Sexual Harassment Leaves Lingering Effects

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At 11 years old, a young girl was verbally harassed on her bus ride to school.

Eleven years later, the offense escalated. The young woman was on a work trip when her boss approached her, making several unwanted sexual advances towards her.

And now, several years later, the lingering memories of both minor and major incidents haven’t disappeared.

Social Psychology teacher Jillyan McKinney recalls her experience of sexual harassment from when she was 22 years old.

“It didn’t matter how much I told him I was married or that I was not interested,” McKinney said. “He didn’t like hearing no, and he was very much using his power to …  scare me.”

McKinney said at the time of the event, she didn’t understand the severity of the what had happened, but the level of discomfort was extreme enough for McKinney to switch her career path. After the incident, McKinney left her job and fell back on her teaching credentials.

Sexual harassment is not limited to rape. It can include seductive behavior, commentary or sexual imposition.

In a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 19 percent of undergraduate women were reported as victims of attempted or completed sexual assault during their college experience.

“Sexual harassment and sexual assault are incredibly prevalent in our society still,” McKinney said. “As progressive as we want to think we are, it’s still happening on a consistent basis.”

McKinney said there are freshmen college classes for females to learn how to defend themselves from sexual harassment, but students are rarely taught what behaviors are appropriate and what are not.

Senior Afrah Tahir said females are often objectified by males.

“A mindset that a lot of guys have … is that I want to get a woman,” Tahir said. “(A) beautiful woman (isn’t considered) a woman who you’re supposed to love and grow with. It becomes a trophy.”

Tahir said males act differently with each other than with females, giving women a false perception of how males view them.

“Women will think that … this kind of culture doesn’t exist, that all guys are trustworthy until they’re met with some kind of shock,” Tahir said. “And the shock can be something terrible like sexual harassment.”

Last year, senior Julia Huss led a club called Empowered Against Violence (EAV), which aimed to help students who have suffered from assault or other forms of sexual harassment.

The club worked with Stand Up Placer, a non-profit organization, to inform students on what to do if they find out someone has been sexually abused.

Huss said one of the problems with sexual harassment is that many victims are discouraged from talking about it.

“When you don’t bring it up, it stays silent,” Huss said. “Then victims don’t want to come out and talk about it because they think that they’ll be shamed by their peers, shamed by their friends, shamed by their parents, shamed by police forces (and shamed by) judges.”

Huss defined verbal sexual harassment as any point when a person begins to feel uncomfortable with the language used in a conversation.

“There’s a way to compliment someone … without coming off as creepy,” Huss said.

Huss said librarian Julianna Hedstrom, who was the advisor for the EAV, is a source for victims of sexual harassment to go to for help. Additionally, McKinney said she is also available for students who need guidance.

“If a child approaches me and trusts me enough to tell me that this terrible thing has happened to them or they witnessed something, they are obviously reaching out for somebody to help,” McKinney said. “It is my job to make sure that we deal with it in the best possible way.”

Looking back at the incident that affected her so long ago, McKinney said she would remind her 22 year old self that it wasn’t her fault and advise her to immediately respond to the discomfort she felt.  

“Trust your instincts,” McKinney said. “Trust your gut.”

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