I have not had an easy road. My mom had a lot of mental health issues that she didn’t deal with properly, so I, as an only child, was usually the target of her screaming, anger, and hatred. My father was there mostly as disciplinarian, but at least I felt like he loved me.
As I got into my teens I searched for attention. I was always looking for male companionship to boost my self-esteem. At age 15 I met, dated, and lost my virginity to a jerk that was a year older than I. He was my first boyfriend.
After we broke up, I started being pursued by a guy friend from school. I’d always thought he was fun to be around and he seemed the warm, friendly, protective type. One day he showed up at my house and asked to take me out, but his idea of “taking me out” was to take me to his house where he had been drinking with some friends who were a couple. I guess he was just looking for someone to be his drinking/sex partner for the night. I’m guessing that my ex-boyfriend had done a good job letting others know that I had willingly slept with him.
Sex with this guy was disgusting. He really just wanted oral sex and plied me with beer until I consented. That was my first experience with it, and I was so disgusted. I felt really used when I realized that he didn’t really “like” me like I had naively thought. I don’t really remember him taking me home. That bad experience got worse when he started spreading rumors around school, claiming I had done more things with him than I actually did.
There was another guy I worked with at a local fast food place, and things were just as bad there. He would alternately flirt with me, and yet urge on a co-worker who was treating me badly. This other guy would grab my chest or shove me around. He seemed really angry, and I was scared of him. I was also afraid to tell my manager, because he was a favorite of hers.
Not long after all of this, I also dated a guy that was 23. I thought an older man would be more mature, instead he was controlling. I ended up breaking it off with him on New Years Eve. I promptly started dating a guy that I’d had a crush on at work. He was 21. And he was a little weird. We dated on and off for a few months. When I broke up with him for good, he started stalking me and mailed me this crazy letter along with all the drawings I had done cut up into little pieces. My mom had to change our phone number because he wouldn’t stop calling.
About a month before I turned 17, I was invited by a friend to stay the night at her house. Our plan was to sneak out the window, after her parents were asleep, to go to a party at her boyfriend’s uncle’s house. This was a small, ramshackle house in a very, very small town out in the country where no cops would interfere with the underage drinking.
I remember sitting by the fire listening to Zeppelin (that probably shows my age), drinking beer and smoking weed. Somewhere along the line the guy that had spread rumors about me showed up. He immediately sought me out. Maybe I sought him out. I’m really not sure. My self-esteem was so low that if anyone was friendly to me I loved the attention in spite of past offenses.
He had brought a bottle of whiskey and I remember adding this to six or seven beers I’d already had. I went into another room and started talking with the older brother of another friend. He was a very nice guy. I’d always wanted to hang out with him, but again, my low self-esteem told me he wouldn’t like me. The alcohol told me he did.
Some time later the uncle barged in and accused us of having sex in his house. We weren’t, ironically. The guy was always a real sweetheart. I can’t blame him for what happened next.
We all went outside. One of my friends was sitting in a chair by the fire. He talked me into sitting in his lap, and I remember drinking some more. I remember kissing him. I also remember him trying to put his hands down my pants and me telling him to stop. I remember trying to pull away his hands.
After that, all I remember is waking up on the wooden floor of the dining room wearing nothing but my t-shirt and some shorts that were too small. I smelled like vomit, so I stumbled to the bathroom and washed my hair.
I had no idea what had happened. I think I was still drunk. I laid down by my friend’s boyfriend because I couldn’t figure out where anyone else went, and he was like an older brother figure. When he woke up, he asked me if I remembered what had happened. I said, no.
My friend showed up and told me what had happened. Apparently, when she came in the house, she saw me laying there with just a shirt on, so she took her shorts off and put them on me. I kind of put two and two together and so had she. After she found me she freaked out and told her mom that I had been raped and her mom called my parents. My dad was on his way.
To make matters worse, she had also called my crazy ex-boyfriend and he showed up and demanded that I get into his car. It got a little intense, so I decided to just go, because we were making a scene. We drove about a quarter mile away where we fought for a few minutes. When I demanded he take me back to the house, he refused to let me out of the car. My dad pulled up just as I punched the guy as hard as I could.
The ride home in my dad’s truck was the longest drive of my life. Total silence. When I got home, my mom left me to take a bath and actually let me go to bed in piece. Any other time she would have delt out punishment in the form of chores, criticism, and lack of sleep. I guess maybe she felt sorry for me. But said something I’ll never forget, “Well, that’s what happens to girls who sneak out to go to parties.” It was just a done deal after that. Life went on. I never forgave her for that.
I had a nightmare of a boyfriend after that who got me pregnant. At age 18, I had my first child. Six months later, I met my husband. It’s been a series of ups and downs with him. Fifteen years of drug addiction, two more children, and some domestic violence. I turned to dancing at topless clubs when I was 23 to feed my drug addiction. Working in the bars made me think that I was in control of the men, but it was just a farce. It made me feel more degraded and used. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to overcome that feeling.
