By Sahara Sriraman, Age 16
(NOTE: This daughter’s piece accompanies her mother’s story which can be read here)
It is definitely not a secret that sexual harassment is a growing issue that is becoming more common every day. And all of us are familiar with the now-popular #metoo movement that has become bigger with every new story that comes out. Each one is different from the last but they have all been part of the movement that has brought people’s attention to the disrespect women are subjected to on a continuous basis.
Women, for centuries, have had to work twice as hard as men to even come close to reaching the same achievements. Women have automatically been deemed “less able” than men before they are even given a chance. This gender inequality has mostly shown itself through sexual harassment and sexual assault and now only recently has become an issue that people are really taking notice of and speaking out against it. With every new story, people become even more angered with the status quo and how men think they are allowed to touch women without their consent.
Regardless of this outrage, people, in my opinion, are not doing enough to prevent it. With all these stories coming to the surface, people have been telling women that they should dress more conservatively, not walk on their own, and not get too drunk, instead of taking action against these sexual predators. People are somehow getting away with giving the responsibility of self-protection to the women instead of doing what they can to help them. And as more women tell their stories, more men are being accused of this horrifying crime. Yet people are finding every possible way to twist it around on the woman and blame her for the unspeakable crime that was committed against her. It’s disgusting and is only getting worse as women become more vocal with the stories of sexual harassment/assault that they were too afraid to speak of before.
Regardless of the backlash we face as women for speaking our truth, we will still continue to fight for the justice we deserve to have. And as someone who has experienced sexual harassment once before, I want to add my voice to this movement.
I had thankfully never been inappropriately touched by a man before this event mostly because I never let a man get close enough to have the opportunity to do so. I knew what could happen if I did and I was always conscious and alert about this. I knew that as a 90-pound, 16-year-old girl, I was automatically vulnerable, so I was too smart to put myself in that position. However, I am still a kind person who doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone or be rude. This weakness, unfortunately, led to one of my biggest fears becoming a reality.
It was last summer when my family and I were vacationing in the Caribbean. We went to a restaurant in town for dinner and we were served by a male local. Throughout our dinner, he would entertain us with jokes and even convinced me to show him some dance moves. However, even though he was really nice, he made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Every time I would look at him, he would be intently staring at me and then look away as if I had caught him doing something bad and would even get uncomfortably close to me every chance he could get. By the end of the dinner, I was feeling really uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to ruin my family’s dinner by telling them what was happening. So I just put a smile on my face and continued to enjoy dinner the best I could.
After we finished dinner and were about to leave, my mom suggested that we take a picture with the owner of the restaurant. The waiter decided to get in the picture and positioned himself right next to me for the picture. When he did this, I knew that something wasn’t right and wanted to escape from underneath his arm. But I, again, didn’t want to arise suspicion from my family and upset them. So I just remained where I was and tried to fake a genuine smile. That’s when his hand slowly snaked down my back. I was silently praying that the man who was taking the picture would hurry up, as he was taking many different ones. I didn’t want our waiter to do what I thought he was doing. But, regardless of my personal thoughts, he did it anyway. His hand reached my butt and slightly squeezed it.
My biggest fear, the thing that I heard so much about on the news, was finally happening to me. And me, someone who vowed that if this ever happened to me I would stand up to the person doing it. Yet, here I was, frozen in my spot, letting this man I had known for all of 45 minutes, put his hand on my butt. And even though my mind was telling me to GET AWAY FROM HIM, I physically couldn’t.
After all the pictures were taken, the man pulled away before anyone could see where his hand has been and just smiled at me and acted as if nothing had happened. I felt violated. I didn’t know what to do. Should I confront him? Should I tell my parents? Should I inform the restaurant owner about his waiter’s behavior? But I did absolutely nothing instead. Looking back on it, I wish I had done something, anything. But that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t do anything. It doesn’t change the fact that this waiter got away scot-free.
After we left the restaurant and began walking back to our hotel, my family was chatting about how it was such a good restaurant and how the owner/head chef was so nice and how we should go there for dinner again before we left. At this point, I felt like there was this huge weight on my shoulders that I just couldn’t get off and I knew why. I knew it meant that I should tell my parents about what happened, so I didn’t have to risk seeing that waiter again and going through that same traumatic experience. Yet, even though the thought of this made me want to break down, I still didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to disappoint my family and deprive them of having a good time, plus I was still in shock. I also felt like what happened wasn’t that serious and maybe I was just overreacting.
As we continued to walk, the weight started getting heavier. I just couldn’t keep it inside anymore. So I finally FINALLY told my mom about what happened and she automatically replied saying that we definitely would NOT be going back there. She wanted to talk to the owner, but I told her not to say anything. Even though I had told my parents about what happened and felt better knowing I had told the truth, I still wasn’t really the same for the rest of this trip. I was a little more hesitant about wearing revealing clothes and didn’t let myself get even close to a man I didn’t know. That one event affected the rest of my trip.
This event also changed me as a person and as a female. Even though it sucked and made me feel violated and insignificant, I finally understood partially what it was like for so many of the women who came out with their #metoo stories. I always imagined myself doing something that can only be described as heroic against a man like yelling at him in front of everyone, but I know that if it happened again, I would still do nothing. I think that just goes to show that you can train yourself to react a certain way to something you know may happen, but when it finally happens, you have no idea how you’ll react. I get really mad at myself knowing that my instinct to defend myself would never kick in if a situation like this ever happened again, but there’s nothing I can do to change that. And when I realized this, that’s when I realized that the only way to stop sexual harassment is to actually do something to prevent it. People can tell women what to do when faced with a sexual harassment situation like this all they want, but there’s no way to tell how she’s going to react when it actually happens. And that is why drastic measures need to be taken to punish sexual offenders and, therefore, protect women.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, you need to tell someone immediately. Not telling someone is only hurting yourself in the end and it will make you feel so much better after you tell someone you trust. Sexual harassment should not be taken lightly and we can ensure that by communicating our experiences with others. In doing so, we will be on our way to justice for the thousands of victims who have been affected by this crime, along with ourselves. Telling someone the truth of what happened is only fair for yourself and your well-being and no one else should have an influence in your decision to tell someone.
Although my experience was fortunately only minor and I will never see that waiter again, this experience changed who I am and made me stronger, not only as a female but also as a human being. I waited so long to tell my story because I thought it was insignificant compared to all these other women’s’ stories, I didn’t think that mine would matter; I thought I was just overreacting. But then I realized that those women’s stories are what inspired me to finally speak up about mine and my story, albeit minor, was still an event that traumatized me and was still sexual harassment.
I hope that my story will inspire someone else to voice their story just as the other women inspired me to. I now know that if something like this ever happens again, I need to tell someone I trust, even if I feel like an inconvenience for doing so. Because my sense of security should always be top priority–and I finally realize this.
And now I can say #metoo.