forced to disclose what has happened to you, and that inevitably provokes feelings of vulnerability and shame.  It also raises internal doubts like, “What if no one believes me?” and “What if I am blamed for the harassment?”– and the oft asked question “Why did you wait to report it?”

The questions that are asked of victims of myriad types of harassment and sexual harassment in specific seem to inherently blame the victim, and I suspect that this is the case because there is a culture of blame surrounding sexual misconduct embedded in our culture.  Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, raped, and/or sexually harassed knows this.  The psychology that arises within victims after experiencing the aforementioned is almost always one of self-blame as well: “Did I do something to make him/her think I wanted that? I think it might be my fault.”  And, too often, others are more than willing to agree with that sentiment–“Well, maybe you were too friendly with him/her.  You are sort of flirty.”  There is, however, something more at play…

“I think the biggest factor that promotes victim-blaming is something called the just world hypothesis,” says Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at the University of the South and founding editor of the APA’s Psychology of Violencejournal. “It’s this idea that people deserve what happens to them. There’s just a really strong need to believe that we all deserve our outcomes and consequences.”

Hamby explains that this desire to see the world as just and fair may be even stronger among Americans, who are raised in a culture that promotes the American Dream and the idea that we all control our own destinies.

“In other cultures, where sometimes because of war or poverty or maybe sometimes even just because of a strong thread of fatalism in the culture, it’s a lot better recognized that sometimes bad things happen to good people,” she says. “But as a general rule, Americans have a hard time with the idea that bad things happen to good people.” (The Psychology of Victim-Blaming)

I have encountered this phenomenon for 26 years.  Generally, people are very uncomfortable with the idea that they could do all the right things in life and still suffer.  The summer before I started undergrad in the 90s, I unknowingly lived next door to a man wanted by Interpol for human trafficking and other crimes.  He had multiple aliases.  He was extremely charming and very smart.  On a hot, summer day in August, he abducted me, and I got to experience human trafficking.  I can’t begin to count how many times it has been insinuated to me that I should have known he was a criminal.  I have been told directly a few times that it was my fault.  I understand the reasons.  People cling to the idea that if you do everything right, then you will escape tragedy.

You won’t.  Sometimes the unspeakable happens, and there is no good reason for it.  And, I don’t know about you, but that is hard to live with.  I’ve lived with the fallout of that horrible experience for the last 26 years of my life.  Consequently, on good days, I feel a strange sympathy for the people who blame me for being trafficked or harmed in other ways.  They have to in order to feel safe in the world.  It is, of course, a grand illusion.  I know that, and there is cold comfort in my understanding their perspective.  Still, that understanding prevents me from feeling re-victimized when I have to make difficult decisions like filing a complaint against my college with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

And how is that going, you ask?

An investigator with the OCR called me last week for a phone interview.  We talked for an hour and a half.  She said that she would notify me this week via email if their office decided to open an investigation into my college.  I learned last night that the OCR is probably going to investigate my college.  This is not a small thing.  This will likely take six months.  This is a federal investigation.  The school will know that I am the one who filed the complaint.  It’s somewhat anxiety-provoking.  If I’m not currently on their Shit List, then I certainly will be once they get wind of the investigation.

Why did I go so far as to file a complaint with the OCR? I did it because I learned of three other harassment cases at my school that took place within a year of each other, and the administration of the college failed to act in all cases.  Another student also had to file for an harassment restraining order (HRO), and it was granted.  A teacher is currently being stalked by a student, and the student who harassed me also sexually harassed another woman at my school engaging in unwanted sexual touching.  A female student even went so far as to publicly retaliate against another student for attempting to report a student for sexual harassment.  In all cases, the college sided with the harassers, thusly, creating a sexually hostile environment.  By definition, this is discrimination based on sex which is why it is reportable to the OCR; it is a violation of Title IX.  It is also wrong.  Something should be done about it.  I’m in a position to be the person who does something.

As for the dreaded hearing, it is scheduled for next week, but the parents of the man harassing me have requested that we meet.  He is 26 years-old, but it appears that his parents take responsibility for him and his actions.  They do not want a hearing.  They want to have a “sit-down” this week.  None of this feels real to me.  Honestly, I’d just like to go to school and become a doctor, but there are dragons to slay, I guess.

Next week, I have midterms.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “The Cowardly and The Compliant”.  Will MJ meet The Parents, keep her HRO, and pass her midterms? Who’s to say…

Further Reading:

“The Psychology of Victim-Blaming” The Atlantic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Reporting Harassment Matters

Amidst the #Metoo movement and Harvey Weinstein perp walk, one might begin to believe that dealing with the nuts and bolts of reporting sexual harassment would suddenly get easier.  It really hasn’t, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.  You totally should.

