I'm a high school teacher, I'm 29, I've been a teacher for 8 years. I realized during my 3rd period class that something that happened to me when I was 17 was actually sexual harassment. I had blocked and refused to think about this moment for years.
The article that was the topic today was written in response to the #metoo movement, and asks the readers to reexamine their thoughts pertaining to the movement. We are working on building an argument in class, so I figured the plan was to dissect the argument. On the way in, he said that instead of talking about the effectiveness of the argument, let's talk about the content. Cool, I like discussions.
While we were talking about the article, my co-teacher shared the experiences of his friends that had been posted in response to the #metoo movement. He mentioned to me before class that if I wanted to jump in at any point, to please feel free to do so. My plan was to listen and clarify. But then...my memory was triggered.
While the class was discussing their reactions to the article, a memory sprung up from the summer when I was about 17. I suddenly remembered the day that a homeless man in the park had exposed himself to me and my day camp counselors.
I don't remember thinking that was sexual harassment at the time. I only remember that it made me feel very weird, and very uncomfortable. I was in charge, which made me think I had to hide the way I really felt about what had just happened. I couldn't let my fellow counselors see how uneasy and disturbed I was. I was 17, they were 15 and 16. I had to be strong, because I was in charge.
Maybe they didn't see exactly what I saw. Maybe they didn't see the uncomfortable eye contact just before he pulled down his pants and peed on a tree not very far from where I was standing. I remember thinking I just needed to turn around and stop thinking about it. I felt like he did it on purpose, but it was somehow my fault for staring.
Shortly after the incident, a few more men joined the first man at the park and congregated around an old tree. I saw them taking out bottles of liquor and they began drinking them, so I called the police. The police came pretty quickly. They mentioned he was a homeless man who frequented the park when I gave them his description. I told them about the liquor, then casually threw in the fact that earlier that day the man had pulled down his pants and urinated in front of us.
His reaction was somewhat annoyed when I mentioned the liquor, but irate when I mentioned that he had publicly urinated within feet of a day camp. The children had yet to arrive at camp, I told him, it was only the counselors. Thinking back, why did I think that made it "less" of a harassment? I was practically a kid too.
Why did I call the police when these men had open liquor, but not when one of them unbuckled their pants and urinated on a tree within clear vision of teenage counselors? I'm only realizing now what my reasoning may have been.
I was taught, by my upbringing or by society, to avoid or ignore uncomfortable situations. If I was to say outright what happened, I was worried that someone wouldn't believe me, or that I just wouldn't be able to say it without feeling uncomfortable. It was awkward to say the words, so I didn't. Until the police asked "anything else that you need to report?" And I threw in that little anecdote.
I remember thinking it wasn't that big of a deal... I didn't get physically abused, I didn't get raped, I wasn't verbally assaulted. But what that man did was not right. I should not have been subjected to seeing that. I hadn't even seen a boyfriend's private parts at that age, and then in one split second I had seen someone else's. A stranger's. And I had no choice in it. I didn't like thinking about that situation, so I just didn't.
I think about the high school students I teach, and I want to be able to prevent them experiencing something unjust or hurtful or harmful or bad. I obviously can't do that. But I did share that story with them.
Every single student in the room was watching my every move. Listening to every word. They were braver than I was at their age. They locked eyes with me the whole time, they let their faces show their emotions, and they didn't shy away from the topic. That's why it's important to talk about difficult or uncomfortable situations. Because if one student heard that and took away the idea that it's ok to be scared, but in order to understand the full scope of something, sometimes you HAVE to tell someone.