Individual Therapy Sterling, VA
I remember sitting in the back hallway staring up at the Equal Employment Opportunity poster, reading over and over again the sexual discrimination policy. For over a month, my coworker had been making lewd comments to me and another young girl working at the restaurant. It wasn’t until years later that I realized his “jokes” about what he wanted to do in the storage area were threats of rape. All I knew was that I dreaded going into work and felt completely powerless. I’d told him to stop multiple times. He laughed. Everyone who worked there knew what he was doing but no one else stood up to him. The other girl was only 16 and even more scared than I was. So there I sat beneath the poster, wondering whether anything would be done if I did speak up. Even now, 15 years later, the EEO poster does not explicitly mention sexual harassment. You’d have to look up Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and read through legal code to find out what your rights are and how to report. So I threatened to report him, hoping he wouldn’t call my bluff. He retaliated by making my job harder in any way he could but because he no longer made the sexual comments to me, I didn’t think I had a leg to stand on. I was graduating college in a few short weeks and decided my only option was to bide my time and do my best to avoid him.
We live in a society where sexual harassment–and at times, sexual assault–is accepted, minimized, and normalized. Men harassing women in TV and movies is entertainment, funny, sexy even. Women are told to shrug it off, have a sense of humor, enjoy the attention. Boys will be boys, it’s just innocent flirting, he’s just messing around. We live in a country where a prolific and wealthy film producer harasses and sexual assaults at least 30 women over several decades, shames them into staying silent, and for too long held little to no consequences despite the fact that so many of his colleagues were aware. We live in a democracy where one of the most powerful men in the business and entertainment world can joke on a recording about grabbing a woman’s private parts without her consent and he’s rewarded by being appointed to the highest office in the nation. I could go on for days about powerful men getting away with criminal acts because we don’t believe the stories that women tell. For too long, sexual harassment has been excused. For too long when women speak up they have been hushed, ignored, shamed, blamed, not believed, and minimized.
Right now on Twitter and Facebook, you may have noticed some of your friends posting two simple words. Me Too. No one quite knows who started it but it took off on Sunday when Alyssa Milano retweeted it. It’s typically followed by “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. This status is putting faces to the statistics. One in 4 women have been sexually assaulted. One in 3 have been sexually harassed at work and two-thirds have experienced street harassment. It’s not flirting, it’s not funny, and it’s not flattering. It is at times terrifying, humiliating, and degrading. It leaves us feeling powerless, anxious, belittled. The effects can last for years after, changing the way you see yourself and your ability to perform your job and compete in your industry. It may trigger the onset of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Some may even contemplate suicide. It is serious and it needs to stop.
Maybe you posted ‘Me Too’. Maybe you thought about it, but weren’t ready. That’s OK too. As I see it, no one should be shamed for speaking out and no one should be shamed because they chose not to share their story in that way. Maybe you’ve never told anyone. Maybe this twitter trend is triggering memories you’ve fought to forget. Maybe for the first time ever, you have a name for what happened to you. For others reading this, this is something you’ve only heard in news reports. In that case, be an ally. Don’t scroll past that post, send love, thank them for speaking up, start finding out how you can create safety in your workplace or school.
I want to put out there that although I chose to focus this blog post on sexual harassment, it is not in any way my intention to ignore sexual assault. I could write for weeks about everything inside me that is opened up by this Twitter campaign. My heart goes out to all of you who see yourself in those two simple words #metoo, including the 1 in 6 men who were sexually abused as children and the many individuals who have been sexually harassed because of their gender or sexual identity. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault or sexual harassment, you may find it helpful to talk to someone who understands. When you’re ready, contact one of our therapists or your local sexual assault crisis center. You can find your local program by searching on RAINN.org
Hannah Lindsey, MSW, LCSW, provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office. Email or call her today at 703-951-6409 to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.