Sexual Harassment: Learning Through my Experiences

Most young women are warned about sexual harassment and assault, being told to carry some type of protection. When I moved into an apartment by myself, the only housewarming gift I received was defense spray. Yet, protection like this is not paramount; there is more to harassment than physical interaction. Sexual harassment has many forms that women often aren’t warned about, and it can be difficult to identify because they may not recognize it themselves. I didn’t.

I am fine with men complimenting me, or even asking what my boundaries are. I appreciate this type of communication. But when a person becomes persistent with their own intentions, it crosses the line into harassment. Over the past few years, I have learned that it is hard to notice when this kind of harassment starts.

A few years ago, I worked a retail night shift with a team of men. Every night I was subject to different comments about my body and what my male coworkers would like to do with it. I did not openly discuss my distaste for their behavior, which allowed the opportunity for them to expand the boundaries of what they considered acceptable. Needless to say, I was uncomfortable, but the experiences went unreported because I didn’t want to get my ‘teammates’ in trouble. I also did not want to experience the negative effects of victim blaming. I still look back and regret that I didn’t tell my superiors what I was dealing with.

I thought all these experiences were left in the past, but they resurfaced with a student here at MSU. However, this time, I was blindsided by what was going on. By the time I realized it was harassment, it was too late. I made it clear at the start of our interactions that I was not okay with the behavior, but it persisted over the course of an entire semester. The behavior only escalated; as did the comments about my physical appearance.

When I look back, I am stunned by what I put up with. But in that moment, I was being manipulated. I felt like I was going crazy because the man involved kept downplaying the scenario. Multiple times he dismissed my concerns and invalidated my feelings simply by brushing my comments aside. However, I had gained some insight through my previous experiences and, this time, I overcame my fears and reported the behavior. It is hard to summarize my thoughts and feelings into a few short sentences, but I can say one thing: I am thankful for what I have learned.

There are a few things I wish I knew before any of this occurred. First, when the person harassing me said, “you’re not doing anything wrong,” that was their tactic to push my limits and get me to do what they wanted, physically or emotionally. Second, when I was told they cared about me, that was a very unfortunate lie. Someone who actually cared about me would never manipulate or use me. Third, reporting the person harassing me was the right thing to do, as scary as it seemed.

So, why doesn’t anybody warn us about verbal sexual harassment? Why is our fear strictly over physical harassment? The offenders in these situations try to normalize this behavior. This makes it harder to identify inappropriate behavior, especially when the person doing it keeps acting like it is normal.

If you are experiencing any forms of harassment, contact MSU’s Title IX Office at oie@montana.edu or call (406) 994-2042.

-Valerie Seelye