In light of increasing tension around the issue of sexual harassment, victims of harassment who have exposed their perpetrators—also known as Silence Breakers—are setting the example on an issue that could easily shame those harmed into silence.
Earlier this school year, two students were disciplined after writing fictional stories sexually harassing members of the UPA community, and it had not occurred to me that such an intolerable event could happen in a seemingly safe and sheltered school.
After all, “UPA works to prepare each student with the life skills necessary for personal success in a world that needs each person to care enough to make a positive difference,” according to the school’s educational philosophy outlined in UPA’s Student-Family Handbook.
The Silence Breakers in our school exemplified this vision when they stood up for their rights as humans by speaking up for themselves and for others harmed by the harassers.
They exemplified this vision when they stood up for an issue that most commonly affects women.
And their voices were heard.
As women, it shouldn’t be that our reputation is damaged when men misbehave.
It shouldn’t be that we have to defend ourselves from our community.
It shouldn’t be that we have to live our lives oppressed and afraid.
But as a result of what has been happening, guidelines swim back and forth in my mind every day, every moment of my life.
Don’t talk to strangers alone.
Don’t talk to people online.
Don’t walk home alone.
Don’t be in the restroom alone.
I have accepted the fact that when others will not change, I need to do what it takes to ensure my own safety.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
Women have done their part already.
It’s been long past the time when men were supposed to do theirs.
It’s been long past the time when they were supposed to be formally educated on this topic.
Men need to understand the consequences behind their seemingly insignificant and inappropriate actions.
He’s not your boyfriend when he touches you in uncomfortable places or forces you to touch him in inappropriate ways.
He’s not in a loving relationship when he sexually advances on you without your consent.
He’s not playing when he writes and spreads sexual stories about you that you never asked for.
Women need to recognize that they are people, not toys, and should not be treated as such, no matter the situation.
If men are acquitted from such wrongdoings, it is an invitation for them to continue their behavior.
It is no longer appropriate or tolerable for them to not be punished for any actions that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, assault or rape on women.
Accidents and excuses for those misconducts no longer exist in our dictionary.
We all need to continue speaking up if we feel violated to ensure men that we will rise against them in order to protect ourselves, each other and our rights.