Realistically, it might cost you something.  Why? Well, reporting it doesn’t mean that it will stop.  You might actually experience retaliation.  You could get fired if you’re being harassed in the workplace and report it.  Teachers could treat you differently if you’re being harassed at school.  You could become a pariah if the person harassing you is well-liked.

In the past month, I’ve witnessed all of this, and I am trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.  I was never naive about what could happen when I decided to report my harasser to my college’s administration.  The last time I reported sexual harassment I was fired.  I actually lost my job! The company was in the middle of an IPO, and they didn’t want any trouble.  Rather than fire the harasser, they fired me–the woman who talked.

The best part of this story, however, is that, during that time, I was having coffee once a week with a man who was a former FBI special agent.  We originally met at Starbucks where I often studied.  He was a regular.  I was a regular.  Somehow, his regular coffee visits turned into coffee with me.  We discussed politics and current events, and he liked French literature which is what I was studying.  He always wore a seersucker suit with a bowtie.  His name was Charlie.  He retired from the FBI and became a foremost expert in administering polygraph tests.  Think Robert DeNiro’s character in “Meet the Parents”.  He traveled all over the world administering polygraph tests.  I would try so hard to tempt him into telling me stories about his latest trips, but the man was a vault.  He would just smirk and redirect the conversation.

On the day I was fired from my job for reporting sexual harassment, I went to Starbucks seeking sugary consolation and ordered the most fattening drink they had.  I found a hidden corner table, licked whipped cream off a spoon, and cried.  Charlie came in for his regular black coffee and saw me.  He was always very affable and gentle, but, when he saw me crying, he wasn’t affable at all.  He became the FBI agent.  The interrogation began.  Why was I crying? Who did it? What happened? I told him the whole story complete with the disgusting details of the harassment and the humiliating firing while stuffing a peanut butter cookie in my mouth.  He nodded.  He pulled out his business card, wrote a number on it, and said, “Call this number and tell them I sent you.”

It was a lawyer.  I groaned and told him that I didn’t want a lawyer.  I just wanted to put the situation behind me.  He insisted.  I reluctantly called the number the next day.  The woman on the other end of the line curtly told me that everyone was busy until I said, “Charlie told me to call.”  Suddenly, she said, “One moment please.”

In a matter of seconds, a male voice was on the line.  He arranged an appointment the next day, and I met with him.  As it turns out, the lawyer I met that day was former White House counsel, and he was exceedingly polite and accommodating.  He listened to my entire story.  Had “The West Wing” been a TV show at that time, I would have felt like I was in an episode.  In the end, it was decided that there was nothing I could do.  I was wrongfully fired, but some injustices you just have to swallow.  That never felt right to me.  I think men and women are just plain tired of swallowing against their will.

Ten years later, a class action lawsuit was filed by a class of women in that company that fired me, and they won.  And, I received a check in the mail for a few thousand dollars.  As it turns out, that company made a habit of firing women who reported sexual harassment.  My reporting the harassment–and being fired–established a record.  There is no legal record if you don’t report the harassment.  That is one reason why you must report harassment.  It is vital to establish a record.  In this way, if someone is harassed after you and they report it, the record shows that others have made reports as well.  And, this is how you build a case.

Why is building a case important? Well, in the case of institutions, it becomes vital because an individual case of harassment can rarely take down an institution or, at a minimum, bring disciplinary measures.  Institutions have far more resources in terms of money and legal representation than any one person; but if a group of people (like a class) can show a pattern relating to an institution (like a group of women and my former company), then traction can be made in terms of legitimizing complaints.

In my current situation, I reported to my school’s administration that I had been harassed.  They failed to implement Title IX policy.  I documented that.  My harasser harassed me again.  I documented that and reported it.  The school failed to implement Title IX policy again.  I filed for an HRO and a judge granted it.  My harasser is contesting the HRO, and I have to attend a hearing.  I also reported the Title IX implementation failure to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The OCR has contacted me, and I speak to them this week via a phone interview.  If the OCR decides that my case is not severe enough to pursue, then at least there will be a record.  If anyone else reports anything to the OCR in the future, then my case will be on record and will also establish a pattern.

