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Sexual Harassment

Dear Amy:

I was raped by a classmate when I was 14, but I never did anything about it because 1) I come from a very anti-woman household that would have responded along the lines of "you must have done something to deserve treatment like that" and 2) My family moved across the country a month later and I was hoping I could forget about it and start afresh. It occurred in a smallish town where everyone knew my father and most of all I did not want to "raise a ruckus."

Fast forward to my 21st birthday, with the usual pub-crawling with friends who showered me with drinks and attention. At some point I passed out from so much alcohol (I'm not much of a drinker) and awoke the next morning while a friend was raping me.

As I'm sure you may guess, I have struggled for years with self-blame that arises from these situations. Intellectually I *know* that I am not responsible for what happened to me, that I did not "ask for it," or cause it, but there is some part of me that wonders if I am somehow more prone to this sort of crime. I am physically very small, and can be "nice" and friendly to a fault, but is there more to it? Am I just a nitwit or something? A gullible fool?

This question resurfaces more often recently as I have started a job this summer where I come in contact with the public constantly and I am approached sexually by men fairly frequently. It's become the office "joke," even. (I don't think it's funny.) I realize some amount of fear is healthy, but sometimes in the work-world of leering men, I feel more scared than I think is reasonable.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. Your careful responses to others' letters that I have read have been a comfort in themselves.

Karen


Dear Karen,

I think that your feelings are very common. I had a similar experience when I was 14. I drank too much at a party, passed out and was "taken advantage of." Years later I would find myself in similar situations--working at a bakery where I was constantly fondled by the boss or having sex with someone I really didn't want to have sex with.

It's funny to write this now, because at a certain point, I felt exactly how I think you feel. However, at some point that changed and I'm not sure when or why, but in hindsight I'm sure it had something to do with my own commitment to changing it. The people I worry about are the ones who don't acknowledge it or who don't think about it again. They are the ones who are likely to never find a way out of such situations.

Conversely, your acknowledging it is perhaps the best beginning to a new path, really a different part of the same path. And I know you know this, but you can't blame yourself. In fact as I was reading your note, I thought why don't we make a bigger deal about men who think it's okay to have sex, fondle, assault women who are passed out? That's sick.

I hope this helps. If not, certainly write back.


Amy

 

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