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What do you do when a friend harasses you?
I have faced a great deal of harassment – verbal and physical – from strangers, while walking down the street, traveling in buses and trains, at college and at work, in Mumbai and Bangalore. When a stranger is involved, it is easy to fight back; and the incident, while not forgotten, doesn’t matter quite as much after some time. But when someone you consider a friend, someone you trust, treats you like a piece of meat, it becomes really difficult to deal with.
I was on a short holiday with a mixed group of nature-enthusiast friends at a wildlife reserve some months ago. While intently watching and trying to identify some butterflies at one point, I felt someone touch my butt. It could only have been the person standing behind me – a man almost 18 years younger, who was a regular member of our group trips. At age 43, I really thought that I was done with stuff like this – and that too by a person I knew and trusted? I did not react, as I couldn’t believe what had happened – I tried to rationalize the incident, wondering if it could have been an accident, a mistake, anything! But the next day, it happened again – just at the moment when all of us were watching an exciting bird! I had been careful to stay away from him, but at that moment, all of us converged on the same point to look at this bird – he happened to be behind me again, and in an instant, touched me on the butt again. Now, I did not have any doubt about the act, or that it was purposefully executed.
But I still could not bring myself to confront him, or to tell anyone else about it. This is the worst thing about being harassed by someone one knows – one feels greater embarrassment at the prospect of being disbelieved, than at the act itself. Maybe this was the mistake I made. I continued to behave normally till we got back home, and mulled over how to tackle the issue.
I decided to confide in the female members of my group, and also a few other friends. While some unhesitatingly believed me, some of those who were good friends with him, did not. Not only that, I was told that I should have confronted him there and then. While that is very easy to say, only someone who has faced harassment from a known person will be able to understand my state of mind. I also found out that I was not his only victim, someone else had also faced this problem, but refused to identify herself and speak up openly about it. Some of my friends confronted him with my accusation, and he, of course, denied it vehemently. And they found no reason to disbelieve him. I don’t understand this at all – why believe him over me? After all, women are supposed to stick together and support one another, right?
As it stands now, many of my friends continue to socialize with him in spite of my having told them about this incident. I am the one who has to take the trouble to find out where I may run into him, and avoid such events. Also, I can feel a definite cooling off in some of my friends’ behaviour towards me. In the end, I am not only the victim, I am also paying the price for talking about the incident.
So, my question is, what does one do if harassed by a ‘friend’?
Submitted by Uma
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