Sexual Harassment Story + 7 Things People Shouldn’t Do

Reposting from my original post here.

I am a sexologist and I am also a woman. I want to share here publicly that I do know what it is like to constantly fear being sexually assaulted and feel violated. About five months ago, I began associating with a person and by circumstances and choice, I’ve had to meet with him every week (though not in my official work capacity). After countless episodes of him bumping into me (leading me to conclude it was intentional), touching me on the shoulder (when unwarranted), hitting me (whether playful or not – there were occasions it also did hurt), using a pen to draw on me (on one occasion), I finally snapped, screamed at him and told him he was out of line in Dec (four months ago). He stopped his behavior – including not bumping into me. All through this time, I told him repeatedly that I didn’t like it, to stop – only to be ignored. I started feeling scared about being touched, attacked and unsure about when the next incident would happen.

He, also, on numerous occasions asked if he could touch my butt or breast saying, “I feel like touching your… Can I?” I would say no, and it would be followed by a quick “Why not?” This left me (this powerful woman) speechless. It’s MY body and a no should have suffice – what do you mean why not? Why did I have to explain why my body is out of bounds to anybody? This happened again yesterday (written 31 Mar 2016).

He started asking again if he could touch my butt. I said no. He asked why not. Again, I was speechless. He continued asking not once, not twice, but at least three times. Which part of no didn’t he understand? Was he trying to wear me down? I told him firmly that I feel sexually harassed and he HAS to stop. I still feel unsafe even though nothing happened physically.

The fear of being groped has been with me since the first time it was mentioned – five months ago and a fear I continue to experience every time I meet this person (every week). Obviously, I have done nothing to provoke this behavior towards me. All this may seem like a big mountain out of a molehill to some of you. I’m just sharing what’s happening and what I’m willing to share – not the many other incidents in my life which were more disturbing and traumatic.

I am posting this because I am certain that all women have felt and have experienced the fear of being touched in ways they do not want at some point or another in their lives, through no fault of theirs. You are not alone. Being a sexologist does not grant me any super power most days. We are told, and we know we are physically weaker and if we need to fight back, we would lose. This frustrates and frightens us. Our fear of being violated leads us to shut down our radiance, and shut out men, life and possibilities. It also results in us playing small and stupid. Some of us go to the extent of perpetually fearing men, even hating them for the power they hold, and leads to a love/ hate relationship we have with them. Not all men are harassers, abusers or assholes. I have met sensitive, beautiful and conscious men who have moved me to the depths of my core.

I post this out of love for the men out there. I beg you to recognize our fears and be mindful of your words and actions. I post this out of love for my sisters. Let not our fear turn into hate. I feel you. I am you. I post this out of love for humanity. Let there be love, not fear.

Updated (1 April 2016 8:25p.m.):

After I posted the above on my Facebook wall at Thurs 31 Mar 7:40a.m. (yesterday), I received a lot of comments of support and love from many of my friends, their friends, and strangers. Four people asked me separately why I continued to see the guy. This is what happened when you post online – you can never tell 100% how people will react, and sometimes, you can actually become negatively affected or even re-traumatised.

This was what I eventually responded with after sitting with it for one day: “I am reflecting on how people are asking me why I see him as if I am stupid and cannot stop, or it is my fault because I continue to see him. I hoped it would have been obvious the reasons I were meeting him was more important than the fear of being touched – and it was, to me. Should I have stopped what I felt was important stuff and important to me – and be beaten to retreat – because of my fear? Why do women have to make such choices in the first place? To say more would be to identify this person and that was not my intention. What is unfortunate that I feel I need to explain more when my story as it is should have suffice. We should give people the space to say what they say, and also to leave whatever they want unsaid. This sensitivity doesn’t seem to be there at all.”

Beyond a discussion of sexual harassment here, there is a bigger question here: Why can’t we just allow people to share their story the way they want to share, including choosing to leave out certain details? No, we feel we need to get to the bottom of things. As if it is our job to do so?

