I’m the kind of person that doesn’t see negative experiences in my life as “bad.” I tend to downplay their significance, mostly because I overcame whatever the situation was and I don’t allow them to affect my every day life. However, I’ve recently come to realize that some of the things that I’ve experienced are “big deals” and should be treated as such — take for example how I was technologically harassed for five years. Yeah, you can’t downplay that.
It started in high school. He got my number through friends. He didn’t text me much at first — rather, he just used it to ask me for an innocent favor once, of which I obliged. However, his texts started getting a bit more frequent and it made me uncomfortable. He wasn’t saying anything inappropriate, but he had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend and I didn’t like putting myself in a situation to disrespect his or my significant other, so I’d stop texting back. He didn’t like that
One day, he demanded to know why I wasn’t responding to him and I point-blank said that I wasn’t interested in being friends. It had nothing to do with him, it just had everything to do with making myself feel comfortable. Yep, he didn’t like that — and that’s when the harassment began.
He wouldn’t stop texting me, “Why can’t we be friends?” or “We’re not doing anything wrong?” I wouldn’t reply or I would say, “Please, just leave me alone,” or “We’re cool, I just don’t want to text.” But that wasn’t enough for him. So he called me one day, drunk, with his friend. I missed the call but they left a message that involved cussing me out. I remember standing in my backyard at 16 years old, unsure what to do. Do I respond back? Do I ignore it? He knew where I lived, and that didn’t sit well with me.
He ended up messaging me an apology soon after, to which I replied to never speak, text, or call me again. Well, that didn’t work.
He continued to try to text me, “Hey,” “What’s up,” or more apologies and I ignored them all. I approached my boyfriend at the time and asked him to talk to the guy (as they knew each other), in the hopes that maybe the guy would back down. My boyfriend wouldn’t do that.
So I handled it on my own.
Five years is a long time, but I must admit that the harassment wasn’t all on texts and it wasn’t a weekly or even a monthly thing. It happened about three or four times a year.
He graduated from high school, but tried to keep up with me on social media. Eventually, he realized I wasn’t going to reply to his texts so he tried to message me on Facebook. I told him to leave me alone. He wouldn’t. Just kept asking why we couldn’t be friends. The repeating record starting to become an annoyance — something that happened every few months.
Eventually, I blocked him on Facebook. So he tried to follow me on Twitter. I had to block him on there. Then he tried to follow me on Instagram, and I had to block him on there. Then he created new profiles on a few social medias and tried to refollow or friend me again, and I had to block him again.
Yes, I told my parents about it. He had tried texting or calling me once, and I eventually found out how to block his number. We hoped that that would be enough, and if it wasn’t, we’d take the next move. This all happened over a course of five years and by 2013, I was exhausted.
I remember telling my co-workers in 2013 around the end of those five years, the entire story. I remember their faces and their reactions — this was a big deal. He had been continuously harassing me by phone or on social media for five whole years even when I had told him repeatedly to leave me alone.
I’m happy to say that I haven’t heard from him since 2013. But that’s not to say that I haven’t had other harassers like him over the years, though perhaps, none as consistent as him. I’ve had men try to follow me across all socials. I’ve had men send me aggressive texts or messages online. I’ve had men who won’t stop texting me.
But I’m lucky. I know other women who’ve had it worse. I know that these harassers have left the online hemisphere and have stalked my friends, shown up at their doors or their jobs, tried to ruin their relationships, their reputations, their life.
The Bureau of Justice actually defines what I went through as stalking, and that’s a big deal. I’m not going to downplay my experience, because over half of all victims of stalking are women, and 15% of women in the U.S. have reported being stalked at least once in their lifetime. I’m not going to downplay this because women have been murdered by stalkers. I’m not going to downplay this because I’m tired of women not feeling safe or respected.
This is not a joke. This is real life for many women, and I have far too many close friends who’ve experienced this to know that it is far too common.
So I ask you all, men and women, to stand together and not down-play such experiences. Stand up against online harassment or bullying, in-person harassment or bullying, stalking, or abuse of women. Don’t downplay these things as “no big deals” because they are! They are big deals when it happens to your daughter, your mother, your sister, your friend, your cousin, or yourself, and treat them as such.
So stand up for women who aren’t related to you, who aren’t your friends, or who aren’t your significant other, even if that means standing against a presidential candidate perpetuating harassment of women online. Yes, I went there.
It’s time we start seeing that harassment/stalking like mine happens to thousands of women and it’s time we stop downplaying harassment and violence against women.
Please join me in this fight.