Proper documentation and reporting are vital even if you are afraid.  In fact, I can guarantee that if you are experiencing harassment, you will be anxious.  I am, but fear of intimidation and retaliation is exactly why harassment in various settings has been allowed to persist.  Yes, this is exhausting.  Yes, I don’t even want to go to school.  I’m weary of looking at the administrators.  Had they done their jobs in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this position.  I can state with certainty that I don’t want to go to court.  Alas, the rest of society is in a position to put a stop to a culture that condones harassment because large numbers of people standing together with a unified voice are far harder to intimidate and retaliate against than a select few.  Maintaining that unity over the longterm is how we will change this culture.

I encourage you to initiate change by educating yourself and those around you.  We can potentially build a world where #Metoo won’t even be a thing anymore.

Sexual Harassment 101: What Everyone Needs to Know (The Guardian)

Resisting Rulemaking: Challenging the Montana Settlement’s Title IX Sexual Harassment Blueprint (this is published in Notre Dame Law Review and provides an excellent “blueprint” for what schools, colleges, and universities should do under Title IX policies and procedures in the context of harassment.  It is also excellent in terms of educating oneself in the language of Title IX and what one’s rights are as well as what one should expect in terms of what Title IX provides.  It is a must read if you attend a school that receives federal funding aka FAFSA funding.)

 

 

 

Filing for an Harassment Restraining Order and Title IX

I never thought I would entitle a blog post as such, but, alas, I now know how to file for an HRO–an harassment restraining order.  I’ve been writing about sexual harassment in my medical school program because I’ve been experiencing it for over a year now.  I’ve followed every procedure to the letter, and the harasser will not stop.  He has escalated to making veiled threats against my children.  He is a 26 year-old dude for crying out loud.  Only five years older than my daughter!  And yet he has fixated on me.  It has created a very strange reality; I’m actually afraid.

On Tuesday last, I went out to dinner with another student who has experienced similar circumstances in our program, and I had a wonderful time.  She is a very courageous woman who has navigated the legal system with the help of an advocate from a local women’s advocacy center.  I felt profound admiration for her tenacity and deep anger for the injustice of her situation.  As she narrated her story to me over dinner, I could scarcely believe it.  A restraining order? Against a fellow student? In our school? And the very next day, I had to do the exact same thing.

The student who has been harassing me escalated his behavior.  I felt paralyzed.  Lo, guess who was just a room away.  My new friend who was just with me the previous evening.  She swept in and took me to the women’s advocacy center.  I disclosed the situation to two advocates, showed them all my previously filed legal documents with the Office of Civil Rights, the legal disclosures filed with the school, and personal documentation of his past actions.  The advocates unanimously agreed that the best course of action was to fill out and file an HRO.  In this way, the police could act upon my behalf, and steps could be taken to keep me and my minor children safe.

Can I just say that none of that felt real to me? I felt out of body and triggered by the entire circumstance.  I was having a problem speaking words.  But, I did it.  I filled out the HRO and printed out every piece of supporting evidence for the court.  My new friend and another woman from school went with me to the courthouse on Friday morning as I filed the HRO.  At that point, it is a petition for an HRO.  A judge has to grant it.  We went to a diner across the street, had breakfast, and waited together.  The court called me a few hours later.  My hands were trembling when I answered the phone.

The judge granted it.  I now have a restraining order against my harasser.  He has 20 days to contest it, and, if he does, I have to go to a hearing with an attorney.

There are obvious reasons why this situation is unjust and wrong.  I could go into great detail about it, but I won’t.

To me, however, there is one reason why this situation has been really good.  I have experienced the support of fellow women in a truly meaningful way in the context of social injustice.  There have been people in my program who have looked the other way and pretended that nothing was going on.  Teachers and administrators as well.  Even worse, other students have observed the harassment and buried their heads in the sand so to speak.  The community at large has condoned the harassment, and this is what perpetuates it.  Think about it.  If an entire workplace of employees protested sexual harassment, then would it continue? If an entire university or college protested sexual harassment and violence, would the administration continue to support the student perpetrators? Consider Penn State.  Well, they couldn’t.  They must get tuition from somewhere.  Sexual violence, hatred, and bigotry are as much a community problem as they are an administration problem.  One blames the victim while the other condones harassment and violence through silence.

It’s a difficult subject because once you start to speak up on behalf of someone else, you start to become an advocate; and advocacy will always cost you something.  You could experience retaliation.  Other people may distance themselves from you because they associate you with the people you are advocating for–guilt by association.  You could become a proxy representation and begin to receive more abuse than anyone else.  Look at Martin Luther King, Jr or Harvey Milk.  Advocacy doesn’t end well sometimes.  There are risks, and, let’s be real, who signs up for this? No one.  But, who signs up for harassment? No one.  Someone has to do something.  Don’t they? Who’s going to be the person who stands alongside victims and say, “I stand by you.  This won’t continue.  I’ll do something about this”?

