The first time I was forced to feel sexualized and powerless was when I was 12 years old. He was..?? 50-something and a physical education teacher at my junior high school. As I have often looked back on that incident, I am aware of the grooming of me that he did prior to that moment. He was complimentary and friendly. Always greeted me or waved from across the room. It made me feel special and I liked that I was recognized, (or so I thought), more than the hundreds of other kids in my school. In my naivete, I trusted him and respected him. He was a teacher and we were taught that they deserved those things simply because of their title, position, and age.
We were waiting for the bell, that released us to our next class, to ring. He came over and signaled for me to come talk with him. Me! In front of everyone else! Me! Then, I remember being amazed at his question. Certainly he could not kiss me without touching me and he would lose and I would be a nickle richer. He took me into a storage area and kissed me on the lips and simply said, "I lose" as he handed me the nickle. My lips were burning, my heart was exploding with shame. Almost instantly a female teacher walked in and questioned in an accusing tone, "What are you two doing in here?" She had put the blame equally on me as it was on him.
Sitting at dinner that evening, my lips continued to burn. I imagined that my mother could tell something was wrong, that I had done something terrible. Of course, she didn't know, but my guilt and shame were overwhelming. What would have happened if I told her? I feared I would be punished, so I said nothing.
The teacher continued to harass me by frequently asking me if I wanted to "bet a nickle". I could not escape it and thought I was powerless to do anything about it. This was just the first of many unwanted sexual advances, comments, and gestures that I have experienced and the recent news events and #MeToo movement has reminded me of how those behaviors had impacted me not only during my impressionable adolescent years, but well into my adulthood.
The October 30, 2017 issue of Time Magazine's article, "The View" begins with this sentence, "Cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug." This describes when our culture/society condemns and despises sexual predators but then excuses them and even promotes them to positions of power. The invalidating message this implies to persons who have been victimized, reinforces our feelings of self blame, shame, guilt and dehumanization. Our stories are discredited and devalued as we are accused of things that suggest we asked for it, should have known better, or are lying.
Of course, we are all expecting this to be that "watershed moment" that will result in change. Discussions are being held on many levels as the news continues to cover developing events. What is the solution and how can this problem be adequately addressed?
A newscast I recently heard recognized the power that other men can have when they address the behavior when they see/hear it. Objecting to crude comments made "in the locker room" or in the boardroom might be met with resistance from the offender. Men don't want to be seen as women and are expected to support such inappropriate behaviors. They might speak up privately afterwards, but by then, the offender goes free. The newscast emphasized how important it is for men to object to the behavior at the moment they witness it as it shifts the focus to the offender rather than remain on the victim.
Reflecting on the support I would have loved to have been given at age 12, to know that I was not to blame, to have the woman teacher confront the man about his inappropriate behavior and to have grown up in a family where I could have been able to confide in my parents without the fear of being punished would all have had positive outcomes rather than the years of shame and self blame I endured.
And just as a closing thought: Mine was only a kiss. Millions of women (and men) have suffered much worse.
Kathy Thome, LPC, is passionate about using the therapeutic relationship to help you achieve your personal goals.
She is proficient in multiple approaches and will work with you to find that which is best suited to your needs.
Kathy is skilled in working with many issues. She has extensive experience helping individuals with depression, anxiety, grief, and the development of interpersonal skills that foster growth and esteem.
Prior to her counseling career, Kathy was a high school teacher and a school counselor, which gives her a unique perspective and insight related to adolescents as well as parenting. She worked with suicide prevention groups and also founded the first LGBTQ group (Gay Straight Alliance) at her high school.
Kathy is a state certified Licensed Professional Counselor, earning her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Western Illinois University.