This is sadly a serious post and a failing on my part for not having discussed this with you before. It’s seriousness mandates lots of words, that’s why you’re getting it on a weekend. I know you’re busy at school, but there’s never a right time for this one. It’s about sexual harassment!
There is lots of talk on the news in the past couple of weeks about sexual harassment due to conduct by public figures like Harvey Weinstein, Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, and almost any guy on Fox News. But of course, you don’t need to meet someone famous to be harassed. I do believe that your Life is Great as a woman for living in the United State in the 21st century, but sadly it’s still not ideal.
I have a low opinion of men, myself included. I hope that you are never harassed by anyone, but statistically speaking there might be a time in your life where you will be sexually harassed by a professor, co-worker, fellow student, boss, stranger, etc. A woman is better qualified to give you advice on this then a middle age guy, but as your father I still need to tell you a few things. Even though I have not been harassed, I hope that some of my other life experiences can offer you some wisdom on this subject.
Don’t blame yourself if it happens. I think we are stunned when someone behaves badly that we almost become paralyzed by it. An internal voice almost kicks in, “Is what I think is happening here, really happening?” Don’t feel guilty or blame yourself for how you react – that you should have done something differently. However, do think about how you might want to react if it happens again.
Stand Up for yourself. You will need to confront the person in some way. You need to select the method that best fits the circumstances. It could be taking legal action (criminal or civil), complaining to Human Resources, police, etc. There are several reasons for it. First, although I hope that perpetrator knows their behavior is wrong, they also need to know that they can’t get away with it. Hopefully, you are also saving someone else from a similar experience and yourself too from repeated incidents. Second, you need to confront those that have wronged you. When we don’t stand up for ourselves after being wronged, it eats away at our souls. It sticks with you forever. Almost any adult, regardless of age, remembers being bullied as a very young child.
Tell Someone Immediately. If you think you were sexually harassed (you could be in too much shock to even be able to label it), tell a couple people you trust immediately. Tell these trusted people what happened, be accurate and don’t exaggerate. Sadly, there are slander laws that could used against you, but don’t let that discourage you. Telling someone about the incident immediately after it happened is typically admissible in court. If you think the behavior was criminal (it usually is if it’s physical), tell the police immediately and call your Dad right away or someone else who can be a strong advocate for you. Sorry, but your Dad does not completely trust the police (they are people and like all people, there are good ones and bad ones). I’ve seen too many stories of police being dismissive and insensitive in harassment/rape cases. I think this is less likely to occur if you have a strong advocate with you when talking to the police.
Understand there could be retaliation against you. I wish I could tell you that telling truth will be liberating and rewarding – I can’t. The perpetrator might be someone in a power position over you or you might be working in a ‘boys’ environment where bad conduct is not frowned upon and you might be ostracized for complaining. It sucks, it’s reality, but you should still make the bad conduct known. That’s how progress is made and change comes about. Yes, you could lose your job or your working environment becomes openly hostile or in some insidious way that you will want to leave. It’s unfair, but you will need to decide for yourself whether to stay and fight or move on. This decision will likely be heavily influenced by your circumstances outside work; relationship status, your ambitions, whether you have kids, your finances, etc. There is no shame in moving on if the cost is too great to you.
Kiddo, I hope this is just a wasted post filled with words and advice you will never need. But the take away here is that you have a strong support system that is always here to back you up.