In 2000 we moved to a different state. I halfway tried to get my life together, but I couldn’t fight the addiction. In 2006, I lost my mom in March, and my dad in May. It was somewhat expected, yet unexpected at the same time. I have always struggled with depression, had attempted suicide once seriously and one half-heartedly, but losing my parents sent me into a downward spiral. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pull out of that one, but I did.
In November 2007 I got on my knees and asked God to forgive me and to help me get clean. As of today, I’ve been clean six and a half years. I still take anti-depressants off and on, and I struggle with depression and anxiety.
Last year I was diagnosed with Rapid-Cycling Bipolar, Type 2. Fun. Good times man. I’d like to be doing better than ok, but I’m working on it. That is what led me to The Band. I saw an article on Rosa Parks which mentioned a rape trial that she helped defend. In the process of reading about the trial, I realized, not for the first time, that I really need to deal with my past. A Google search for help dealing with date rape brought up this website.
One of the first things I saw mentioned was agoraphobia. Yeah …I haven’t been able to go outside or leave a door unlocked when nobody is home in a very, very long time. At 40 years old, I depend way too much on my kids to do things like call people or go in the store with me. It really sucks, and I’m tired of being a prisoner in my own home. A prisoner of my own making. If I get really depressed I have a space between my bed and the wall that I can lay down in that’s nice and dark and secure. My past is affecting me to the point that I’m not enjoying my life anymore.
I’ve decided to go back to counseling, and I am determined to work on this. It can’t get any worse. It has to get better. It has to.
I’m many things: a daughter, friend, a pet lover and a 4.0 student. I swim, volunteer, love the beach and enjoy music. I’m also a victim of a growing epidemic among teens and young adults entering the workplace: sexual harassment.
On Valentine’s Day 2007, I attended my first corporate event as a volunteer for a major media corporation. I dressed professionally in a long-sleeved pants suit and arrived early to Houston’s baseball stadium. Plastered on my face was the biggest, most secure smile I could find, in spite of the butterflies in my stomach.
This corporate event was a huge deal and I played a special role in it. Around sunrise, the radio station’s videographer arrived and began setting up his equipment. He spotted me and walked over to extend a handshake. Eager to make a good impression, I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Jill. I’m the poet,” I said, confidently.
“Hi, I’m Howard. I’m on-air each weekend and do video as a side-gig.”
“I know. I’ve heard you.”
“Well, I work at another station, too.”
Having varied musical tastes, I said I knew – I’d heard him there, too
When the brief, friendly banter had finished, we each continued our business, the discussion far from my mind… Until I arrived home that afternoon and discovered that within an hour of meeting me, he’d found my website and sent a highly personal email. It discussed his dating history, his taste in women, that he thought I was in my forties because “forty-something women are the hottest around;” because I was “hot.”
I wondered how he’d found my information, I told my instincts to “hush” – I was certainly overreacting. After all, the media must’ve given him my information. Pushing concern aside, I believed I needed to keep the peace for my new position and sent a simple, friendly reply.
The conversation continued as he told me he had a daughter my age and found my information through an internet search. The third day, he asked to purchase signed copies of books I’d written. I gave him my home address – easy as that.
The subtle signs of trouble were there from the beginning. The wishy-washy words to keep my feelings off-balance. On my birthday he said, “The world is a better place because you’re in it.” Not two hours later, he said, “You’d look good in black lace … and I’m not talking shirts.”
It took nearly five years for me for me to find the courage to accept that the harassment was serious and not the jokes I’d thought the man was making.
“Nice to meet you” slowly became “You’d look great in an adult film” and “The world is a better place because you’re in it” became a blend of comments like “My girlfriend is an iceberg in the bedroom,” which played to my empathetic side. Feeling “sorry” for his “plight” he claimed would “improve” if he could buy me lingerie and sex toys.
I never thought he was serious, I’d thought he was joking. I know now to trust my gut; this kind of behavior is not normal for the workplace.
By the time a box of lingerie he purchased for me was delivered to my home and I pursued action against him in 2012, I’d endured a lengthy history of requests for dates, pressure to pose for pictures and/or provocative video, cyber-stalking, emotional abuse, and calls and texts at all hours. The toll on my life was apparent – sleepless nights, stomach upset, and stress. I lived in constant fear of what the next step in his obsession might be.
