Sexual harassment and assault: A reckoning

Sexual harassment and assault: A reckoning

You catch his eyes looking at you. He smirks. Lecherously. He’s been caught red handed, but he doesn’t care.

As his eyes trace your body you freeze. You wonder, as he steps toward you whether his hands will graze your skin, taking up residence on your body as though they belong there. You stay as still as possible, not wanting to spook the animal whose eyes have locked on you. Predatory. Waiting to come in for the kill. What happens next depends on the man, the situation, the proximity to others, a number of things. But no matter how it ends, with that lingering predatory gaze, with his exposed penis, with his hands on your body, or with rape, you will remember this moment (even if only physiologically). Most people who’ve been victimized never forget.

I didn’t.

The man who grabbed me without my consent wasn’t a powerful Hollywood executive. He wasn’t a hotshot politician. He was a friend of a friend at a college house party who thought that because I was nice to him, throwing his hand between my legs was something I would want. It was unprompted. It was unwanted. And it was terrifying.

Add power to this equation and I could not imagine the fear I would have felt. It’s one thing to have the fear of a man for the sheer volume of things he could do to you with physical strength. But often more horrifying can be the lasting ramifications for your career, your social world or your life in general should you not oblige. 

I froze. I considered a thousand scenarios. I wanted to scream but I was too scared to find my voice. Thankfully it didn’t go further than that.

And that statement fills me with fury.

I should not have to be grateful that a guest in my house who I thought was a friend didn't rape me.

That much should be a given.

Almost every woman I know has stories like this. They start and end in different ways, but one thing remains the same: the entitlement of the men who did whatever they wanted, consequences be damned. Many friends and I have sat with a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee, or poured over some school books while we casually mentioned the men who have violated us.

When I told my friends my story, they screamed.

Loud. Violent. Visceral on my behalf.

I was in too much shock to be angry.

I still thought it was my fault.

There will never be a day that I don’t feel grateful to them for telling me otherwise, shrieking in defiance until I understood.

In college, I wrote a series of articles on rape culture. I spent months trying to get to the bottom of it.

To understand why there was always a story.

To understand why that “friend” thought his actions were acceptable.

Now, after months of the Sexual Harassment Reckoning™ implicit in the #MeToo and #TimesUp, it feels like I understand even less than I did then.

Every day, new allegations come to the surface detailing how powerful men have harassed and assaulted those not in a position to challenge them.

It started with Harvey Weinstein. What can I say about Harvey Weinstein but that he gets whatever is coming to him.

After his outing as a serial predator, stories continue to come out.

Actors. Athletes. CEOs. Politicians.

The stories of women and marginalized folks are coming out.

Stories of objectification, violation and powerful men who've taken advantage and never worried about the consequences of their actions.

Until now.

That so many have come forward and shared their stories of trauma and victimization so others might not have to suffer is heartening.

In a year that's been defined by false equivalencies and moral relativism in a truly hideous way, it feels like justice to see brave survivors call out predators and hold them accountable.

It can be difficult, as we watch this unfold, not to feel like a hopeless sad sack, screaming at the sky to no avail. But hope glimmers in the distance.

It should not be survivors' responsibility to share their stories in a public forum in the face of the scrutiny implicit in the decision to speak out.

And maybe someday we will live in a society where the burden is not on the victim.

But until that day comes, I salute survivors.

Until that day, if we must scream, at least we are screaming for justice.

Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.