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.
I am blown away by your courage and goodwill. My best wishes that this drama resolves soon to your satisfaction.