I'm 7 years old, walking distractedly from my locker to my classroom trying to remember what sex is, as it was quickly explained to me by a sixth grader during recess a few weeks prior. A boy that regularly follows me home on his bike is circulating a rumour amongst all of my friends that we had sex in a bathtub "three whole times." After revisiting this memory with my mother at the age of twenty-two, wide-eyed she softly remarked, "wow, I forgot about that." If only it were that dismissible for me.
I'm 10 years old, lying in my best friend's bed at 2:00 a.m. with my eyes closed so tightly I think they may burst. There is a man stumbling drunkenly into the room with outstretched hands grasping for her older sister's vacant bed diagonal from us. Between beer-filled burps he quietly asks if either of us are awake. I'm tracing my finger over the peeling wallpaper next to my head doing everything I can to make my breathing indistinguishable from the fan in the corner of the room. After pointing out the man to my parents at the age of 22, with twisted faces they told me he used to live around the corner from us. If only I had known that on my walks home from school.
I'm 13 years old, every day at recess for the past three weeks a boy in my class has had his friends relay explicitly violent and sexual fantasies to me in which I am constantly the victim. The handful of recess supervisors I reach out to offer the boy a half-hearted scolding and return to untied laces and zipping up jackets. After sharing this story with my mother at the age of twenty-two, she asks, "why didn't I know about that?" If only I had been told that I was brave for speaking up.
I'm now 22 years old and still applying bandages to old wounds every morning. The important thing to understand is that the effects of sexual harassment reach far beyond the incident itself. In my early 20s, the excitement of a new relationship was shrouded by anxieties and the paralyzing fear that any intimate exchange would turn dangerous. My low self-esteem allowed my "no" to be perceived as "I could be persuaded" and left me feeling guilty and dirty during a morning walk to the subway.
The important thing for men who sexually harass women to know is that while you're delivering what you think is a hilarious and quick-witted remark about how you'd love to "hit it from behind", that woman is already running a list of places she can hide through her mind. That woman is mentally searching her purse for her keys in case a self defense weapon is needed. That woman is walking phone-in-hand with 9-1-1 already typed just in case a routine catcalling situation escalates. For you, that is thirty seconds of your day, for that woman, that is every day of her life.
Armed with a plethora of experiences, I have learned that when it comes down to it, sexual harassment is motivated by power, not passion, not lust, and certainly not love. This form of gender discrimination is a clear cut and easy way to avoid taking women seriously and as a result, discredits them from being the resilient and brave women that they are. Sexual assault is among a list of crimes which are least likely to be reported due to victim blaming and embarrassment which is something very distressing to come to terms with.
Empowering women and giving them a voice is only one stepping stone in the path toward reaching a solution. Making men uncomfortable is the next step when it comes to protecting women and their well-being. Make men uncomfortable by spreading awareness and supplying them with the knowledge they need in order to aid women in the combat against sexual harassment.