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As I Desire it to Be

9 November 2023:

After I reported my sexual assault to the police years ago, I thought I would be done with doing things like this for myself. I did the hard thing, and stood up; I spoke up. After all of the pain, embarrassment, exposure, frustration, disappointment and courage I experienced throughout that process, I thought I had figured it out. The "it" being, that I am a person that speaks up. That stands up for others and stands up for myself. And for that lesson, the universe would reward me by saying, "she did it.... no more for her. This tribulation we put her through, she's grasped the lesson and overcome... she's done." I was so fucking wrong.

About two months after arriving to my new assignment I attended a going away dinner. Me, being new, the majority of people there I didn't know, but there were a few that I did know. During the dinner one of the people at my table (and who also sat next to me) kept touching my back and holding his hand there as he spoke. The first time while it caught me off guard because I didn't know him, I just didn't think into it. I dismissed it again the second time. By the third time I was extremely uncomfortable and felt my body angry at myself for not speaking up. I felt my body in a rage internally shouting "STOP!!!! Tell him to STOP!!!" But then my mind kept trying to find the "right words" to "interject" in the conversation and "politely" tell him to stop. The words never came. By the fourth time I got up, left the table and went to the bathroom. By the time I returned, I went to a different table.

After the event I told my coworker (who sat at the same table with me) how that man continuing to touch my back made me uncomfortable which is why I left and I was frustrated that I didn't speak up. That I froze. My coworker mentioned that he noticed the man doing that to me and was equally unimpressed with the man's conversation and attributed the behavior to the man being from an older generation.

When I went home, the next day I told my husband and we had a long conversation about me needing to speak up for my own self. Our conversation was hard as it forced me to confront the reality that I am quick to stand up for others or preach about the need to standup for oneself, but when situations arise where I need to do this for myself, I freeze.

Within two weeks of us arriving to this new location while I was sitting in a park drinking a juice, an elderly man joined the table with me. As I got up to leave he shook his head motioning that him sitting at the table did not require me to leave. He couldn't move around well, there was a language barrier between us, and he looked very non-threatening to me. He then gradually attempted to chat with me and the next thing I knew he reached over to touch my face and my leg saying, "African". I quickly jolted away from him, got up and left as quick as I could.

Reviewing these two recent incidents and remembering my past, I can't help but think, what is wrong with me? All this rank. All of this experience. None of it shields me from sexual harrassment or unsolicited behaviors from happening to me. My armor has holes and even with all of this therapy work I've done to liberate my own self and give myself what I need, I am still explaining away or holding myself back from being my own protector. Why? What am I afraid of?

Today I attended Sexual/Harrassment Assault Prevention Program along with all the other members in my Command required to do the training. The course was held in a very large venue (auditorium setting) at full capacity and was led by one of the service member Victim Advocates (VA). The VA presented slides explaining the range of actions that can lead to a sexual assault, grooming behaviors, examples of sexual harassment, bystander intervention, definitions among other training items. We then watched two videos. One of a female service member being harassed at work followed by being raped by a coworker. The second video of a male service member being sexually harassed and molested by his civilian supervisor. The second video showed the grooming of the supervisor. How it started with conversation, then touching of the service members neck casually at work, then full on molestation. The "casual touching" triggered me.

The VA asked the question, "what did you see wrong in the video". Audience members listed various observations. One member mentioned, "after he was touched, he never spoke up". The trainer agreed and moved on. I rose my hand and asked the question:

"For those who have the response to 'freeze' in situations like these, how can they become empowered to speak up?

I clarified my question by explaining that I had experienced that kind of unsolicited touching and the scenario may not always be in a private setting like in the video, but around other coworkers who see it happening but no one speaks up. How do you empower individuals to overcome freezing?

Unfortunately, this question opened a can of worms. She then asked more investigative questions and told me that this would be an open matter and that I would need to talk to her afterwards to report it. Then, her counterpart mentioned that we all need to report these incidents and that he only had 4-5 reports of sexual harrassment/assault cases in the year and that if these things are happening we need to report it. He then went on to say, "whoever made that comment, raise your hand." I stared back in shock. He then went on, "awh see now you don't speak up."

I tried to hang on to complete the mandatory training and get my credit for the course but the entire experience made me sick.

Thankfully I was in the back of the venue so I just left. The man who made the comment about "raise your hand" entered the back where I was and asked, "were you the one who asked the question?" He asked me as he walked by me and grabbed my arm briefly in a passerby manner. Disgusted and more angry I said, "No." He rolled his eyes then went to the bathroom. One of my coworkers who exited the training after feeling a similar disgust decided he too had had enough and wanted to leave with me.

Maybe in a different time, I would gut it out and push through, but I just didn't want to anymore.

I'm still left wondering for myself how do I stop freezing while I'm in the midst of a situation. Why is my instinct not to fight back? Or maybe not my instinct (because I feel the rage) but I'm not responding with words or actions, at least not with these recent events. A confidant I shared this scenario with shared that it may be because when I've reported incidents like this before nothing happened, I lost my job, or something else. Regardless, she emphasized the importance of speaking up for oneself.

To be completely honest, I'm really tired of being in situations where I have to "fight back." I'd rather the world stop presenting me with situations where I have to fight so much. I'm tired of speaking up, speaking out, fighting. It just feels endless. But that continues to be my reality, and when I dont lend some form of defense to myself, I hurt.

My world continues to be one where the protection I seek will have to start with me. I dream of a world where I can default to trusting others, rather than distrust. Where I can drink a juicebox by myself in a park or eat dinner with coworkers without worry of being rubbed on; where I can report sexual harrassment and not lose my job or report racist comments by trainers and the findings acknowledge the racism rather than categorizing it solely as unprofessional. Or advocating for my own career after devoting so much time to others, isnt perceived as a call for shaming. But until then, I believe it was Biggie Smalls who said, "In order to change the world we must first change ourselves." Still learning how to create my world as I desire it to be.

Below is a photo from a much better day


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