Why is it so difficult to report harassment, and what can you do to help?

This is a personal blog and it is from the heart. This incident is separate from the MeToo incident that I wrote about previously.

When I was 24, I moved to Aberdeen, in Scotland, to start a new postgraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence. On my last night in my home town before I left to go to Aberdeen, I celebrated with childhood friends in a local restaurant, which had a little dance floor and a bar. In the bar, I met an ex-boyfriend, and I ignored him. He tried to speak with me, and I told him to leave me alone.

I went up to dance with my friend, and my ex-boyfriend followed me and continued to hassle me. His first punch came from nowhere and I only remember being hit directly in the face, and everything going red, and falling backwards. I don’t remember anything after that punch. I only remember, vaguely, my friend Christine screaming and screaming and screaming and I could only hear her, and everything was red. I remember idly wondering why she was screaming but then I lost consciousness. I only woke up the next day in bed, covered in scratches and bruises and I felt like I had bad whiplash.

After the punch that took me to the floor, he hauled me up by one arm and was punching me with the other. Then, I was kicked about on the dancefloor, unconscious. My ex-boyfriend was pulled off me and he went to the bar. I was taken home by my friend in a taxi. I don’t remember any of it. I wasn’t drinking much because I am not a heavy drinker; it was the initial punch that took me out. I weigh about 100 pounds and I’m not quite five foot two. It was no contest, really.

After that, the bar/restaurant went back to normal; people eating, drinking. I have no awareness of the events after my attack. All I do know is that my ex was told to leave the bar, and some men in the bar followed my ex-boyfriend outside. They beat him unconscious in an act of revenge, which I did not instigate. I do not approve and there is no joy in it for me.

The next day, I decided I would go to the police, after going to the hospital. As I learned about the events afterwards, I began to understand that I could not go to the police. I didn’t want the very well-meaning men to get into any trouble; their attack on him had been down to his attack on me. So, I felt responsible, even though I was not there.

His mother called me to see if I was ok. She told me that she’d raised a monster, and that I should stay away from him. And I did; I never saw him again. I started my postgraduate degree with my body covered in the vestiges of his attack on me. He used to wear a ring and I had scratches from where it landed on my body, with the weight of his fist behind it.

I am writing about it now because, all these years later, I regret not going to the Police and reporting it. I had so many witnesses, and I should not have felt responsible for the actions of the well-meaning men who wreaked revenge on him. But I did. I think that victims can feel that all problems end with them, and that they are the only ones who can fix things even though they are the victim. That’s why you end up absorbing so much.

I never felt any victory that he’d got beaten up. I don’t think he learned anything at all. I learned a few years later that he’d attacked his then-current girlfriend, a woman I vaguely knew. I felt responsible for her.

I don’t think that those well-meaning men should have beaten him up. This deprived me of control of the situation. Revenge was not theirs to give; it was mine to take, going through the courts and speaking to the Police. It is the best way to secure long-term sanctions on their behaviour. I understand that they thought they were doing the right thing. I did not hear about their revenge attack until the next day, and I was aghast. I understand that they felt that they had to do something.

My choice? For me, honestly, being a witness, and making my voice louder, would have been the right thing to do in the longer-term. By taking action in place of me, they essentially took my control, my choices and my voice away from me; my experience, my suffering, went unheard. I was not being allowed to drive the situation, and that’s what I wanted. I wasn’t consulted. I don’t believe women are weak fools at all and I don’t need people to speak for me. I just need my voice to be helped to carry, and, by ‘speaking’ for me, they were taking away from me the very things that would secure the most likely outcome for ensuring that he did not do it again.

Women need to be heard and believed. We don’t need talked for, talked at, or talked over. When we talk about #MeToo incidents, often you will hear women say that they feel better after speaking out. They don’t say that they feel better because someone else did something or spoke for them; they want control back. Loss of control means no options, and not having options is a terrible way to live your life.

By going to the Police and trying to secure a conviction against him, I could have helped to make sure that he would have had a record, which would have warned off future victims. And I was wrong not to see that. In the later incident, the one I wrote about in the MeToo blog, I was very well aware that other women would suffer in the same way I did, so I did my best to make sure it was stopped before it started. That made me feel responsible, and I have paid the price of the highest level of guilt since since I was not successful in the process. Victim blaming can often include the victim themselves, and we do not need told what to do. The world will make you feel small, if you let it.

