You ever have one of those situations where someone hugs you, those lingering hugs where it’s too close for comfort? Have you ever had someone just nonchalantly ‘bump’ into you or inappropriate commentary or gestures that leave you feeling both vulnerable and cheap? Some sexual harassment is more obvious than others and there are so many levels of harassment that sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late. How do you deal with sexual harassment or harassment in general and how does it affect you? Well, I have had more than my fair share of instances and drawing a line is sometimes hard when you feel like there could be repercussions if you open up and say something.
I’ve always been afraid of opening my mouth; I tend to be the person who tries to maintain the peace in any situation. I have been harassed so much throughout my life that it has left scars upon me that I fear will never heal and with every time it happens, it’s like the scab from previous instances are torn open and start oozing my confidence until there is nothing left but this shell of a person that feels not only victimized, but hopeless and cheap. The worst part about it is being laughed at as a result and not taken seriously when I had clearly indicated that the behavior wasn't appropriate and unwelcome. I get this sick feeling in my stomach, where all I want to do is cry and scream and ask ‘Why?’
In certain instances it’s hard to open up, out of fear that you won’t be believed or that the person who is harassing you makes you feel as though you are joke and not to be taken seriously. You fear that there will be some sort of retaliation if you stand up for yourself or that you will have something to lose if you do. It could be a job, or your kids (if it’s an ex-spouse), an ex-boyfriend who will get his friends to make a mockery of you escalating to defamation. It could be coworkers jealous of your skills who then single you out to mock your accomplishments and sexual harassment is a way to make someone feel inferior.
Besides sexual harassment, there are also other forms of harassment, behaviors of other individuals who needlessly subject you to serious blows to emotion-whether it is a result of race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other quality or attribute that can be isolated and singled out. Even as a stay-at-home mother for the past five years has subjected me to harassment or at the very least, scrutiny. Those individuals insult my choice to raise my children look down upon me for it, causing me to feel bad about my choices for they aren’t the ones the aggressor would choose themselves or they simply view the ‘job’ as not a job but laziness.
People tend to harass others for the same reason why children are bullied in school, and sadly enough as we get older, we get better material to cut people down with. Children are hit the most, simply because they have not developed the emotional barrier to withstand the abuse whereas adults have had numerous experiences and have developed that sort of tolerance for it. We tell our children to brush it off, and proceed with that old adage ‘sticks and stones’ but even adults struggle with the repercussions of harassment and the psychological and emotional damage that it does to a person. So do we have to start practicing what we preach, or are there ulterior actions that could be put into play?
There are laws that protect those who are labeled in the society for being different. Different labels define us in mainstream society. Gay. Woman. Straight. White. Black. Bipolar. Student. Woman. Man. Old. Young. Take your pick for there are an infinite number of labels. Within each label are characteristics, qualities that are attributed to these labels which of course lead to stereotyping. These stereotypes are generalized attributes associated with different groups, branching out into subsectors such as Baptists versus Southern Baptists. It is with these stereotypes that people tend to be singled out and harassed-because those qualities are different or the mainstream belief in one group differs from that of another.
Everyone suffers from being singled out at least once within their lives. Whether it is for sexual gratification where someone feels the need to take advantage, or simply the aggressor feels that need for empowerment and by victimizing individuals the aggressor is then emotionally satisfied.
Now, I am not a psychology major, nor am I an expert in this field-but I do know what it feels like from the perspective of a victim. I’ve been sexually harassed, teased, bullied as a child as well as in my adulthood; I’ve been singled out over particular qualities about me that set me apart from the rest. I’ve been ridiculed for my current lack of employment, accused of being ‘unambitious’ and a loser (despite the fact that I’m going to college to earn my degree, to better myself for my children as well as myself). I’ve been told I’m too strange, that I have too much energy. The qualities about me that my friends admire the most, my hyperactivity and my usual jolly disposition have fallen under attack causing me to second guess myself. Should I be different to appease the tastes of those who do not like me? Should I become a chameleon and never have a true identity-simply morph into whatever is socially acceptable depending on what company I am in. Or should I remain true to myself and simply take what people say as a grain of salt? Easier said than done, that’s for sure. I thought I had grown out of being bullied after I graduated high school, after I got out of my twenties, and I suppose that now that I am in my early thirties I can perhaps dodge the abuse. But I know that everyone is a victim, and no one is immune. There is no vaccine for being bullied or harassed.
Some harassment and ridicule can be shrugged off, but sometimes when it escalates to where you are constantly inundated with words and actions of hatred, that is when you have to draw the line and look to authorities to help manage the problem. When it gets to this point though, it’s usually when people begin to fear the consequences of reaching out for help. Victims begin to weigh their options: Which is harder to deal with? Dealing with this harassment that constantly puts me into a state of anxiety and distress or contacting authorities and have that constant paranoia in the back of my mind that the harassment will only escalate as a result? It’s a legitimate fear, honestly, but if the cycle of harassment and abuse continues, others will fall victim. Opening up and saying something about it not only helps you in the long run, but probably helps out other nameless victims who lack the courage themselves to have a voice for themselves.
One important thing to remember is that you are not alone and there are a number of resources that you can attain to help you, whether it is a friend to talk to, support groups, university programs, or church members and authorities-there is someone who will always be willing to help. The biggest step you have to take though, is asking for it.