And who really needs this kind of training? No one. But who needs sexual harassment training? Everyone. In fact, our culture needs to be "trained." The only way that sexual harassment, sexism, mass shootings, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and other problems that stem from gender inequality will ever begin to go away.
So, it seems that this is the perfect time to share the following open letter. As you can see from the title, this letter brings together the personal and the structural. This one woman's experience is not an isolated incident, nor is the way in which the situation was dealt with. The training says now: "Your employer is committed, and has a legal responsibility, to resolve and prevent situations of sexual harassment. Give them the opportunity to help you before contemplating a job move or legal action." Indeed.
Asking "Sister, are you okay?" to someone you see getting harassed, is an empowering thing. Not only are you letting her know that what happened is wrong, but you are standing with her so she is not alone in a culture that accepts harassment as a part of the norm and just part of "boys being boys." You treat her as if she is family because she is. As fellow human beings some of the most important things we must do in our lifetime are to spread love, safety, and equality for everyone. When the law is broken and she is sexually harassed, stand beside her, show her kindness, and treat her like she is your sister for she is not a sex object to be played with at will. When you see a fellow human kicked to the ground, too afraid to get back up, would you leave her there in pain or would you risk injury to yourself to help her stand? She is not a possession. Her body belongs to no one but herself. Being there for her reminds her that she is strong, that she is a survivor.
After suffering a lifetime of abuse, I thought I was finally free to find peace in all areas of my life. I pride myself on being open and honest--on being me. Naïve and taught to trust everyone, I have encountered more and more trauma. Still finding my way through the cruel reality I was surrounded by, I met you. And upon learning about my past, that I was a survivor of abuse, you took advantage of me. You said all the right, comforting things so I would trust you. You saw how vulnerable I was and tried to fuck with me. You would watch my body as I walked. Your eyes would linger and grow heavy with want. Mouth agape, you’d lick your lips and ask to have a taste of what belonged to me. For hours you’d sit in your chair and talk about what you thought was an object born for your personal pleasure and would beg me to go with you to your car so you could take advantage of this body you thought belonged to you. “No,” I said turning my body away from you in embarrassment, and yet you persisted. You pushed.
You took up more space. You stood behind me and would whisper in my ear your desires. I could feel your hot breath on my neck, rolling down my spine, forcing me to shrink under the weight your words carried. Shrinking further and further into myself as you peered down at me, fear consumed and immobilized me. Fear that echoed from my past abusers and fear of you. I twirled the ring on my finger in hopes of calming down so you wouldn’t see me cry. In the safety of my car I wept. I wept because my trust was broken yet again and I had more to fear than just my past.
I became afraid to walk to my car at night because you might be waiting for me. Afraid to come to work because sometimes you’d treat me like the friend I trusted, and other days you’d act like a hunter slaughtering a deer with your wanting eyes ripping into my clothes to reveal the flesh you craved. It wasn’t long before you began brushing up against me so your hand would graze my ass and you could drink the spoils of your demeaning behavior and abuse of power. Paralyzed with fear, I did nothing. I made excuses for you. I made excuses for myself. Since you were leaving the company we worked for, I thought your leaving would make me feel safe again. I thought it would be easy to just let you go, to let my fear and insecurity leave with you. To my astonishment and disappointment, you changed your mind and decided to stay.
To the one teacher who stood by me and protected my rights to the best of her ability, thank you. You sought justice where others fell silent. You found legal help for me when others wanted me to keep quiet and accept the lack of action taken because it is a “he said/she said situation.” You reported his illegal actions and encouraged me to put my fears aside and come forward. You asked, “Sister, are you okay?” You found my strength and taught me lessons I never learned in a classroom. You taught me self-care and how to build the walls necessary to keep evil like my sexual harasser’s out. With each new brick to this wall I could feel the foundations of empowerment form.
Out of dread that he would treat my fellow coworkers with the same disrespect, I stood up to fight his perversion, but I was not alone. We stood together and created an unbreakable force. There has been no real resolution--no justice--but we are fighting this battle for all women who will encounter this man and others like him. I take part in an effort to create a world where we are all free from oppression, harassment, and coercion. To those who are suffering, I am here. I am with you. I am listening. I am fighting. We are not helpless victims who must shrink in fear. We stand together. Together we can reach out to all of those who are oppressed and seek a better world.
To my sexual harasser, apparently I need to make this clear as you have yet to grasp the meaning of consent. This is my body. My body belongs to me. My body is sacred and you have no excuses for your behavior. The system has made excuses for you. The system has blamed me because that is what it does to women. It has tried to take away my voice. I’ve had enough abuses and pain. I stand to stop the internal screams. You can’t touch me anymore.
My sisters stand strong with me.
--Jessica L. Bishop