I didn’t realize I was being sexually harassed

The danger of casual sexual harassment


Graphic by Alex Silber.

The first time it felt almost casual—a subtle comment that wasn’t necessarily inappropriate, but seemed like an odd thing to say, especially in my workplace.

The next time was different. He talked of his attraction to “younger women.”

A clear line had been crossed, and the comments this man was making were inappropriate and unwanted.

Still, it took me a couple days to fully realize just how wrong these comments were—and to realize that I was being sexually harassed.

I made a bunch of excuses for why this person acted the way he did. “It’s just his personality,” or “he means no harm.”

But in reality, this man was far from innocent.

The worst part was that I hadn’t seen this coming. I actually enjoyed his company before the incident. But now, even the sight of him makes me feel repulsed. I felt uncomfortable and betrayed.

The dictionary defines sexual harassment as “harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” While this definition seems very clear and straightforward, actual experiences with sexual harassment typically aren’t as simple.

With workplace sexual harassment as common as it is—one in every four women nationwide have been sexually harassed in their workplace, according to a study conducted by Psychology Today—I could’ve expected to be eventually included in that group. However, I would’ve never expected for it to happen without me even realizing it.

I decided to write about my experience in case it resonated with someone reading this. It can be hard to accept the fact that you’ve been violated: actually saying the words “I’ve been harassed” out loud can make the whole situation feel a lot more real. It can be even harder to come forward about it; but trust me, it’s worth it. Although it took me a long time to tell someone about my harassment, an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders when I did.

Everyone who has been sexually harassed has the right to feel this burden taken away.

As much attention as sexual harassment has recently received, the smaller instances—the crude comments, inconspicuous touches—remain overlooked; and worst of all, it’s often the victim that ends up doing the overlooking. After all, The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that about 75 percent of all workplace harassment goes unreported.

If you think you’re  being sexually harassed, you’re probably right, and you shouldn’t take it lightly or dismiss it. Anyone who has had an experience with sexual harassment has to be honest with themselves, and tell someone who they trust. Equally as important, anyone who has had someone come to them regarding sexual harassment has to have open ears and listen.

Thankfully my experience with sexual harassment wasn’t as severe as many other cases, but just because it wasn’t as severe, that doesn’t mean it didn’t change my life. It’s time we acknowledge casual sexual harassment, and put it to and end.