I spent over 20 years denying my experience of sexual assault and harassment during college. It wasn’t violent, so I didn’t think I had a right to complain. I blamed myself and assumed there was something wrong with me for not being able to let it go.
Why was I so weak? Why didn’t I report him?
I was a 19-year old sophomore, trying to earn money. I landed a part-time job as an assistant for an esteemed professor emeritus. He seemed like a kindly grandpa who was excited about his research and eager to share his knowledge.
His advances started slowly: His arm brushing mine. His hand resting on my knee. He told me I should unbutton my shirt farther. It would look nice that way, he’d say.
I didn’t pull away immediately or tell him off. I was afraid of being rude. I would laugh nervously and change the subject.
Once, I brought some research to his house. His wife led us downstairs to his basement office. When she was out of sight, he abruptly turned and forcefully kissed me in the stairwell. I didn’t shout or scream. I was stunned and worried about embarrassing his wife.
After another incident of unwanted kissing, he said he loved me. I was 19 and didn’t know much, but I knew this had nothing to do with love. I realized I needed help and called my parents.
The advice I received was to not rock the boat. He was just a dirty old man. Just quit the job and stay away from him. I did just that and buried my feelings. I never reported him or filed a complaint.
In that conversation with my parents, I learned that unwanted advances from men were to be expected and ignored. No one was coming to my rescue. My independent and self-reliant nature added new walls and barbed wire.
A friend took the job. Years later, I learned the same thing happened to her. I felt enormous guilt for putting her in that position.
The feelings I buried did not go away. They resurfaced in my distrust of men, in my drinking, and in discomfort with my own sexuality. Most recently, my memories, shame, and anger from experience have come flooding back with #MeToo stories.
I realize I cannot keep them buried. Forgiveness is required. I forgive my 19-year old self. She did the best she could to get out of the situation. I forgive my father for not giving me better advice. He relied on what he knew to protect me from further harm. I even forgive the professor. He can no longer take advantage of me.
I must add my voice to the #MeToo chorus. There is power and healing to be found in truth. I owe that much to myself and the next generation of men and women.
To that professor and any employers and academics like him, I can now say: #TimesUp.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), visit National Sexual Violence Resource Center or rainn.org for more help and resources.