Recently, the media has been awash with sexual harassment cases involving top personalities in different sectors in the world.
For instance, an American movie producer Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for multiple cases of sexual assaults on different women spanning decades. Also, a top National Public Radio (NPR) news editor Michael Oreskes was put on leave amidst multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
I can go on and on with different cases in the media. Sexual assaults is present in every sector –sports, entertainment, technology, science and even in the academic environment. However, many victims of sexual harassment are afraid to speak out due to the persons involved and the unspoken threats to their lives and career.
Today, I want to share my story of sexual assault in the university.
Sexual harassment in the university is whose fault? Is it the fault of the parents, lecturers, society or the victims?
I grew up in a religious home, one that shuns any form of sexual interactions before marriage. I remember my mother saying to me: “Your husband will respect you forever if you remain a virgin till your marriage night”. As expected, I took that to heart, and it became one of my future goals.
At 19, I had a male friend who occasionally visits my school. He came around and gave me a call. So, I rushed out to meet a friend I had missed dearly in my over-sized clothes. Only that he changed plans and we had to meet at his friend’s house.
We had exciting conversations until the sexual urge sets in. He unzips his trousers and gets his penis out. It was my first time seeing a man’s penis. We stare at ourselves for what feels like a long time. Realizing nothing would happen, he puts back his “property” inside the trousers.
At 21, I was a mature lady with lots of guys hovering around me. It felt so damn good. I was still a virgin.
One day, I set out to a professional class I was taking. I got a call from an old friend who had traveled down to my town. He wanted us to hang out. “Sure, why not?” I said eagerly. After lectures, I met with him (my old friend), we had snacks, and I got pizza to go.
On my way home, and very unfortunately, my mum called and decided to come pick me up. She showed up, I stepped into the car with no worries, and that’s where it all started.
“Where did you get the pizza?”
“You have started sleeping around.”
“Let’s go for Virginity test.”
She went from zero to 100 in a minute. I was mortified!
With confidence, I agreed to go for the virginity test which made her realize I had no skeletons in my cupboard.
At 22, I made the conscious efforts to prove to my parents how matured and grown I was. I had sex. I developed all the curvy parts I never envisioned and the sexual advances from the opposite sex multiplied.
Is this a blessing or a curse? A blessing of course!
In my third year in the university, my course supervisor invited me into his office. I was dressed in a tight shirt and a pair of jeans that accentuated my curves as usual. It all started as an educative session, and then conversation swerved uncomfortably.
He starts moving closer to me. “What shall I do?” says my mind, panicking. The man’s erection wilts despite his distraught efforts. He moved closer, started rubbing my hair and staring at my breasts.
“This isn’t right sir.”
I finally dared to speak up. He just kept telling me how we humans determine what’s right and wrong and how well things would go for me if I agree to sleep with him. I played him and found my way out of his office.
I don’t know a single person, no matter how cruel the harassment or the assault, who doesn’t feel some of that guilt and shame and wonders:
“Could I have done something differently? Perhaps it was my fault?”
When I saw that, I felt the beginning of what would be months of grief. It was my first realization that the academic system, that I thought was so meritorious, that I wanted to spend my life within was deeply unfair. I wouldn’t receive any justice, and he could go on and harass other women.
Frustrated and upset, I stopped attending his classes. Through hard work, I graduated as a distinctive student from his course.
Now admittedly, I am in the safety of a middle-class world where women are taken seriously.
Sexual harassment is insidiously destroying lives, redesigning careers, and switching the status quo that seriously needs to change if we are to progress as an efficient society. Nothing will change if we pretend we live in that dream world already when in reality we have a long way to go.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to forget about the real and tragic effects of sexual harassment because most of the time, the victims remain silent.
I never kept my experiences to myself alone. I shared them with trustworthy and matured people around me. And that went a long way in aiding my healing process.
If you’re going through any form of sexual harassment in the university, at work, or even in your community, please speak out. Share your encounter with someone and stay sane.