I know for a lot of us, the recent spate of people coming forward about sexual abuse* has been triggering or at least given us pause. I know that it was triggering for me, specifically because while working in my prior career, Harvey Weinstein copped a feel of my ass while walking my boss and me to the door of his hotel room after a meeting. When I told my boss about it on the way to the car, he was shocked and then incensed, but he did not do anything except talk about what a creep Harvey is in the car on the way home. I didn’t get the feeling that he was incensed for me, but really about me … as if feeling my ass, his assistant’s ass, was an affront to him, like I was his property. This kind of behavior and mindset was demonstrated over and over again during my tenure working for that boss.
I didn’t challenge him because I didn’t want to be a crybaby and didn’t want to rock the tenuous power boat in Hollywood; jeopardize my bosses deal with the studio, therefore pissing off my boss so much I would get fired. In my position I was meant to be the “stewardess”, always smiling and accommodating, never a participant in stressors or drama and of course, always compliant. I endured a lot more of all types of abuse for years until I finally quit. Afterward, getting back to who I was, and reconciling the abuse I suffered when working for him took years. To this day I have PTSD associated with that job.
That incident was just one of the reasons I eventually left the entertainment industry altogether. Finding my calling in sex education saved me in so many ways. It was the absolute opposite of the entertainment industry. Being a sex educator focused on teaching about consent and safer and more pleasurable sex, but it entered me into a community that was active in social justice, concerned and proactive about consent, and because everyone was so aware of the treacherous and assaultive nature of sexual abuse, a safe space.
As a fledgling sex educator, I respected those that had paid their dues and came before me. I looked at some of them as role models for how I wanted my career to look like and some as cautionary tales for what I didn’t want to become. Coming up in the world of sex education was eye-opening. This place I assumed was a “safe-space” was not always so safe. In fact, in many ways, it felt more deceptive than the industry I fled. What do you do when someone you admire for their commitment to the rules of consent and as an established member of your new career path which proselytizes those rules, oversteps their bounds and becomes one of the transgressors they teach people not to become?
The first time a fellow sex educator crossed the line into sexual harassment with me, I brushed it off as just a part of his personality that I didn’t care for … a character flaw. The second time another someone in the community crossed the line, I was shaken and grossed out. The third time someone crossed that line, I was infuriated, but gave them the benefit of the doubt until close friends reminded me that they had no right to do what they did. That third time was the charm. When I recognized it for what it was – sexual harassment – I felt angry, confused, unsafe and extremely disillusioned. I called that person out and got a profuse apology, but the damage was done. If the people in a community that teaches and honors respect, and enthusiastic consent ignored the rules, who was safe? No one was the answer. None of my colleagues were safe for me anymore. I was never the same sex educator again … I lost my passion for a while and became more suspicious of people and engaged less with the community. A choice that was made for me by being subjected to unwanted touching and advances. Why do I not call these people out publically? Because, I am still afraid of being told I’m wrong, that I misunderstood – in other words … I don’t believe you.
I decided to write this piece because sexual harassment is so prevalent in our world, and it’s important to recognize that it happens in the sexual health community as well. As teachers, leaders, allies, and advocates we all are in positions of power whether we recognize it or not. We are people who others come to for advice on very personal subjects, people who are regularly being vulnerable and brave enough to reveal their innermost worries and often their shame. We need to check ourselves, look at our behavior and get really honest about how we conduct ourselves with our colleagues and our students. Do we teach about consent, yet touch others in a sexual way because we’re just a “touchy-feely person?” Do we hold a consent circle and then get “carried away in the moment” and cross a boundary? Are we inappropriate with newer community members who may look up to us? Do we give ourselves a pass when interacting with other sex educators or people in the sexual health community because we assume they are more “open.” Is how we are conducting ourselves what we want to project professionally and personally? Are we following the rules we teach about? Are we being of service, or are we taking advantage of a situation? Do we look inward when we hear about Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior or do we look aside and condemn him?
Maybe it’s time to look at our own behavior as leaders and colleagues in the sexual health community and get really honest about how it impacts those we come in contact with. If that behavior is anything less than professional, maybe we should make amends and do the important inner work that needs to be done to transform the problem behavior into appropriate behavior. As sex educators we are often on the front lines of counseling, informing, supporting and sometimes helping heal trauma – we are there for people to come to for advice and comfort. As educators, we have a responsibility to hold the bar higher for ourselves if we are going to teach and guide others. Because how we treat each other mirrors what we believe. Because we are part of the much-needed defense and cannot also be the problem.
*I include sexual harassment in sexual abuseShare Me: via @TheElleChase