After the separate #MeToo incident, I was given some medical counselling. Due to a shortage, during the counselling process, I was paired with a male counsellor and I am going to call him Edward. Edward taught me many things. He taught me that your friends are not the ones who spend time with you or who even like you. Edward helped me to see that I had choices, even though I felt that my choices were taken away from me. Edward helped me to feel as if I had control back, even though the control of everything, even that of my own body, had been slipping away from me. In doing these things, Edward helped me to get my voice back.

I never got to thank Edward. One day, I called to speak to him, and I was told that he’d fallen ill, and he wasn’t coming back. I never called again. One of my regrets in life is that I never got to thank him and I hope that he found someone in his life as precious and supportive of him, as he was to me. There are good people there and they flit in and out of our lives, leaving a thread of love that you can see if you are looking for it.

Inspired by Edward, who strove to ‘to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world’, I am going to put forward a list of what you can do to help. This is based on a few sources, but mainly Rape Crisis Scotland should be credited here.

Do:

  • Listen. Good or ‘active’ listening means you help the victim develop their own
    thoughts so they can look at options and make their own decisions. It’s not up to you.
  • Stay calm.
  • Be comfortable with silence.
  • Encourage
  • Take notes
  • Ensure safety
  • Read this list from RAINN in case an incident has happened
  • Listen. Keep the cakehole shut.
  • Accept and don’t judge
  • Be patient.
  • Take the lead from the victim– it is important for them to feel in control
  • Avoid asking intrusive questions.
  • Learn about sexual violence and its effects
  • Learn about ways of coping with these effects
  • Ask them what they need from you
  • Look after yourself too
  • If you think what you’re going to say sounds thoughtless, it probably is. So shut up.

Don’t:

  • Judge
  • Instruct
  • Decide for the victim
  • Feel responsible
  • Ask loaded questions, opinions and comments such as ‘you could have done such and such couldn’t you?’ or ‘you must be feeling terrible?’
  • Use ‘should’ or ‘if I were you’. If you are going to do tell me what to do, just go away. You are not helping.

I’m going to end, as I sometimes do, with a poem.

“Even in our sleep,

pain which cannot forget,
falls drop by drop upon the heart until,

in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom

through the awful grace of God.” – Aeschylus

7 thoughts on “Why is it so difficult to report harassment, and what can you do to help?

    • It coult be the case those gentlemen that “took revenge” wanted a bit of justice.and self indulgent compensation for the bad things they just witnessed. You were unavailable for anything. Your choices at that time assume something would happen to those guys. Is this realistic?

  1. You are a smart and articulate woman as well as a courageous one. I understand why you didn’t want to throw those individuals who beat up the ex-boyfriend “under the bus”, to use an American idiom. (It means to shift blame to someone else.) I’m neither a woman nor have I ever been in that kind of position as a victim so I’m not here to judge anything you did. I get it and I probably would have done the same as I wouldn’t want to create victims unintentionally.

    You’ve clearly thought this through countless times over the years. I’d just like to float out the idea that perhaps you unintentionally took control away from those well-meaning individuals. Allow me to explain. 99% of all men don’t commit violent acts against women and we find it abhorrent. It wasn’t really about you, the person. It was about what you represent, a woman who was beaten up by a thug in a cowardly fashion. If I’d been there, I’d have helped those well-meaning individuals and I would have proudly accepted any consequences even though I don’t know you because, right or wrong, those are MY values and they have nothing to do with you.

    I have the luxury of casual hindsight and I’d like to share my thoughts for your consideration and the consideration of someone who might be in a similar situation in the future. Those were two separate and isolated events, one involved you directly, and one only indirectly although the second event was facilitated by the first. I get why you felt responsible and made the choices you made. You had been beaten unconscious and probably weren’t thinking clearly anyway nor were you able to calmly and dispassionately analyze the situation and act accordingly. My point is that you wouldn’t have been causing problems for those other well-meaning individuals. In fact, it would have gone a long way toward getting him off the street as they were clearly witnesses to his crime. Frankly, it’s unlikely any prosecution of those individuals would have occurred; rather, they would have become prosecution witnesses.