Here’s another point. Perhaps those who care for the person, who has to go through this, are also affected and have a sense of powerlessness to provide protection, adequate support, or “fix” the situation. This also can cause people to respond in unexpected ways – including be outraged.

What is our real intention? To hear, support, defend or question? As in any conversation, the answer you might get depends on who you are to the person.

In two instances, the people seeing it fit to ask: “Why are you still seeing him then?” are people I don’t know and never met. Do I own them an answer simply because they are my followers? Are they deserving? Can I trust them to be discerning with whatever was left unsaid? Probably not.

This is my suggestion in delicate situations – whether you are a friend or otherwise:

  1. Get clear on your need vs. want to knowDo you HAVE to know? Or are you just being a kapo (busy-body, in Singlish)?
  2. Get clear on your intention before you speakWhat would you do if you knew? Would knowing help you support this person better?
  3. Ask for permission to ask – “May I ask for more details?” or “Tell me more?”
  4. Watch your tone. “Why are you still seeing him then?“ is more triggering than say perhaps, “I am worried about your safety. Do you have to continue seeing him?”. Also one could instead ask if it were important to me to continue to see him and if it were, you could ask how you can best support me in feeling that I was safe doing so. In short, there are many ways of asking about a situation that shows more compassion and genuine interest than using the word “why” which comes across as demanding.
  5. Read into the person’s intention and respect it. In posting my story I wasn’t looking for validation, but to share and influence positive awareness and change, even if some small way. I am, afterall, a sexuality educator. However I am also a woman and I wasn’t looking for advice, suggestions or further questions.
  6. It’s not about you. Don’t feel you need to share your story or suggestion, even if you have a good (or better) one. Ask for permission to share yours, and only if the person likes to hear it – not share your because you need a outlet to vent (and end up hijacking). After reading my post, yet another stranger suggested I attend a self-defense class and recommended an apparently excellent place that runs classes (on checking, I wasn’t surprised these classes do not even run in Singapore). This person didn’t even ask if I had attended any self-defence classes in my life (I’ve attended two different series actually).
  7. Remember, the person is in pain so act accordingly. If in doubt, message the person privately to ask after them. And if you don’t have anything positive to say, seriously, just shut up. Don’t put more aggravation or pain into the world as it is.

Thank you for reading and learning. I hope this has had some value to you. You might like to read an email of support I received later here.

About Dr. Martha Tara Lee

Surrounded by friends who were sexually inhibited and struck by dire lack of positive conversations around sex and sexuality in Singapore, Dr. Martha Tara Lee decided to take it upon herself to right this societal injustice in 2007. She set out to make a positive difference in embarking on her doctorate in human sexuality, then launching Eros Coaching in 2009. Today, she remains dedicated to working with individuals and couples who wish to lead self-actualised and pleasure-filled lives.

She also holds certificates in counselling, coaching and sex therapy, and is currently pursuing her fourth degree – a Masters in Counselling. In practice for more than seven years, she is the only certified sexuality educator by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) in Singapore.

Often cited in the local media, Dr. Lee is the appointed sex expert for Men’s Health Singapore, and Men’s Health Malaysia. She was recognised as one of ‘Top 50 Inspiring Women Under 40′ by Her World in July 2010, and one of ‘Top 100 Inspiring Women’ by CozyCot in March 2011. She is the host of weekly radio show Eros Evolution on the OMTimes Radio Network. She has published two books: Love, Sex and Everything In-Between, and Orgasmic Yoga.

Martha works with individuals and couples in private coaching sessions, and conducts her own workshops. She takes prides in making sure all her workshops are also fun, educational, and sex-positive. This comes easily to her because even though she is extremely dedicated and serious about her work, she fundamentally believes that sex is meant to be fun, wonderful, amazing and sacred. As such, this serious light-heartedness has shone through again and again. For her full profile, click here. Email her here.