Out of line: my own experience with sexual harassment and assault
Words and Art by Anonymous
Originally published in On Dit 85.7
“God your pins look good; I wish I could take you home tonight”
That is exactly what every 18-year-old wants to hear, thanks 45-year-old man across the bar. At the time I brushed the comment off, I knew he was drunk and being cocky around his friends. I didn’t consider myself a very precious person and knew comments like that would just happen as a bartender. I think if someone said that to my now 18-year-old sister I would have a lot more to say.
Sexual comments would always be thrown around light-heartedly at the pub. If I grazed my elbows the chefs would comment that I must have been ‘busy’ last night with a guy. Pants were too tight, shirt was too loose, the aioli spilt on my apron looks like I’m a slut ha ha ha ha. To be honest, these comments didn’t phase me too much; it was just banter. When someone comments about you sexually — and you shrug it off — you are telling not only them but yourself that you are okay with that.
In my third year of university, I was lucky enough to travel overseas on an immersion tour. Our university co-ordinator was able to organise an old student to tour us around his company. This guy — lets call him Mike — was pretty easy to get along with and we clicked right away. He was in his thirties, had a wife and children, and I immediately likened him to a cool uncle. He would tell my co-ordinator what an amazing personality I had, how I was special and ‘I was going to go far’ in the industry we were all part of. I remember feeling so elevated, how I was going to finish my degree and come back to this country and work with him and how it was going to be so perfect.
Looking back, all I can think is “God I am so fucking stupid”.
The sexual comments were tentative at first ‘I hope this isn’t out of line but…’, followed by a funny story of him getting head in a bus on the way to the university ski trip. He would joke about how awkward it was and we would laugh together. We drank beers when no one else in the group wanted to and he would tell me all of his stories about his time at uni. I was wearing a bum bag type thing at the time which I called a ‘fanny pack’, he would say ‘oh god don’t say fanny pack or I will start thinking about vaginas’. Bit of a strange comment but I brushed it off.
“The thing with younger women today is that they are all trimming now… I bet you are clean down there”. A question I would not be surprised hearing from my chefs back at the pub.
Like I said, I am not a precious person, he has a wife, he is just mucking around. Everything is okay. These were my thought processes… like a mantra in the back of my head:
Don’t be girly, don’t be weak, he is just joking around
Once he knew that I was alright with his ‘banter’, the comments would keep coming up. They were never questions, more statements guessing the kind of person I was: “I bet you would be good in a threesome”. “Get fucked!” I would reply back. I never felt like I was being sexually harassed because it was the exact same comments I heard at the pub. Perhaps I should have started to expect something when he took me out clubbing, the night supposedly ‘no one’ else wanted to go out. I guess I was naïve to trust that this guy only wanted the joy of my company.
We went to a nightclub, I got very very drunk. I didn’t want to drink but he kept giving me more beer. I remember just handing them to people after a while. When we got on the dance floor I remember not really wanting to dance with him, he was being strange; he was acting a lot more sexual. Although I was hazy from the booze I distinctly remember his hands reaching around my bum and up my crack. I sobered up instantly and sauntered over to another group of people dancing. With an aggressive ‘HEY!’ he strutted over to where I was dancing. Another group of English speaking people asked me if I was alright, telling him to ‘get the fuck away’. Offended, he immediately spat back ‘she is with me you idiots’ to which both parties looked my way.
I apologised to him, and found the nearest taxi I could find. I paid the driver a couple of cigarettes because in this country that was fair trade. I went to bed and cringed at how he was going to react to the events tomorrow. The next day he bounces up to me happily ‘ready for another day?’. The sexual comments were gone and we were joking around again. I immediately thought I was overreacting, maybe he was one of those people who dirty dance when they’re drunk. Maybe he forgot… or maybe he wanted me to forget.
Either way I knew the whole thing wasn’t going to get to me, I was use to this kind of stuff and I was just glad it hadn’t happened to someone weaker. As I mulled over the night I remember feeling my tongue swelling up… I wanted to vomit. I felt strangely dirty. I didn’t know what happened to me but didn’t want to get my cool friend Mike into any trouble.
This dirty feeling stuck in the back of my tongue. I told myself I was fine, but when our coordinator welled up about how Mike had become such an incredible man, the old ‘ratbag of a student’. I could feel the same feeling again. I bit down hard — I felt the warm metallic taste of blood pool over my swollen tongue. I wanted to vomit.
When I got home I couldn’t talk to anyone. I told my ex boyfriend. I told my new boyfriend. I would explain but I was still confused. For months I would have nightmares about Mike taking me out, pushing my weak body down and I would wake up and have the disgusting feeling pool all over my body. I sat down on the bottom of the shower like the pathetic girl in the movies and cry while hot steaming water would smudge my mascara down my face.
This is not weakness; I am not weak. What happened to me was not ok and I have a right to say this.
So should the university personally apologise for every harassment case that occurred through university, I don’t think so. What I think is most important is that we generate discussion. We need to keep talking so other people, both men and women, understand that it is alright to express a dislike towards sexual ‘jokes’ made towards you. Understand that it is alright to speak up about how something made you feel without being deemed ‘precious’ or ‘unable to take a joke’. If something makes you feel a bit weird, strange, disgusting or upset you have every right to speak out about it.