Imagine that a college student spends the better part of a year stalking a college girl. He finds out exactly where she lives and what classes she’s talking. Burrows into her life, despite every signal she isn’t interested in him. Joins all her clubs. Rents an apartment near her dorm.
He keeps arranging to run into her. Strikes up awkward conversation she’s too nice to kill. He preys on her politeness and insecurity.
The girl doesn’t feel strong or safe or confident enough to tell him to get lost. In the guy’s view, this means she digs him.
After repeated rejections, he declares his undying love for the girl. Starts posting about her on social media twenty times a day. Waits outside all of her classes. Threatens her family and friends when they try to intervene. Finally, the girl can’t take it anymore. She transfers to another school.
What happens to the guy? Nothing.
Well, almost nothing. The police question him. They process a retraining order, which he violates every day. Briefly, he gets suspended — but for something unrelated. The guy makes such a production out of his mistreatment, the school readmits him.
For a year, I live in fear of this hypothetical student. Because he develops an attachment to his professors, too. Especially the nice ones.
So if the guy can’t find his #1 crush, he’ll spend his afternoons outside my office, making everyone uncomfortable. Disrupting my work with questions and compliments and other “harmless” remarks.
Soon he starts sending me emails. Calls me on the phone. Shows up on my birthday with balloons and a cake.
And there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not allowed to tell someone it makes me uncomfortable to receive birthday presents from someone who I don’t consider a friend or family. Technically, I’m allowed. But it’s a real pain in the ass. It involves paperwork and HR meetings and conversations. Asking someone to stop being creepy is helluva lot of work for someone like me. But it’s easy to act creepy.
Hardly anything ever happens to the creep.
So I start working off campus. Hoping I don’t run into him. Wondering if I should pay out of pocket for bullet proof glass or a body guard. Finally, he finishes and graduates. Or drops out and moves on. Forgets about me. I’ve gone to great lengths to make myself forgettable.
Men spend a lot of time learning how to stand out from the crowd. Be unique. Bold. Loud. Attract and hold everyone’s attention. Meanwhile, women have to learn how to slink under everyone’s radar. Sometimes our very survival depends on attracting less attention.
My university hosts workshops and seminars for women on how to dress and act in ways that don’t encourage sexual harassment. They don’t host anything for men.
When I think about it, who would show up? Men who engage in sexual harassment know what they’re doing.
Men who witness it and do nothing are either ass holes, or scared of being punished for trying to do good.
A man once wrote a blog post on this platform complaining about what Title IX and other regulations had done to the workplace. He described an Orwellian world in which men can’t even touch a woman or give her a compliment without being accused of sexual harassment.
I wanted to write, “Touching a woman or giving her an unsolicited compliment is usually the first stage of sexual harassment.” But then I realized what a waste of my time it would be.
Later, he commented on one of my stories, calling me an idiot for suggesting that Ted Bundy might have benefited from white male privilege. He wasn’t a genius so much as a handsome white guy, who nobody wanted to believe would do such terrible things.
A handful of guys have cyber stalked me on social media for years. They send me direct messages and emails. Declare their undying love. Get angry when I block them. Shame me in public. Harass my followers.
Nothing happens to them. We report these kinds of guys over and over. Their accounts get locked for 24 hours, then they go right back to the same behavior. The worst one is finally gone. Maybe he finally got suspended. But I’ll never know for sure.
This guy is roaming free somewhere in North America. Thinking about me, what he’ll do to me. Nothing will probably happen to him.
A teacher I know at another college was recently assaulted by student. He followed her into the bathroom and dropped his pants and boxers. He complimented her eyes. She saw everything.
And she ran. Straight to the campus police.
It’s been a month. The police have done nothing. Well, that’s not totally true. They’ve spent about twenty hours interrogating and harassing the teacher. Until finally she decided to drop the charges.
She just wants to be left alone now.
So nothing’s going to happen to the guy. He’s going to keep assaulting women. One day, he might graduate to rape.
Research confirms, this is what happens. Victims of assault wait days or weeks to come forward. Because they’re scared. They doubt anyone will believe them. They fear the predator’s reprisal. Even worse, they fear his family. Their own family. All the judgement and scorn.
When they do finally come forward, they have to deal with a skeptical, stone cold, or even apathetic police officer. They’ll have to describe what happened to them in excruciating detail. Over and over. I’m told investigators do this to confirm the authenticity of the story. Maybe. In truth, it just re-traumatizes the victim. It increases the chances of them going silent.
We ask why sexual assault remains such a problem, especially on college campuses. Well, it’s because the systems do more to protect the aggressors than the victims. Because the aggressors are usually white men, and colleges don’t want bad things to happen to their cash cows. They don’t want to look bad, either. I’m sure someone has calculated how much money every public sexual assault allegation costs them in terms or recruitment and enrollments. If not, I’m sure someone will make up a number.
Meanwhile, people like me do our best. But even we’re scared of losing our jobs because we make too much trouble. Or piss off the wrong student, who happens to be related to some donor. So all of that’s why nothing ever happens to them.