Tonia A. Dousay
Scholar | Educator | Leader
How far have we really come?
Go ahead. Choose your excuse now.
- It’s because of COVID. Humans forgot how to behave in public. FALSE.
- It’s because “they” suffered an injury and don’t know any better. FALSE.
I reject your excuse. End of story. Stop the excuses.
Years ago, a senior member of my professional association made me feel uncomfortable. I was a new professional in my field at the time, less than a year beyond graduation and in my new job. He was very well known and established. At the time, I thought nothing of it. He seemed innocuous, grandfatherly, even. He bantered with me about an item for sale at a fundraiser auction. And then he zeroed in on me as a target. He entered into a bidding war on the item, a yellow scarf, only to give the item to me when he won. I was groomed by my colleagues at the event to accept this as “normal” behavior amongst peers. It was not, and I knew this in my core. When I got home, I relayed the story to my husband, who verified that I was indeed unharmed and helped me burn the garment in an act of effigy.
Years later, he would find another victim and go further. I regret not reporting him then. I apologize to the victims he has targeted and will gladly see him removed from any positions of power.
On Monday of this week…
- a woman frantically approached my table at a professional event seeking help to extract her female friend from an uncomfortable situation with an unknown male colleague.
On Thursday of this week…
- a dear friend experienced a public stalker following her to her hotel room at our conference.
- another woman at my professional event experienced a public stalker following her to our event.
On Friday of this week…
- I waited with a friend insisting she not be alone as she waited for a rideshare to the local airport.
On Saturday of this week…
- I insisted that the female friend of another friend not wait alone as she waited for a rideshare to her nearby hotel.
Please remember that it’s 2022. I’m a 46-year-old White woman from southeast Texas. More than 30 years ago, my mother, a member of the Boomer generation, sat me down and explained that some people would have completely unreasonable and inappropriate expectations of me. She was clear that I was in no way responsible for their actions and that I needed to be personally prepared to defend my person. My body. She taught me how to read the signs and how to protect my sisters, who may not have been taught the same defenses. I really wish she didn’t need to teach me these things. I also really thought we’d be beyond this by now.
We. Are. Not.
If you are reading this post and are a member of my professional circle, wondering if I’m talking about you, I invite you into a conversation. And if you’re not wondering but concerned, I invite you to ask me about these experiences.
Let me be clear. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
I am forever grateful to my mother and the many women who mentored me through how to handle unwanted attention and sexual harassment. I’ve watched good men be taken down by false claims and women succumb to the pressures of sexual harassment in the workforce. I’ve also watched as a MALE classmate in graduate school endured sexual harassment from a female faculty member.
Let me be clear. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
I am disappointed, but I am steeled in my response here. If you are a member of my professional or personal circle, I will—in no uncertain terms—NOT tolerate this behavior. You are a human being capable of self-regulation. And if you feel that your mental capacity prevents you from distinguishing appropriate behavior from inappropriate behavior, let me help you. I am happy to help you access the mental health resources you need to heal.
If you are a colleague, regardless of your gender identity, and you want to know what I was taught, ask me. I will mentor you on how to protect our brothers and sisters from the unwanted affections of others. Repeat after me—You. Are not. Responsible for their actions. However, safety is paramount, and I want you to feel safe when you’re with me or on your own.
Many thanks to the colleagues who’ve commented on LinkedIn and Facebook or reached out to me privately. When asked to share my advice for how to help address this problem, I offer the following:
I am a believer in bystander awareness. This is a huge reason why I’m speaking up. I learned from groups like RAINN and campus-based bystander training. When we recognize the signs, we take action. This is where sites like https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-harassment come in handy.
“Remember to C.A.R.E.” Creating a distraction helps tremendously, and that’s what I did on Monday of last week. Afterward, another colleague talked to the young woman directly and gave her options to refer to an authority (our Professional Ethics Committee in AECT). Throughout the week, we began enlisting others to shut down predatory behavior and protect other members as we witnessed inappropriate interactions.
** Create a distraction. Do what you can to interrupt the harassment, or distract those taking part in the harassment. But remember to make sure that you aren’t putting yourself in danger by doing this. If someone seems like they could become violent, do not draw their attention.
** Ask directly. Talk directly with the person who is being harassed. If they are being harassed at work or school, offer to accompany them anytime they have to meet with the harasser. If a friend is worried about walking alone to their car at night, offer to walk with them.
** Refer to an authority. The safest way to intervene for both you and the person being harassed may be to bring in an authority figure. You can talk to another employee, security guard, RA in your dorm, bartender, or bouncer, and they will often be willing to step in.
** Enlist others. It can be hard to step in alone, especially if you are worried about your own safety or if you don’t think you will be able to help on your own. It may be a good idea to enlist the help of a friend or another bystander.
Aside from witnessing, we can also be better about creating welcoming spaces, ensuring that our community has a shared value of not tolerating inappropriate behavior. I shared this post on LinkedIn, too. Two of our female members shared independent stories of their experiences. I am grateful that my openness encouraged them to speak out, but I am angry with why they needed to.
Still, I recognize that everything starts with a conversation. If we don’t experience the harassment ourselves or we’re not around when it happens, we don’t know that it’s happening. The corollary here is that once we know, we must do something about it. I felt powerless for too long and didn’t do anything. I’m taking that power back, and I’m sharing it with our brothers and sisters.
Nothing else to say rather than…”Let me be clear. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.”
Thank you, Tonia. It is voices like yours that will help others learn to stop this vile behavior.