Here’s the thing.  Nothing will change in a meaningful or permanent way if we don’t start standing up for one another.  And, I’m not necessarily talking about change on a macro-level.  I’m talking about micro-changes.  Using my college as an example, there is an established and documented pattern of sexual harassment within the school environment as more than one student experienced it.  We also experienced and continue to experience an apathetic response from the administration.  We are referred to law enforcement if we need help.  One might say, “Well, that is the school’s right.  They don’t have to help their students deal with harassers.  What’s the problem?”  Good point.

The problem is that if a school receives federal funding, then they must comply with all Title IX laws concerning discrimination.  Under Title IX, sexual harassment falls under discrimination, and the legal language is very specific about definitions and what a school is required to do about it.  If a school does not comply with Title IX, then they are in violation of it.  They have broken federal laws.  If a school is aware of discrimination and fails to address it, then they are not in compliance and must be investigated.

This is where documentation and reporting are absolutely vital.  The more people who are willing to report what they see, the better.  The more people who are willing to do this in a legal sense, the better.  Victims of harassment on school campuses can get little action from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) without documentation.  This is, however, how real social change comes about.  We’ve seen it happen right before our eyes this year what with the Weinstein Effect.  Story upon story came forth, thusly, destroying Harvey Weinstein and Miramax Entertainment.  Witnesses finally came forward to corroborate other witness statements.  It was never one big event that took down the giant.  Just a community of people who stood up for each other in real time and risked something.

I, therefore, challenge you.  We can’t complain about sexual harassment and terrible bosses, fellow employees and students if we ourselves won’t say anything or support another person experiencing it.  If we see it and know about it but fail to do anything, then how are we essentially different from the harassers? We are creating the environment that enables the abuse.  Social injustice will not stop until the environment that supports it makes no room for it any longer.  That begins with you.  And me.

Title IX: Know Your Rights

The Office of Civil Rights and Harassment Complaints

About the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

 

Reporting Sexual Harassment and Trauma

In a state of anxious frustration, I wrote about sexual harassment a few month’s ago.  Another student was sexually harassing me, and my school’s administration was less than stellar in their handling of the situation.  Well, they really didn’t handle it.  The situation is still “pending” in that other women have come forward with similar complaints about the same student.  I have learned that this student is a known offender, and the administration had known about his propensity to harass women for at least a year if not longer prior to my complaint.  And, they did nothing.  What’s more, he is studying to be a healthcare practitioner! Do you want to spend time alone in a room with a guy like this? I do not.  Alas, my school seems oblivious to the implications of graduating a predator, and I’m personally very alarmed by this.

I’m profoundly troubled not to mention I have two classes with this person. He sits directly behind me in one them and mouth breaths the entire time.

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Or, he turns around and stares directly at me glaring in a menacing way.  Either way, it is uncomfortable and disconcerting. Knowing now that the school administration lied to me about his history of harassment fires me up.  I am taking action, but, at the same time, I feel tremendous anxiety about doing so.  And this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of how both men and women must deal with social injustice in institutions.

Why is it so difficult and fear provoking? When faced with taking on an institution like a corporation or a college, why do so many people weight the costs and decide to absorb the inequity of the injustice?

The first reason is because institutions tend to exist well after complaints are made against them largely because they have almost infinite resources compared to complainants.  They often have a fleet of lawyers on retainer compared to the sole advocate that a complainant brings to the table.  This alone is often enough to deter a person from pursuing a complaint.  Institutions have financial resources that dwarf an individual’s bank account, and they have the will to go the distance in terms of the legal process.  Most individuals don’t have the time, energy, or money to devote to that process.

The second reason many people don’t pursue complaints against institutions is fear of retaliation.  People need their jobs, and students need to finish their degrees with the favor they’ve earned from their teachers.  Filing complaints can often obliterate favor, provoke bullying, and get you fired.  I was once fired from a job after I lodged a complaint of sexual harassment in my workplace.  The harassment was prolonged and severe.  A man in my office actually locked himself in the women’s bathroom with me and forced himself on me and engaged in forced sexual touching.  The company was in the middle of an IPO.  Rather than fire the man for harassment, the company fired me for saying anything.  This culture of gender discrimination is common, and it has become evident the world over what with the cascade of revelations following the Weinstein Effect and the #metoo movement.  So many men and women tolerated the intolerable for fear of retaliation.

