October 4th, 2010

How Harassment Hurts

If you are looking for more info on sexual harassment, see here

The emotional and psychological scars of sexual harassment run deep. One victim, Tessa* reveals her struggle to cope and how she contemplated suicide after two incidents of harassment.

“Imagine talking to people whom you think you can trust. You feel dirty, and the days are passing by in a surreal haze. They tell you, do not be angry, do not be upset. Think positive! Nothing bad will happen; you are just being symptomatic, and your fear and anger are indicative of that,” Tessa tells AWARE what people told her, conveying the difficulty she faced when everyone around her told her the harassment was all in her head, and she was making a big deal of nothing.

“They told me I do not need to take any extra measures to keep myself safe,” Tessa continues. “And to just go back to living life like I had, previously. Only things would never be the same again.”

Tessa was harassed by two different men, both of whom propositioned her for sex.  In the first incident, the man threatened to rape her. In the second, another harrassed her verbally, even though she outright rejected his advances and was clearly uncomfortable with the situation. The harassment incidents occurred within four months.

Tessa was told over and over that the two men did nothing to her; and that she was making a mountain out of a molehill. That if she went to the police, they couldn’t do anything anyway. Here, in her own words, Tessa tells AWARE how she found her way through a very dark time.

***

I thought that nobody understood me. I even stopped talking to my doctor. He referred me to a psychologist, who, too, was at a loss as to with what to do with me. In the psychologist’s opinion, I had no reason to be traumatised. I continued to get worse. I was cheered when I saw the her taking notes diligently while I told her my story. But after summarising the main points, she disposed of her handwritten notes. I was devastated —I thought that her notes could be a record of events that I could use to protect myself if the necessity came up, but now that the notes were gone…

I blamed myself for the harassment, and hated myself for it. I felt like a shell; and as though my body had been objectified for the pleasure of men. I would hide, I reassured myself. I would hide myself so that they wouldn’t be able to find me. I would hide myself so that I would be safe. I became depressed.

Four months in, I resolved to kill myself. My world had shrunk to days spent absently staring out into space or watching television. I could hardly string sentences together. I was failing at a job that I had so prized just a couple of months back. My depression had dragged on for months, and the end was nowhere in sight. I could only see myself being a burden to others, and taking my own life seemed like the best option at the time. And so, one night in July, I attempted to take my own life.

I was lucky. I survived. But I was far from healed. One day, I made an appointment to see another psychologist. During the first session, I once again related the events that had brought me to his office. I thought that he would, like all the others, tell me that I was making a big deal about nothing. I braced myself, fully expecting that he would just dismiss my pain. Thankfully he was different.

“Tessa, do you know what this is?” he asked me. This is sexual harassment. You can report them to the police.” I can still remember the indignation in his voice with absolute clarity and the directness of his gaze as he said it.

Caught completely off guard, I sat in silence while I absorbed the implications of his statement. In my mind, there was a growing buzz: You mean—you mean I have a right to be angry? You mean they had no right to do that to me? You mean people will support me if they ever act on their words.

It was with those words that I slowly started the process of healing. I had a right to feel angry with them, dislike them for what they had done to me. I was not, as the psychiatrist had asserted, narrow-minded. I was simply traumatised…

The entire experience taught me that sexual harassment is not acceptable, and no one should be made to feel that being treated this way is all right.  Women like me have a right to feel violated after being sexually harassed.

Looking back now, I understand first-hand why it’s so important to raise awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and changing society’s attitudes towards it. Advocacy like this really does have the ability to save lives.  I know it certainly saved mine.

*Not her real name. Published with permission.

Victims and friends of victims of sexual assault are encouraged to call AWARE’s Helpline at 1800-774 5935. We have a team of experienced counsellors and legal advisers to assist in and advise, and provide a listening ear.

2 Comments ...

  1. Annie Ang

    This is an important piece. I cannot believe the psychologist was so flippant about it.

    #2341
  2. buiqes

    youre absolutely right annie. its so sad how people are so dismissive in their attitude towards sexual harassment. i have so many friends who were faced with this but had no one to support them and were told they were making a big deal out of nothing. they just end up leaving the job and these bullies move onto the next target!

    #2351