I was rushing out of my last class to go see the guy I liked. I always looked forward to talking to him after school, even if it was just a moment in time. My hair was shorter at the time, just below my shoulders, my personality a little more outgoing. My control over my thoughts becoming words when I was around him was non-existent.
“Yah someone said you were in the girls bathroom…..” and the words which followed had my heart stopping before I could even choke out a response. I was in pure shock and horrified at what a person had made up about me. Such a nasty sexualized rumor that was so far from reality it could have been in a whole other galaxy. A dark cloud fell over me that day and with it my reputation felt forever tarnished.
Everywhere I went it felt like eyes followed. I thought everyone as I walked by them was thinking, “Oh look at her - what a disappointment;” “No longer a star student;” “What a failure.” What happened if a teacher found out? What if there were new nasty rumors? What if I spoke up? What if using my voice only amplifies the situation? All these questions fell around my head like snowflakes.
It wasn’t until a year later I read the book I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout that I realized what sexual harassment is. It isn’t always being inappropriately touched by someone older than you or something physical. It can even be in a social and mental way such as cruel sexualized jokes. I learned that as a victim of sexual harassment I have the right to report it, the right to speak up, and the right to use my voice to advocate for ending sexual harassment in schools. My eyes were opened to how many victims are shamed into silence. When Chessy was sexually assaulted and opened up to her closest friends, very few stuck by her side. In my own situation, I noticed how certain people encouraged my silence.
Initially, after my case of sexual harassment, I shoved it down as deep as it could go in the messy closet which is my mind. I ignored it for months, but it nagged at me like the chore I forgot to do. I eventually opened up to a good friend. He gave me the support and encouragement every survivor should have.
With his support I took a step back and asked myself, “Is this who you want to be?” The answer revealed a deeper truth: That I needed to be true to myself and not change how I act around a guy I might like. I realized that it isn’t worth losing yourself for anyone, no matter how much you might like them. I also realized that as a survivor of sexual harassment, **I have the right to find justice in my own way, whether that means reporting the incident or taking a different route. Reading I Have the Right To by Chessy Prout sparked something in me in wanting to advance the conversation about how we as a society talk about consent and relationships. While I wish this didn't happen to me, it helped me discover who I was, and now I can help others. We all have the right to and the **responsibility to stand up and fight for justice, and not be shamed but lifted up by each other and supported on the road to survivorship.
© Alexandria Leavitt. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.