I filed an official complaint with a governmental body that oversees colleges and universities, and I’m very fearful.  My fear is based in past experience with sexual trauma, and this is the third reason people often don’t report sexual harassment.  It provokes latent feelings of fear associated with past trauma that were never fully resolved.  In my case, it is so difficult to resolve the original trauma.  It is known on my blog that I survived human trafficking.  I was abducted when I was 18 years-old by a neighbor who masqueraded as a real estate agent.  In reality, he was a participant in an international human trafficking ring.  He was wanted by Interpol and other international law enforcement agencies.  I was taken across the country to a port city to be sold at auction.  Yes, there are super-wealthy men in the world who actually get together and bid on women in order to buy sex slaves.  If you’ve seen the movie “Taken”, it was startlingly similar to that except Liam Neeson didn’t rescue me.  I ran for my life and succeeded against all odds.  It was by far the weirdest and worst experience I’ve ever had.

I never had a chance to accuse my perpetrator in a court.  I did, however, live in fear of his finding me and taking me again for years.  He became the amorphous fear that haunted me.  He became the ultimate retaliation.  My escape and survival represented the complaint.  I was convinced that he was going to rain vengeance down upon me for staying alive.  Consequently, I learned to stay hidden in my life.  Don’t complain.  Be quiet.  Swallow mistreatment.  While my experience is extreme, it’s not difficult to make a comparison to other experiences.  When we have experiences in life that cause us to feel fear in terms of speaking up and self-advocating, we may discover that absorbing mistreatment is the better path if only to get us through the moments.  This might be adaptive in those moments, but, later on, this can become a habit.  This habit can become maladaptive later causing us to become victims of mistreatment and abuse.  We lose our ability to self-advocate and even begin to invite mistreatment largely because we lack a standard for how we should be treated.  We will tolerate anything because we are too fearful to say ‘no’.  And the fear is no longer valid.  The original object of our fear is long gone.  But, the fear remains, and the fear is no longer purposeful.  This purposeless fear is what I feel today.  It’s real, but it serves only to limit me.  It is purely trauma-based.

This is why I’m such a fierce advocate of healing trauma.  Our post-trauma brains served us once.  We survived our traumas, and that’s brilliant.  We should feel proud that our brains and bodies did that for us.  At the same time, post-trauma responses often become self-limiting because they do not serve us once the situations that cause trauma pass.  We must learn to deactivate the mechanisms in our bodies that keep us locked into Trauma Brain and Trauma Body so that we can do what must be done like report sexual harassment or advocate for those being victimized and not get triggered while doing so.

I do not know what will happen now that I’ve made an official complaint.  I’m not happy about this situation, but I did the right thing.  That has to be enough for now.

 

 

 

Jerry Seinfeld on Pain

It might be springtime where you live, but we just got hit with a doozy of a blizzard that dropped over a foot of snow on us.  And it’s still snowing.  Go home, Mother Nature.  You’re clearly drunk.

I thought I would use my time wisely indoors, but I didn’t.  After studying like a maniac for my hellish finals I crashed.  I decided to watch “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”.  Now, I loved “Seinfeld” the TV show, but Jerry Seinfeld the man doesn’t seem quite so affable playing himself.  He’s a bit of a trope really which disappoints me–guy gets rich and famous and doesn’t have to pretend to be a good person anymore because he can buy favor and has more money than he can spend.  You can observe this in the episode with Trevor Noah which is worth watching just to listen to what Trevor Noah has to say.

While Noah and Seinfeld are having coffee, Seinfeld does say something rather notable, and it threw me a bit because, to date, I haven’t heard Jerry Seinfeld say anything noteworthy.

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He illustrated his point by saying:

“When you stub your toe on the foot of the bed, that was a gap in knowledge.  And the pain is a lot of knowledge really quick.  That’s what pain is.”

That is an interesting perspective on pain.  Very rational.  I like it.  I tend to be emotionally driven; so, I appreciate a highly rational perspective on pain.  It brings balance to my overly internalized process which often becomes dangerously introspective and too contemplative.  Perseverative even.

Of course, there is no wisdom here concerning how to deal with whatever new information is causing pain.  It is merely another perspective.  Void of blame and accusation.  I think that’s why it’s appealing.

You may find it to be a useful perspective the next time you stub your toe in real time or metaphorically.