About this iReport
  • Approved for CNN

  • Click to view Shaheen1's profile
    Posted August 21, 2013 by
    South Hadley, Massachusetts
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Speaking up about sexual violence

    The Truth About Sexual Harassment: An Open Letter to Michaela Cross.


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Shaheen1, 22, is a senior at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She grew up in Bombay, India. 'Sexual harassment is indeed a global phenomenon. When we as an international community ignore this fact, we are in danger of grossly generalizing about a single population and even worse ignoring the plight of women who might face similar experiences elsewhere.'

    This iReport was featured on the September iReport for CNN show on CNN International.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    Dear Michaela,


    I am incredibly apologetic for the horrors you witnessed in India and the trauma you are currently undergoing. As an Indian, I feel responsible for what you have gone through and I hope that you are able to recover from your experience.


    Born and raised in India, I moved to the USA three years ago to pursue my undergraduate education. Like you, I studied abroad in the Fall of 2012. My chosen destination was Paris. Studying abroad in the cultural, artistic and literary hub of the world required a different kind of preparation from what you undertook before your journey to India. Apart from polishing my language skills I took lessons in French history and culture, I learned the fine intricacies of French cuisine and I mastered the difference between “tu” and “vous”.


    Unlike you, I was far from cautioned; about my own safety or lack thereof, about the curiosity my brown skin, black hair and obscure accent might arouse. And thus, neither was I prepared.


    Upon my return from Paris, I told family in India and friends from around the world exactly what they expected to hear. I told them I was in love; in love with Paris! I didn’t dare mention anything apart from how lucky I was to be living a stone’s throw from the Eifel tower, or how much I enjoyed picnicking in the Jardin du Luxembourg or how surreal it felt to sit on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, with the world’s most glamorous city at my feet. This is all true. I did indeed relish the experience of living in a country whose culture and language is so different from my own.


    I, however, fell short of mentioning the time I was harassed by a drunk man at the Gare Montparnasse, while numerous people simply stood and watched, the time I was groped by a man on a bus who threatened to followed me home or time I was actually followed back home from my afternoon run at Champ des Mars. I didn’t say anything for the fear of the “you should be used to this” sentiment that my Indian nationality might elicit. After all, I was a brown woman in a white man’s paradise. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to worry my parents who have two daughters away in a foreign country. I didn’t say anything because these incidents don’t make for the most pleasant dinner table conversations, anyway.


    Michaela, my story is not meant to invalidate the depth of your horrific experiences in India, or underestimate the degree of their impact upon your mental health. My story is meant to ignite the recognition that sexual harassment is indeed a global phenomenon. This unfortunately, is a woman’s plight, wherever in the world she might be. Although an Indian women, who is expected to be used to the staring and teasing, I am not prepared. I am not prepared to look over my shoulder after sun set, I am not prepared to think twice before using public transport, I am not prepared for the reactions that my clothing might elicit. Having lived in three of the world’s megacities, Bombay, Paris and New York, I have been equally unprepared wherever I might be, for the simple reason that I am a woman. The sad truth is that what you faced in India could have happened to you anywhere else in the world. The pervasiveness of sexual harassment is global.


    In conclusion, Michaela, I would like to congratulate you for your courage to speak up about the crimes perpetrated against you. Sexual harassment is largely unnoticed because of the unwillingness of women to talk about their experiences. I hope your article will help to break this culture of silence and to create a global community in which one half of the population need not constantly fear for their lives.


    The author is a student at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts.

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