This is the final piece of this four part series! If you haven't yet, check out Part I, Part II, and Part III. If you've already read them, here's a recap: After being stalked my freshman year of college, I obtained a restraining order. Three years after that, I ran into my stalker accidentally. Another three years after that, I ran into him AGAIN. That night, I had a conversation with my Lyft driver, also a survivor of stalking.
When I got home, I went to my room and sat on the floor in my work clothes for an hour, staring at the ceiling, unable to muster the willpower to move.
I had many thoughts swirling through my head. Primarily - would this wake the sleeping bear?
I have had to learn to forgive myself for not seeking help sooner. I was young - eighteen. That was the first time I was away from my family for a long period of time, and I wanted to prove that I could be the young independent woman I wanted to be. Consequently, I didn't seek help until it was almost too late.
But, there were many other things bothering me.
Why did I feel I couldn’t say something when X came to campus and harassed me? Why did I feel I couldn’t I make a scene? As a woman, I can think of countless experiences where I have been harassed, and yet I didn’t say anything because ‘it wasn’t that big of a deal.’ Or because ‘I didn’t want to attract attention to myself.’ Or because ‘it happens all the time, I should just get used to it.’ Or because ‘boys will be boys.’ If something is not right, I should be able to say it, shouldn’t I?
My own best friend told me it was my fault that I was stalked. If I hadn’t dressed nicely and wore makeup every day, this wouldn’t have happened. How about instead, it doesn’t matter what I looked like, ‘no’ is no. ‘Go away’ means go away. A death threat is never acceptable. Further, why did I feel I needed to stay friends with her long after that? I absorbed her comment and never spoke with her about my court case again, even as I sat awake at night, unable to sleep for the fear I might not wake up. I couldn’t trust her with my fears or issues. In the end, I realized she was judging me for things out of my control. She was participating in what I now know is part of 'rape culture,' our culture of victim blaming.
Likewise, I still think about the grown man who (upon learning that I was a stalking survivor) told me I must have been so flattered to have a stalker. Yeah, it’s so flattering to be told you’re going to die. I’m just blushing with pride. Why couldn’t I tell him to bleep off? Instead, I politely told him that no, I wasn’t flattered, with a forced giggle to make the comment slightly less awkward. WHY? Why did I try to make his ignorant and absurd comment seem okay? Why did I not set the record straight? For the sake of not making things awkward? By doing that, I legitimized his belief that a woman should be flattered by harassment.
Likewise, why did I listen to the man who berated me for sharing my story at all, telling me that by sharing it I was 'bragging' about it and 'glorifying' the crime? Why did I let him make me feel guilty for using my voice as a survivor?
Also, why is it so difficult to obtain help as a domestic violence or stalking survivor? The legal process is so long and extensive that many women do not pursue legal action at all. It’s daunting, and often traumatizing having to repeat your story, rehashing all of your feelings over and over and over again.
Most importantly, WHY DID I FEEL THE NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE X AT ALL. When my office manager led me out of the bar and X started to try to speak with me, I said "I'm sorry, I have to go" to him as we passed by him. Because I didn't want to cause a scene. Because I wanted to be polite. Because I didn't want to make it awkward. WHY. I owe him nothing. He doesn't deserve an explanation. I did't need to say anything to this man.
I have accepted this culture of victim blaming and of women not speaking up when they are uncomfortable. I've accepted that I must live in the uncomfortable to make others comfortable, even when they are behaving inappropriately. No more. I am no longer going to stay quiet when someone says something inappropriate. I won’t accept harassment. I won’t brush off a rude comment with a giggle. I’m going to stick up for myself if someone ever victim blames me again. I don’t deserve harassment, no matter what I wear, what I say, or what I do. No woman deserves harassment. No person deserves harassment. It’s high time we speak up.
In order to speak up, we need to change our inner monologues. I’ve realized that I have repeated the same lies in my head that society has told me my whole life. It IS a big deal. I SHOULD attract attention if I need help. It does happen all the time, and it SHOULDN’T be brushed off. Boys will not act inappropriately IF they are taught it’s NOT okay.
I am worthy of respect, and so are you. Accept nothing less.