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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Column: Definition doesn’t determine validity

“No one is going to believe it affected you. They’d say you had a say. He is your boyfriend. It isn’t as bad as what other women have gone through,” I said to myself on a day-to-day basis after having endured sexual harassment from a former partner.

I didn’t think it was considered sexual harassment because there was no physical contact. Despite being cornered in his car and told to perform a sexual act, I took it as an uncomfortable situation that wouldn’t happen again.

I didn’t think I was sexually coerced because I had said yes. Despite sitting on his bedside on the verge of tears because I couldn’t muster up the courage to say “no.” More like I couldn’t say no. I wasn’t allowed to since we finally had the privacy of a room that I had required. I couldn’t say no despite expressing my desire to wait until marriage.

Entering the current relationship I’m in made me realize the extent of the damage that the previous relationship had caused. I still remained in denial about what I had gone through. I didn’t think I was sexually harassed and sexually coerced despite getting anxious at the mere mention of anything sexual.

I was afraid of saying no to my current partner because I felt he’d get mad.

In therapy, I had finally realized that I was a victim of sexual harassment and sexual coercion. I didn’t realize it because I had the idea that sexual harassment has to be this horrible, gruesome experience that haunts you until the day you die. I was in the mindset that it could never happen to me until it did. I always said I’d say no and stick by it until I couldn’t.

I had convinced myself I was the one in the wrong because I was denying my partner at the time something that pertained to him.

The truth was that I was never in the wrong by wanting to stand by my word. I also came to realize that what I had gone through was valid. Just because I didn’t experience what others would constitute as sexual harassment or coercion doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.

The experience doesn’t have to be a huge or extremely traumatizing one for it to be valid. Realizing this I was able to deal with it correctly. While I still struggle to accept that I don’t always have to say yes to my current partner, I’m still able to own my experience.

I don’t rely on what others identify as sexual harassment. If you’re ever in doubt, it is worth looking into. Don’t let anyone tell you that what you experienced isn’t real. You know what you’ve experienced and no one should tell you otherwise.

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