May 20th 2019
I was walking across campus from my internship to work when I was approached by three young men. They had backpacks, so I assumed they were UW students just like me. When they asked me if they could interview me for a class project, I didn't hesitate or think twice. We've all been there; hell even I have asked fellow students to take a survey or answer a few questions.
One of them moved to stand next to me, and I watched him pull up the voice recorder on his phone. Another one held up his phone to the start the video. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The boy next to me asked my for my name and major, which I willingly provided. Then he asked me, "What's the craziest thing you've ever done?"
I didn't think it was that weird of a question - maybe it was for a psych class or something?
I told them about travelling cross-country and going bridge-jumping at my last college.
He informed me that wasn't he meant.
He went on to ask me about my craziest sexual experience, and then gave graphic examples of what he meant, what he wanted to do to me.
My face felt like it was burning.
"Excuse me?" I could feel my stomach in my throat, and my breathing started to become erratic.
He repeated what he said.
"You know that's sexual harassment, right?"
He looked at me unphased, and even alittle confused.
"No, it's not. How?"
I took off in the opposite direction towards the Campus Safety building and made my way to the nearest bathroom. I put my head against the cool tile on the wall trying to regulate my breathing.
Why did they think that was okay? Am I overreacting? They probably don't know what they did wrong, or why what they did was wrong.
I called my best friend from the bathroom, crying. I told her everything. I questioned my reaction to the situation; I am known to be reactionary and overreact when I'm taken off-guard or upset. She affirmed to me that what they said wasn't okay, that I should go to campus security, at the very least it would stop them from doing it again.
I reported them to Campus Security. They were fantastic throughout the entire process. They brought in an advocate, who helped me understand my options and offered follow-up counseling. I decided to file a police report against the boys.
We live in a world where women automatically question their own emotions and actions when something like this happens. They blame themselves. They try to think of everything they did wrong, how they could have prevented it.
The common thought: It's my fault.
We have taught women to think that harassment and assault is their fault.
I believed it was my fault.
Even though it was broad daylight, in the middle of campus, I know better than to walk alone. I thought those two factors would prevent something like this from happening. But it didn't.
I knew better than to talk to strangers. Aren't we taught from a young age not to talk to strangers? I thought I was helping out a fellow student, just like I would want to be helped if the situation were reversed. They used that against me.
I told myself, "I should have done this… I shouldn't have done that…."
It was my fault.
Why are their actions my fault? How does the victim always manage to get blamed?
When I told my mom what happened, she told me she was really proud of me for going to Campus Security and the Police.
"Isn't that what you're supposed to do?"
"You'd be surprised how many people don't. They convince themselves they're overreacting, that they did something wrong. They don't think anything will happen if they speak out."
We've taught women that it's not okay to speak out when things like this happen; that their voice doesn't matter and won't make a difference.
I recognize that I did what I needed to in this situation, and that the ultimate outcome is outside of my control. I don't know what will happen down the road for those boys, if justice will be served. But I do know that by sharing what happened, I made people aware that it happened. How can we stop something if we don't know it's happening?
By speaking out I made the Officers aware that it happened, and they were able to find them and stop them from doing it to someone else. It sent the message that this kind of behavior is not okay.
When one person speaks out it gives the next person the courage to do the same. And then the next. Until eventually, and hopefully, something gets done about it.
One voice will eventually turn into the roar of a crowd. And maybe then we can actually do something about it.
Please say something.
A special thanks to the UW-Tacoma Campus Safety Officers, the Tacoma Police Department, and the Office of Advocacy and Support for all of their help, support, and guidance.