My innocent response happens far too often among teens and young adults unprepared for workplace sexual harassment. Today’s teens and young adults are not alone in dealing with job-related harassment. According to Adolescents at Work: Gender Issues and Sexual Harassment, thirty-five percent (35%) of high school students reported they experienced sexual harassment in their part-time work. Of the 35% who were sexually harassed, 63% were girls and 37% were boys. In 19% of cases, perpetrators were supervisors, and 61% of the time harassment came from coworkers.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between flirting and harassment, but it’s never okay for an adult to flirt with a child. It’s not okay for someone in a position of power to flirt with or suggest improper behavior. Such behavior in the workplace is illegal and companies must have guidelines in place outlining zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
If you are going through something like what I experienced, I want you to know that this is not your fault. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused this to happen. This did not happen because of anything you said, your choice of friends, your appearance, or your personality. Anyone who harasses another is a bully. Bullies are cowards that pick on the strong and innocent, simply the person is there. No more, no less. You are not guilty of anything, even if you initially went along with the harassment. The blame is with the harasser; you are a survivor. You can heal.
You deserve respect.
From the minute that you feel awkward about a work-situation, tell someone you trust and begin documenting every comment, action, or event that’s left you feeling uncomfortable. If you’ve received e-mails, save screenshots. If you save the e-mails, don’t alter them in any way. If someone says that they don’t think what you’re going through is that bad,” remember – it’s not their place to judge. You own your truth. You own your boundaries. Only you know what you will or will not accept.
While someone else may tolerate behavior that bothers you, it’s your life and your decision. You’re allowed to end uncomfortable situations; no job is worth trauma, torment, or the health toll enduring daily abuse can cause, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. You cannot always leave your job, but you can stop the cycle of harassment. The harasser wants your silence; don’t give them the satisfaction.
Some may believe you’re weak for choosing to address sexual harassment and strive for change, this is not true. You are not weak; you are courageous and brave, trying to make the world a better place for others; that is an admirable aspiration for anyone.
As the result of my journey, I reached out to a therapist to help me understand what had happened. My therapist put the harassment this way: “The harasser is an annoying gnat you can flick away until the pest becomes smaller and smaller on your horizon. By standing up, speaking out, and refusing to accept abuse – you are a big flyswatter with the power and will to end the cycle of harassment.”
If your boss, co-worker, or friend demands your undivided attention, calls you five or ten times per day, follows your every move on and offline, or starts mimicking your style or words, there could be a deeper problem.
Stand your ground; know your boundaries; always listen to your inner voice. Respect, trust yourself and you will get through this. I told my story and put the spotlight on my harasser; you have the power within you to do the same.
Even on the darkest day in your fight against sexual harassment, always remember you’re worth so much more than workplace abuse. You will come through the experience with greater awareness and more compassion for others. You have a bright future ahead of you and you will survive this.
I believe in you!
When I was in about 4th grade my friend would tell me all these sexual things. One night this person was over my house and they fingered me. I didn’t know what it was. This person manipulated me into thinking it was okay. I touched this person back. And it went on and on. This person would touch me a lot. And I would do it back.
I didn’t know any better. All I knew was it felt good. This person told me to never tell my parents or anyone else.
I’m still scarred by it. It distorted my childhood. It changed me. It made me do things I didn’t want to do. I can’t help but feel guilty. I mean 4th grade? It makes me feel so gross. I’ve never even kissed anyone.
In middle school, since I felt ugly, I jumped at any chance to show off my boobs to get some sort of positive attention from boys, and of course, I did. Sometimes it went too far. It made me cry, but it was better than being called ugly.
One time a boy touched my front-side in the hallway. He said if I told anyone he would get his sister to beat me up, so I kept quiet. Another time a boy shoved me against a locker and had his hands around my neck. He threatened me, but I don’t remember why.
Riding the bus was the worst because while they were calling me ugly, they were touching me or pushing me on the floor of the bus.
One time I was the park with my best friend and a few boys who bullied me. (Why did they bully me? I don’t know.) We were playing soccer. My old friend Melinda was there. They respected her, so they left her alone. But they would circle me and smack my butt, poke me with sticks in the front area, my boobs, and my butt. I liked the attention, but I also hated it. I told them to stop, but they wouldn’t. Two of the boys walked me home (not sure why) and one of them smacked my butt. A 30 or 40 year old man saw him do it. He yelled, “Oh yeah, smack that!” It scared me so much! I was furious! I yelled, “Fuck you!”
They told me if he came back to rape me they would leave.
I’ve had multiple experiences with grown men making me very uncomfortable. I get looked up and down. I see the lust in their eyes, and it really frightens me.
I have a friend who I love very dearly. But he can be very abusive. He’s very “hands on.” He touches my butt and my boobs every so often. But when he’s mad, he literally hurts me. He pulls wresting moves on me or chokes me for a few seconds. To him it’s a joke. To me, it’s scary, and it hurts.
One time I was locked in a room with him and he pushed me down, and he was standing over me. It sounds ridiculous but I was still scared. We are best friends, I just wish he wouldn’t take things so far sometimes.
All these events make me fear men a lot. I have a lot of anxiety and guilt from these events and I’m still not over them. I honesty think I have depression from all the bullying and harassment.