The “Me Too” movement on social media has prompted me to take a few minutes away from school work to share my first memory of sexual harassment. I was 8 years old.
There was a creepy janitor at my elementary school. He nicknamed me “dirty blonde.” At 8 years old, I didn’t know much about sex, but I knew enough to deduce that his comment was sexual and inappropriate. He verbally harassed me regularly, and naturally I clapped back, calling him names or telling him to screw off. One day when I was leaving the cafeteria, he snapped a towel at my ass and smacked it. I yelled. I’m so proud of my 8 year old fearlessness. (Go Little J!) Since that was my first encounter of sexual harassment, or sexual anything, I hadn’t yet experienced the feeling of being told I didn’t have rights to my own body. So I yelled. I even smacked him. I shouted, “He smacked my butt!” And you know what? I got in trouble. I got in trouble for hitting an authority. While he laughed at me. The word and feeling my 8 year old self was looking for was “violated.” I felt violated. I was violated, and then I got in trouble for fighting back.
Similarly to this winter, when I was groped in public, and I chased down the perpetrator and was then punched in the face for fighting back. And then was told it was my fault for chasing and confronting the young men who did it. Nothing is more traumatizing than having people you respect victim-blame you for being fucking sexually assaulted.
Back to the creepy janitor. “He’s harmless,” they said. That’s why I got in trouble and he didn’t. I have some news for you. Obviously fucking not. If I am thinking about this incident nearly two decades later, remembering him as my first perpetrator of sexual assault, he’s obviously not fucking harmless.
Back in 1999, I was just as disappointed as I am today. I am disappointed with all the adults in my life who laughed uncomfortably at my accusations. They were uncomfortable because they knew the truth. Kids are candid. I didn’t make it up. There were also witnesses. But confronting the inappropriate behavior in small-town Ohio would have been too uncomfortable for everyone involved, so he got to keep his job around children. I will never forget the way he laughed when I hit him back. I am filled with utter disgust at the memory of him.
I wish my experience of sexual harassment and assault ended with the creepy janitor from elementary school, but that was just the beginning of a long, hard road. I have worse stories to share, but I wanted to share this one in particular since it was my first experience at 8 years old. I want people to take their young daughters seriously when they share their firsts too. I want people to parent their young sons effectively so they don’t rape or harass. I want the creepy janitors and the young sexual predators on bikes and that one sexually aggressive drunk friend to go the fuck away and never come back.