It’s been too long since my last post. Forgive me, faithful readers.
I was not prepared for how I would feel after I reported the ongoing sexual harassment–the Sean Situation.
One imagines that it would be empowering. From experience, I can tell you that it really isn’t. For me, it’s embarrassing, and, when you read the numerous accounts of men and women who delay initial outcries, one of the reasons that they do not say anything after sexual harassment and/or violence is shame. There is something keenly embarrassing and humiliating about being touched, groped, sexually harassed, and verbally harassed. It is supposed to be that way. These encounters are not mutual. They are embodiments of the power differential. One person has the power to coerce. The power to push down. The power to silence. The power to cause another person to mistrust their own instincts. The power to shift blame onto a victim.
For me, disclosing these experiences to people in power, to the people who will make decisions on how to proceed, was not ideal. I felt rather like a curiosity. The Dean of my school wanted to meet with me. He read my disclosure. He stared at me with his ever-present smile and asked, “What do you want me to do?” I felt confused.
That’s the moment I knew that I was going to have to take a strong position. The administration would not advocate after all for their students even with a perpetrator among them. I wrote the administration a very diplomatic but strongly worded letter citing their own policies concerning harassment on campus. I used their own definitions of harassment and sexual harassment and juxtaposed it with my on-campus experiences with Sean as already disclosed for the legal record. I asked them to implement their policies. As a result, Sean was reprimanded. His teachers were notified of his behaviors and will monitor him.
I see him in class every week. It is impossible not to notice him. He sits in front of me.
Someone might ask, “What was so bad about that?”
I try not to describe any of this from the mindset of feeling victimized per se. I don’t enjoy that feeling. I like feeling strong. I don’t, however, want to disclose personal information to anyone at my school about my life in terms of my former marriage or the reasons that marriage ended. After you escape an environment wherein there was domestic violence and abuse, there is something almost magical about the idea of starting over. Going to a new place where no one knows you. No one knew you when you were drowning or looked like the walking dead for a few years as you were trying to figure out how to leave.
In a legal disclosure, you must disclose everything that occurred between you and the person harassing you–even why you didn’t report it initially. In explaining the situation to one of my teachers who has come to know me fairly well, I gave him background information. I felt compelled to disclose that I had experienced domestic abuse in my former marriage. This was the primary reason I didn’t report Sean’s behavior for a year. I wasn’t sure that he was even harassing me. Compared to what I had been experiencing, his behavior was somewhat oppressive, but I didn’t require surgery for any of it. My compass was somewhat broken. That information was passed on to the teachers on the administrative board of my school who are also teachers I see daily. They now know very personal information about me–information I really wanted to remain private. In the grand scheme of it all, does it matter? No. In terms of cultivating dignity, does it matter? It sure as shit does.
Rebuilding a sense of dignity and keeping it might cost you something, and advocacy be it for yourself or others will most definitely cost you something. Sean won’t be able to harass other people now. To be honest, I didn’t expect to feel so personally disrupted by it. I thought I would just sail through it, but I didn’t. After the disclosure and meeting with the Dean, I didn’t want to leave my house. I didn’t want to go to school. I felt some kind of re-victimization by the entire process particularly when I had to tell the school to implement their own policies. Do the right thing even if only for the sake of doing the right thing!
I think, however, that doing “the right thing” probably always costs us something whatever the right thing happens to be. It is why it is so exhilarating and encouraging when you see someone do it. And, it’s why you have to find some kind of identifying strength in doing it in private. There are many times when we make decisions to do the right thing, and no one will ever know what we did. Only we know. We know how much it costs, and we know how it feels not to be validated for it. You must learn to self-validate and find some kind of strength that endures in the knowledge of your own integrity. This is essentially grit.
This is the back end of resiliency and character development. At some point, making better choices and living with integrity become the only decision to make because you no longer care what anyone knows or thinks about you. You only care about what is the best and most integrous decision for the circumstances–regardless of public opinion or personal cost.
Honestly, I want to be in the company of people like this. People like this make the world better. There is no shortcut to this sort of character development. It happens through suffering and a commitment to bettering oneself in spite of and with it along with a refusal to embrace cynicism and bitterness.
So, if there could be a bright side to closing the chapter on this circumstance, then perhaps it is knowing that I was true. I know what I value. I know what I want.
And, you know, knowing what you want is a big deal. There was a time when I wasn’t sure about anything.
2018 sure has been interesting, hasn’t it?
As always, keep going. You never know what’s waiting for you around the bend…