To My Sexual Harassers: Thank You for Hurting Me

Trigger Warning: This article discusses sexual harassment and mental illness. 

“Keep my princess safe,” a colleague sent one of my guy friends a message. “Look what he sent me,” my friend said, showing me their text messages. “Who is the ‘princess’?” I asked. He said, “You.” 

The message bothered me; I’m no one’s “princess,” and no one’s possession. This incident is only a portion of the unwanted sexual advances I have received both professionally and personally; it’s disheartening. I had been recovering from a previous sexual assault incident before this text and new colleague came into my life. Had I given them the wrong message? Had I given them the permission to treat me this way? I often replayed conversations to identify clues. However, this self-sabotage was the problem. Why should the victim or survivor have to feel this way? It’s easy to feel vulnerable, guilty, and ashamed; however, in reality, we should be unapologetic. 

Letting our guard down once can have consequences for a lifetime. Sexual assault can happen anywhere, some of which include college campuses, companies, and apartments. It will continue unless we actively put an end to it.“1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual violence,” according to TELL Japan, an English counseling service in Japan. “Most survivors know their attacker,” says Harlan Cohen in The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College. The people who have sexually harassed or assaulted me were not strangers. Some people hid behind their power, but once I saw the cheapness of their character, no matter how attractive, wealthy, intelligent or accomplished, it was enough to walk away from them. And the prevalence does not justify any inappropriate behavior.

1. To Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault

It is what it is: It sucks to be taken advantage of. In terms of sexual harassment, the trauma and paranoia that came with the experiences have been exhausting to manage. Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes. They can have perfect LinkedIn smiles, intellectual curiosity, and charm that are often deceptive. As my friend one told me, I “had been played by a high-quality playboy”; I had missed red flags. Manipulation and deceit are some of the ways in which they will try to attack us, whether or not we notice. Some red flags are easy to identify. For example, a man at a party said to me, “I like black hair,” and “You’re trying to flirt with me,” with a narcissistic wink; I was only planning to talk about business. Harassment can also be subtle and unexpected, especially if they’re friends. It can happen when we are “hanging out.” One of my closer friends, unfortunately, gave me a red flag, and I walked away after saying no to him repeatedly. He said, “Let’s go to a hotel together, where you can take a nap while I watch you.” He added, “I want to see you get drunk. It would be hilarious to see that.” It was a turnoff; it hurt, and I refused. At one event, another guy friend whom I trusted groped me. I am all for platonic hugs and friendships. But that does not allow groping or any obscene remarks. The techniques some of these sexual predators— even seemingly innocuous people— use have been sneaky, and they can be from people close to us— not strangers. They can put our lives at risk because they know us. 

Talk to people as if they are all friends, and protect yourself as if they are all enemies. While it should not be our responsibility to change people— they need to control their behaviors— sometimes, it helps to have our own defense techniques. Offensive defense can be the most effective prevention. If we feel uncomfortable with someone who makes unsolicited sexual remarks, roast them and bruise their pride. Tell them Friday nights don’t work for you. Tell them you have to go home by 7 pm so your overprotective dog doesn’t start eating your house. Spill wine all over them. If you need to, put on a ring on your ring finger and pretend you’re engaged. There are many techniques we can use to defend ourselves, which sometimes, take practice. But safety is a priority. Expecting the best from ourselves and the worst from everyone else can help us stay safe. 

Sexual assault can happen anywhere and in any situation. Many of the sexual predators I’ve met were from work; some were from school. What part of suggesting improvements for a company’s communication strategy solicits groping? Which were you referring to when you said you wanted to have a "business meeting"? In office or in bed? One day, for an interview for a platonic photoshoot— of my hand, my interviewer encouraged sexual harassment. When I visited the office for an interview with my business card in hand, I quickly realized that something was odd. As I spoke with the interviewer, he said to me, “If you want to make more money, you should strip. A male photographer who likes to take pictures of young women will be there,” he said as he scrolled through his phone screen of women in bikinis. “You mean, perverts will be there,” I corrected him, to which he responded, “No; they're not perverts. They just appreciate young female bodies.” I refused to take the job and cut off all communication with them. I walked away feeling betrayed. 

