You#039;re not alone: A student shares her story

by Beacon Staff • November 15, 2006

Sexual harassment is not a topic you're likely to bring up in casual conversation. If you even mention the phrase to a typical crowd, you'll likely be met with silence, jokes or a quick transition to another subject.

It's a touchy, gray-area and taboo topic that people do not feel comfortable discussing.,Sexual harassment is not a topic you're likely to bring up in casual conversation. If you even mention the phrase to a typical crowd, you'll likely be met with silence, jokes or a quick transition to another subject.

It's a touchy, gray-area and taboo topic that people do not feel comfortable discussing.

The U.S. Department of Education's Web site defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature ... [which] can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature."

The Ontario Women's Justice Network reports victims of sexual harassment may experience a wide range of physical, emotional and psychological effects, both immediate and long-term. They include headaches, nausea, anxiety, anger, shame, and inability to trust others.

Despite the toll sexual harassment takes on its victims, many instances go unreported every year.

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. revealed, "Nearly two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment at some point during college, including nearly one-third of first-year students."

With Emerson's average population around 3,000 full-time undergraduates, that would mean that about 2,000 students are sexually harassed during their four year enrollment.

However, I never expected to experience sexual harassment myself for one obvious reason-I thought only gorgeous women who dressed provocatively were the targets of suggestive and derogatory comments and pressure for sex. I am an average-looking girl who dresses mostly in modest T-shirts and jeans.

When my newly acquired friend Ben (name changed for privacy) started making comments about how hot he thought I looked, I was more than a little taken aback. I shrugged it off. Ben was a nice guy and we enjoyed talking about religion and politics. We were becoming friends, but I couldn't help noticing how he brought up sex in almost every conversation.

One day he asked me, in what seemed like an offhanded way, if I would sleep with him. I laughed it off, declining because I am a virgin waiting until marriage. He said I was crazy and that sex was amazing. I pointed out that he too was a virgin, although not by choice; he could only say sex was amazing because that is what he's heard from other people.

Despite his insistence that sex would make my life better, I told him I was actually much better off not worrying about birth control, STIs and the emotional side of sex. He called my reasons illogical and said I had issues and needed help.

A week later, I confided in a trusted professor, who encouraged me to tell my story. I am not the only person to have been in this situation, and I want people to know that sexual harassment is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, it is no new issue. In the 1976 case William v. Saxbe, a Washington, DC court first recognized sexual harassment as a form of workplace discrimination.

Donna Halper, an adjunct journalism professor at Emerson, recalled an event from her past at a time when sexual harassment was not considered a serious offense.

While between jobs in the 1970s, Halper applied to work as a publicist at a record company. Her interviewer, also the vice president of the company, "Bob," invited her to dinner on board his boat. Halper did not suspect anything malicious in his offer, so she accepted.

Bob was professional at the onset of the interview, until he sidled up next to her and said something about discovering if they were "compatible." Unsure of how to respond, she tried to brush off his comment with an inoffensive remark. She was afraid that she might be misreading him or that he was merely joking.

"If he really meant no harm and was going to be my boss, I didn't want to say the wrong thing," she explained.

However, Bob continued with his inappropriate comments, even going so far as to put his hand on Halper's leg. While she attempted to make it clear that her intentions were purely professional, Bob persisted in touching her. She ignored his behavior, in the hope that it would stop. Eventually, she convinced him to return to shore.

"I felt disgust and humiliation, but there was nothing I could do about it," Halper said. "It was the 1970s, and sexual harassment wasn't on anyone's radar screen."

She feared that no one would believe her if she reported his behavior, so she told only her then-boyfriend and a few friends.

"I was angry for a long time," she added, "angry at Bob for taking advantage of my being on his boat, angry at the general attitude in society back then-either somehow it was the woman's fault or hey, that's just how guys are-angry that I was so powerless in the face of what seemed like such an unfair situation."

If you believe you are experiencing sexual harassment, know that Emerson maintains a strict policy regarding any kind of inappropriate behavior.

The Student Handbook states, "Individuals found responsible for bias-related acts of harassment and/or discrimination will be subject to sanctions up to and including suspension and/or dismissal from Emerson College."

Students who feel that they are being harassed are strongly encouraged to report any occurences to the Dean of Students or the Director of Multi-Cultural Student Life.

All reports remain strictly confidential.

Even if you don't feel comfortable reporting it to the school, at least tell a trusted friend or teacher. You shouldn't have to face harassment at all.

However, if it happens, you do not need to face it alone.

Have you been sexually harassed?

Contact these services.

__The Counseling Center

216 Tremont St., Second Floor

824-8595

Available free of charge to all Emerson students who have paid the Student Health Fee.

For medical assistance in cases of rape or abuse, contact:

__National Sexual Assault Hotline

1-800-656-HOPE

Free, confidential counseling available 24 hours a day

__Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

99 Bishop Allen Drive, Cambridge

492-RAPE

Counseling and medical advocacy for rape victims

__New England Medical Center

750 Washington Street, Boston

636-5000

Emergency care