He walks into my office and shuts the door. I ask, “what’s going on?” and he moves toward me, then behind me and places his hands on my shoulders. “All is I need is 2 minutes,” he says and then proceeds to describe what he is going to do to me. I get up from my chair and tell him, “please leave now.” He laughs and tells me to be cool and asks why I keep teasing him. I say again, “please leave” and proceed to walk to my door. He then gets nervous, tells me he’s sorry and I just shake my head. I prop my office door open and look him directly in the eyes. He says, “your loss” and leaves my office.
This actually happened. To me. I would leave this job 2 weeks after this incident, but I didn’t leave because of it. A timed incident from an individual in a position of power which should have been reported by myself, also in a position in power. Even with power, there is still a hierarchy and when you find yourself experiencing this abuse, you aren’t equipped to process what is happening in the moment. Sexual harassment and assault are commonplace in our culture, all industries involved. Multiple women telling their stories and we as a society not moving quickly enough to solutions. I encountered hundreds, yes, hundreds of incidences that ranged from belittling and degrading remarks to full on groping. I could remain focused on these incidences, but I choose to move to solution, which lies in the recognition that in order to move beyond and change this pervasive culture, every individual, no matter the industry, does not deserve to be victimized, traumatized or demoralized. These actions are what ultimately carve away at the overall strength of a society.
As the media continues to sensationalize these stories, I can only focus on where I have the most concern. I witness on a weekly basis the overwhelming need for sound knowledge, empowerment and clear communication capabilities demonstrated by the next generation. I recognize that college is a time of growth and experimentation and their vulnerability as a patient population. With more accessible resources and information, STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) are actually on the rise. So my most concerned moments occur when a 20-year old sexually active woman with an IUD tells me she thinks she is pregnant because she isn’t having a period. My most concerned moments occur when an 18-year old sexually active girl asks me “what a guy would think of her” if she gave him a condom to wear because she didn’t take her birth control pill. My most concerned moments, even with all of the information, multiple examples of women in power and resources available to ensure the safety and well-being of women and men are not spent processing my own moments of being victimized, they are spent trying to digest the magnitude of this issue. My most concerned moments make me wonder what my 16-year old nephew encounters daily and what my 3-year old niece will have to endure on her way to womanhood.
So what was my response to this girl? I told her that she needed a little change of perspective. I explained that she was responsible for her sexual health even if she was in a committed relationship. I added that if it were me, I would rather have a guy thinking I was a total skank for a few minutes versus enduring a lifetime of HPV and a possible cancer diagnosis or having to buy a pregnancy test and then make a decision about the solution if it were positive. What I recognized was that in this moment there was no judgment, only empowerment. In order to change the health of our society, we as women have to change our reaction. We become the source of rational thinking and behavior. We become the unconditional support, we become the educators, we become the example. We respect each other as individuals, as humans. We listen without judgment, support without questioning, educate to eliminate ignorance, and speak up before giving in. Our actions versus our reactions will eventually de-normalize this current culture of bullying, assault, divisiveness, harassment, misogynism, sexism, ageism and racism.
This is a monumental, global effort. Speaking up is a learned behavior that requires diligence and practice. Everyone ALL IN, starting with our own individual persuasion and power. Personally, I chose to tell my story, the smallest part of it, in hopes that it would give other nurses, other women, the courage to tell theirs. I chose to recognize my ignorance in the environment that I worked in and acknowledge that I was a victim as well. Personally, I choose to remain in an environment that allows me to empower and create positive change. Finally, I choose to be apart of the solution and work the way of action versus reaction.