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.
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.