Fight then and there. Choosing battles is not only important, but also necessary. Once we choose the battles, we should go all out. Protecting ourselves in a half-ass way would only hurt us and make us vulnerable. If someone hurts us, call out that person— then and there— and don't let them get away with their behavior. When I was sexually harassed, I froze. I lost my voice. No screams, no punches— just silence. When I confronted the person, he accused me of making false accusations against him and said we should get a polygraph to prove his innocence. The point is that, unless we call them out in the moment, we give sexual predators time to make excuses. Do I hold a grudge against the people who have sexually harassed me? Yes, and the resentment is toxic. Be uncompromising in the pursuit of your values, and be unapologetic when someone wrongs us. Compromising a choice can compromise ourselves. If someone pressures us to do something we don’t feel comfortable doing, just say no.

Take care of yourself. Our safety matters. We need to love ourselves unconditionally, especially when life happens. Taking it one day at at time and understanding that the healing process is not instant can be both disappointing and reassuring. Learning is about purpose, not perfection. Speed is not the point, either. Through my recovery process, I’ve learned to be stronger. My flaws have helped me learn about all the work that I have yet to do, and remind me of the goals I strive to achieve. Having flaws gave me the purpose to better myself, which in the end, became a source of motivation. Letting go of perfection and focusing on purpose can help us stay grateful in times of darkness. 

Resilience is the most powerful resistance. It takes time to get over pain. But if we use that pain to our advantage, we open ourselves to opportunities that could help heal that very pain. I tried to make people understand me, until I realized this was also a form of resistance. What's important is that we understand ourselves. Therefore, I took solo trips, which helped me appreciate the world around me, not in me. It has been one of the most therapeutic experiences. My visits to Airbnb houses and meeting generous and genuine people gave me the courage to step back into the real world. In spite of my late arrival, my host drove me to the grocery store so I could stock up on pre-run and post-run food for my first-ever full marathon. The next day, she woke up at 5 in the morning to drive me to the 25th Philadelphia Marathon. When I finished the race, she cooked with and for me. What I realized was that focusing on causes beyond us, we can be more resilient and live with purpose. Believing in the good can be daunting, especially after traumatic experiences, but if we allow ourselves to open up, we also experience some of the greatest joys in life. Do what fulfills you. 

If anything beautiful can emerge from ugly experiences, they would be the lessons that we learn from them and the resilience we build. Deceit from some of my closest peers and mentors have taught me the importance of trust, something which, ironically, they did not have or give me. I accepted what had happened without accepting the behaviors. Tolerance has limits; resilience does not. Many of us have probably endured pain at some point in our lives. What matters is what we do with them— my emotions, my perspectives, and my actions. We should be the drivers of our own lives; no one else has the license to control us. Don’t let the pain define you; rather, choose how to use the pain.

 

2. To Sexual Harassers

If you think I’ve forgotten you, don’t worry, I haven’t. I will always remember your names and what you’ve done to me. I don’t need your wealth, power, or success. I will earn them myself. Thank you for the truths and the lies. Thank you for the baggage; no one needs your shit.

Be honest and humble. Hubris is the beginning of self-defeat and arrogant actions. Do you sleep with the whole school or your company, just to boost your ego? Do you keep changing your stories, your truths, to protect your pride? If this is your only source of pride, you might want to work on yourself. Whether you are an adventurous playboy or a person of “great wealth and power,” be decent. 

Anyone out there who plays with others’ hearts, just for “fun”? Do you take pride in the many hearts you’ve broken, fuck around, and ruin people’s lives? Who knows? Maybe someday, they’ll use their power against you. Is the investment— or the “experience”— still worth the baggage? Think carefully. Remember— that baggage will come back to you. If you are hurt, instead of justifying your history by blaming others, deal with yourself first. What’s buried underneath? Are you in pain as well? In the end, we become what we deny. Get help before you hurt others. 

To sexual harassers with families: Do only what you would would do in front of your spouse and children. If you have to justify what you’ve done, you’ve probably done something wrong.

If you think nice people are weak— think again. 

If you boost your ego at the expense of others— think again.

If you define yourself based on the number of people you’ve fucked— think again. 

Let’s hope you have the decency and sensitivity to know what’s right from wrong. 

Whether it’s sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, or any inappropriate behavior, letting our guard down once can have consequences for a lifetime. It sucks to be taken advantage of. Talk to people as if they are friends; protect yourself as if they are all enemies. Fight in the moment. Take care of yourself. The most powerful resistance is resilience. The lessons we learn from painful and often ugly experiences and the resilience we build can be some of the beauties of ugly experiences. I am hopeful that we can do better. But first, to be honest with others, we must be honest with ourselves. If I can offer lessons based on my experiences and prevent further harassment— whether or not you agree with my decisions— then I’ve completed my purpose. As my friend’s father once told me, “Smart people learn from other people’s mistakes.” 

To people who have harassed me and taken advantage of me: thank you, and fuck you.