- Posted August 29, 2013 by
My Global Experience with Sexual Harassment
The following are really only a few experiences I have undergone traveling and living in different places.
Hitchhiking back to campus with a group of girls in the middle of a monsoon, I was sitting in the front seat next to the driver when he proposed that I love him and have sex with him. I replied “No,” told my friends and we quickly got off. We jumped into the taxi next to us that was filled with Indian female students and went back to campus. Thinking we had escaped him, we got off the gate and entered the campus only to realize he had followed us to campus, stopped at the gate to jeer at us. “Yes” he repeatedly cried out. “Yes!”
Couchsurfing with a friend, I overheard our European male host thanking a girl friend for helping them choose us as his surfers. They were looking for girls to hook up with and I guess he thought we were readily available. After a potluck we had and fun discussions in the yard I went into the living room ready to fall asleep on the couch offered to us. Our male host however thought when I said I was going to sleep that it was an invitation to sleep with me. Nothing happened; I fell asleep and woke up the next day to be shunned by him.
I went to celebrate a friend’s birthday at a bar in a small town in Upper Austria. It was about 4am and not being able to keep up with the party culture there, I rested my head at a quiet table not too far from where my friends were dancing. I fell asleep for a bit but woke up to a man caressing my face speaking to me in German. Drowsy and confused I thought he could be worried about me. I told him that I didn’t speak any German and he responded in English to go upstairs with him and spend some time alone.
Los Angeles 2011
Visiting the college I had attended, I met with friends and acquaintances and we played the drinking game King’s Cup. I drank the community cup intended for my brother who was driving that night. I didn’t know then that someone had poured strong liquor in the cup before the game had started thinking it would be funny. I became sick and later woke up to a male friend who I had trusted, groping me and attempting to have sex with me. I later confessed this to another male friend to which he condoned our mutual friend’s behavior by insinuating that these kinds of interactions especially in college are common.
Of all these places I have traveled to and lived in, I can’t tell you where I have felt safest. In fact, the worst abuse I experienced was in my own home in San Francisco to which I had to go to therapy for as a child.
Do I have PTSD as a result of my experiences? No. But I never stop hurting.
Hearing Michaela’s story doesn’t just make me recall painful experiences I’ve had with sexual harassment but it reminds me that I am a woman and that sometimes I don’t want to be. Because being a woman, or being gay, or being physically disabled, or being of a particular race or culture means you are subjected to having your dignity stripped when you’re not a part of the majority. You never matter that much.
Why do some men feel like they can approach me and propose sex? Am I doing something that makes some men think it’s okay for them to harass me? Is it the way I dress? The way I talk? Maybe a friendly smile that I send out? Maybe the angry faces that I have that can really just fuel their taunts at times?
Do I have the right to be angry when I am being gawked at or catcalled? What about when my male loved ones talk about women in an objectified way? What does that objectification look like? Is it okay for people to condone it and sexual harassment because they’re the norm?
If I find myself in a vulnerable situation does that give someone a right to disrespect me? What does that vulnerable situation look like? Could that be traveling to a foreign country, meeting up with old friends, trusting someone?
Should I just live in constant fear and not trust any man?
I ask myself these questions repeatedly when I interact with men having been marred by my experiences and knowing that sexual harassment won't stop wherever I am.
I also know though that the actions of some men don’t define all men. It is hard not to generalize. It is hard not to succumb to anger, fear and doubt. I do sometimes but I try not to have some experiences and a few men define me. That is why I continue to travel and I continue to trust.