    Once many years ago, the band that I was in hosted a Christmas party on Christmas Eve. One of the attendees was uninvited, obnoxiously drunk, and was caught stealing things from others. Needless to say, we threw him out. He went outside and started yelling “mother f**ker” at the top of his lungs at 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve. A number of people went outside to quiet him and when that didn’t work they tried to punch him until he shut up. He still kept yelling. Needless to say, the neighbors called the police and they showed up. The first thing the policeman said was “Who beat this man up?” One of the guys who had been participating in the beating laughed and said “You want a list?” When they heard the story, they just took the drunk guy to the hospital where his Blood Alcohol Content was measured at 0.4, which can actually be fatal for many people. There were no other consequences or recriminations. I understand this was not a case of someone reacting to a violent attack and the parallel might seem tenuous but my roommates and I, as well as my neighbors, were also victimized by a jerk on one of the holiest nights of the year.

    I’m not saying this would have happened in your case but it probably would not have been politically correct to prosecute the guys who beat up a thuggish and violent misogynist.

    Let me reiterate that I don’t think you did anything wrong. I’m only sorry that you were his victim and that he didn’t get a chance to pay his debt to society. Thank you for your blog posting and I’m disappointed that I’ll probably never get to meet you as I’m on the wrong side of the pond.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine how difficult that may have been for you to do.

    I too, like Bob, would have been taken part in your ex’s “education”. I call it education, because sometimes, you have to communicate in a way that a person understands. Occasionally the only method is through violence. That’s not to say I am a violent person, I am just ready to do what is necessary to protect those who cannot defend themselves. I am not suggesting you cannot defend yourself, however the sucker punch left you defenseless. And that’s where it changes.

    I do not like men who hit women, it’s cowardly. Even if the woman is leaving the man little other choice but to defend himself. Never mind the physical differences (if there are any), it’s not what a Gentleman, or a man of character does. There is a code of conduct among men, and one of those tenants is a man does not beat women or children. Those men who followed your ex outside and reminded him of his trespass. They expected no protection and knew full well they could be charged with some form of assault. In fact, I imagine they might have expected to you to contact the police. I certainly would have. I can say this, because I have been one of those men.

  3. I am very deeply sorry you went through this. But thank you for speaking out. The more people that discuss these situations and events then more people will have the courage to stand up to people like your ex and do something to try and prevent this violence from occurring. I am concerned that your wrote that you felt the men you beat up your ex “deprived you of control of the situation. Revenge was not theirs to give; it was mine to take” I would think these men acted primarily for themselves. They likely felt ashamed and outraged that another man would do this and I expect they beat him up to show that they were not complicit and that other men do not tolerate this behavior. This may have been the wrong response, however this is independent of any action you felt you needed to take. You did not lose control due to their action. If you felt he needed to be punished legally, then you can only report to the police what you did and what you experienced. If it was discovered that your ex was beat up and the police decided to take action against the men you did it (and they might not have tried getting the names of these men particularly vigorously), that would have been their decision, not your responsibility. I understand the difficulty of being made the victim of a violent event and how hard is can be to make good long term decisions that empower us after being victimized but I think these men spoke for themselves not for you. It is good that you are now speaking up. This has more power than you might think and it does good for those that listen. You list of do’s and don’t is great. Thank you again.

  4. I ended up here following a link from Brent Ozar’s newsletter.
    I think to call this ‘harassment’ is a misuse of English. This was a vicious assault that could have killed you. The response by the group of men was likewise a vicious assault. It is ‘never’ a trivial thing to be beaten into unconsciousness. I’m sorry you had the experience.

  5. Dear Men: The men on this post offering opinions are so very strangely proving the point of this article. Qualifying suggestions to someone who has explicitly said your opinion is not wanted, needed, or valued with apologies in an attempt to commiserate with their experience is not the way to go. Several well-meaning individuals have done so on this post, and I find that to be, at the very least, unfortunate.

    Dear Author: Your clarity is really quite striking. In the best of ways. Thank you for the chance to listen to your story.

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