Sexual Harassment and the Truth about Freezing in FearBy
I was fifteen or sixteen when I worked in that Real Estate office as a receptionist on the weekends. I answered the phones, and typed offers for the salesmen. My mother’s disgusting boyfriend got me the job. That should have been the first red flag.
There was this one chubby salesman named Ron who gave me the creeps. He was about 40 years old. He was just a little too friendly. He would come up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. He tried to rub my back. I was terrified of him and didn’t even understand why. It was one of those feelings that today I have come to realize was my intuition. It was my “radar” warning me about a predator. That man had really bad motives when it came to me.
One day he came up to my desk and showed me some porn pictures. At first he was on the other side of the reception desk. He handed them to me; I took one look at them and handed them back without speaking. They looked like snapshots and they were mostly of naked people having oral sex. Those snapshots were pretty graphic. He came around to my side of the desk and at first I tried to look away, but he told me to look at the pictures. Something about him scared me and so I did as I was told and looked at the pictures. He slowly flipped through them, and I looked at them one by one. I was horrified and terrified, but I didn’t turn away. I thought if I was strong, if I showed no reaction, that he would lose interest in me. I thought that if I just pretended that it wasn’t bothering me, he would not ask me to do those things to him. And then another one of the salesman joined in on this humiliating event. They were egging each other on, asking me if I had “ever done that” and asking if “I would like that” or if I would like to “do that”. I was scared to death, but I never even flinched. I just kept looking at the pictures as he put one behind the other. I was sure that I had to stay neutral to be safe. (Today that reminds me of how and why I’d learned that staying neutral would be the safest choice.)
There was a hot tub out back at the real estate office. They tried to talk me into going in it with them. They said that I didn’t need a bathing suit. They told me I could go in my underwear if that made me more comfortable. (like I could possibly EVER be comfortable in a hot tub with two disgusting older married men who showed me porn pictures) They laughed at how uncomfortable I was when they were around me. I had this one boss there that I liked, but I didn’t tell on those men. I didn’t tell my boss and I didn’t tell my mother. I didn’t even think about telling! (Today that reminds me of how I learned that telling wouldn’t help me anyway so why bother. I was way too young to have to deal with all this stuff alone.)
They never let up on me until I finally had the guts to quit that job before they could complete their version of the grooming process.
I did not know what “sexual harassment” was. I didn’t know what sexual harassment was in the work place, or at school, or with boyfriends. I did not know that what these nasty older men were doing was illegal. I didn’t know I had rights. I especially didn’t know why the hell I froze and just looked at the pictures! The thing that stuck out the most in my memory was that I froze and complied. I may have even laughed trying to be tough and make them think I wasn’t scared to death. I may have even mumbled the answers to some of the questions.
And I was haunted by the question to myself about what I would have done if they had forced me to go in that hot tub with them. What if they had pushed me harder? What would I have done if they had demanded that I go? Deep down I was pretty sure I knew the answer…
Silence is consent and all I could think about was that I looked at the pictures and didn’t say no. I didn’t try to stop them. I didn’t report them. I felt as though I had actually gone along with them. For years I beat myself up over that day and the fact that I didn’t “do anything” about it. I didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t call them dirty pigs. I didn’t say NO.
I was so angry at myself kicking myself with questions like “Why did I freeze like that”? I bombarded myself with berating statements like “I should have…..” and “why didn’t I?” It was many years later that I even considered that the TRUTH is that both those men should have been charged and would have been held accountable for the crimes they committed against me. This thing they were doing was sexual abuse.
I was in my forties when I finally learned that “freezing” is what many children do when they are being abused and overpowered by an adult. I had learned to freeze and dissociate when I was just over two years old. It had become one of my main coping methods. I learned very young that compliance was the safest way to go. I had learned not to react, not to fight and I had learned that fighting or reacting would only make it worse for me.
What I hadn’t realized as I grew up was that I would continue to believe that inaction is the best course of action well after I was old enough to say no. I could have gotten those men in trouble. I could have called the police, but I had been trained to accept unacceptable behaviour. I had been taught that I was not going to be believed OR protected. I had no reason to believe that was ever going to change.
I continued beating myself until I realized the truth about why I chose passive submission most of the times I had been abused from the age of 13 or 14 onwards. There was a conflict in my belief system. As a grown woman I understood that silence was consent; what I didn’t realize was that my compliance and silence was also the childhood coping method that worked for me. Silence and compliance was learned behaviour and the only way that I knew and since it was the only way all those years growing up, why would I try or even think to try another way just because I got older? Logically I told myself I “should have known better or should have done something” but the truth was that what worked for me best as a child always won out. I would freeze, dissociate and comply.
I didn’t tell on those men because I had been groomed from a very young age not to tell. I didn’t fight because I had been taught from a very young age that fighting would only make it worse. I didn’t do anything because I didn’t know that I had any rights or any choices. I didn’t really learn my rights or choices until I was over 40 years old. My power had been taken from me from a very young age and I since I had never had any power in my own life, I didn’t know that I could ever have any.
Today, I know the truth about rights and choices. Today I have my power back.
Please share your thoughts. This post can be applied to any situation where adults misused their power over another person.
There is freedom on the other side of broken,
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