Silence is not shameful; it is survival

Generally, people think they know how to handle sexual harassment, until it actually happens to them. At least, I thought I had a plan of action in mind, until it actually happened to me.

Being in the workforce is not only socially expected of individuals, it is necessary for economic survival. Getting a job is almost like a rite of passage.

Fortunately, I was 21 years old when I first experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Others, often at times, experience it earlier.

At least 25 percent of women and 7 percent of men in the workforce experience sexual harassment, according to eeoc.gov.

I will never forget the blind shock that registered after my employer made the first lewd comment to me on the first day at my new job. I was working at a well-known establishment in my county. I had hoped the job would give me needed experience, build connections and grow my repertoire of work. I had hoped this job would expand my portfolio.

Initially, I thought I had misheard or misinterpreted his message. Unfortunately, that is the attitude and reaction society often teaches.

I quickly realized, hours into my shift and many comments about my dress, appearance and the way I walked, that I had not misheard my boss. I was a victim of sexual harassment.

With this realization comes a bombardment of emotions; the main emotion for me being shame and embarrassment. Unfortunately, I feel society emphasizes how a woman or man provokes this type of behavior, instead of laying blame where blame lies: in the actions of the abuser.

I began questioning my dress code, which was dress slacks and a blazer, my mannerisms and the way I spoke. Over a span of weeks, I tried to convince myself to dress dowdy and make myself look professional, but unappealing to anyone, even myself.

I sat in my car for weeks every morning and cried at the idea of what disgusting things my boss would utter to me today.

I have always considered myself a strong and vocal woman, but sexual harassment had stolen my voice. I was filled with fear and afraid no one would believe me.

Even worse, I witnessed my co-workers turn blind eyes and open ears to my boss’ comments and actions. There was not a sexual harassment policy in place and no human resource office to turn to at this establishment.

I felt alone and hopeless. I became a ghost. A ghost who completed her daily tasks with proficiency and professionalism and counted down the days until I completed the time I had previously committed for the position.

“Why did you not just quit?” was the first question asked to me when I finally told someone.

That is a question I often pondered while hiding in my office. I came to the conclusion that I did not quit, primarily, to give my employer the satisfaction of defeating me.

In certain situations, it is perfectly acceptable to quit and leave. For me, personally, I felt afraid to leave and I wanted to honor my time commitment. When my boss was not in the office, I learned valuable lessons and gained knowledge that would help me in my career.

The next question that I was asked was, “What were you wearing?”

It is time society dismantles the stigma that clothing is a signal to consent. It is time society stops pressuring men and women to dress a certain manner just to avoid the obscene commentary by someone else.

It is on us to stop victim shaming and start realizing that the issue does not lie within the victim.

Inspired by a poem, an art exhibit at the University of Kansas on sexual assault titled, “What were you wearing,” re-creates the outfits of sexual assault victims.

Articles of clothing in the exhibit include: pajamas, jeans, sweatshirts, dresses, slacks, overalls and football jerseys.

The purpose of the exhibit it to defy the stereotype that they could have avoided attack if they had worn different clothes.

It is time society ends the questions of clothing in regards to all forms of abuse and harassment.

I chose to stay silent against my harassment, because I was ashamed and terrified.

Society often tells that if an attack is serious enough, the victim will come forward. Time will not pass and immediate action will be taken. That scenario only fits in a perfect world, and if the word was perfect, there would not be any attacks or harassment.

It is time society stops placing expiration dates on victim’s voices.

I witnessed my co-workers turning their backs and it devastated me.

Dear society, it is time we stop turning blind eyes to inappropriate behavior. It is time individuals stop feeling like they are alone and have to be alone.

As I pen this editorial, it is simply to act as a catharsis to these memories. However, I write to encourage the reader who may be experiencing the same thing. I write to say the reader is not alone. I write to reiterate that silence is not shameful; it is survival. I write to the reader that there are people who will support and listen.

I write to the reader who is not experiencing the same experience, but could potentially witness this experience. I encourage the reader to use his or her voice for good and support, even if it means vocalizing alone.

It is time society ends harassment and abuse, but it will take a societal effort to do it.

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