You know those nice ideals that fit neatly into a motivational slogan? Someone tweets it. There’s a book in the Self Help section of a bookshop using it as a title. I have just realised that if I don’t watch my words in this post I, too, will appear as one of these examples…better slow down.
I have always wanted people to like me. I wanted to be seen as helpful. Kind. Peacemaker. Troubleshooter. The Right Kind Of Girl.
I aimed to do this in my own way – I know I am, er, very enthusiastic and passionate about most things. I can be loud. Exuberant. I just hoped that I channelled these traits positively. Not a bad fit for a primary school teacher, either, as it happens. Professional Class Clown + Counsellor/Coach. Educational, self esteem building FUN! Welcome to my classroom.
I was always trying my best. I wanted people to know that I was trying my best. I am still ludicrously proud of myself when my whatever is acknowledged because … I just am. It’s satisfying. The flip side of that feedback is disapproval, rejection and all of the negative responses we generally try to avoid.
There are a myriad of influences affecting an individuals response to trauma. One is ego, concern over ‘what people will say’. This is especially true of victims of sexual assault and rape. It was most certainly true of myself but I am trying really hard to smash that idea to pieces because it is nothing short of torture. I am a great deal further down the line than I when I started, thank FUCK, and I’m realising now that it is imperative to my mental health to always remind myself: what other people think of me is none of my concern.
My memory is very clear on that first assault. One of the first thoughts in my head, literally as he was trying to undress me, was ‘The kids must never find out that there is a problem’. Bit more than ‘a problem’, but I was terrified of doing or saying anything afterwards in part because I thought there would be a ripple effect that the students would become aware of. When the bastard would walk into my classroom and make lewd comments about having touched me in front of my students I never lost my cool. I’ve said before that some of the more ‘aware’ kids questioned me about his behaviour and asked me if I was being bullied. The Shame. No, I said, hopefully in a breezy reply. I’ll speak to him about that later. I’d shake my head and roll my eyes as if it was all just a pesky miscommunication. The pressure was on me to make sure that no one knew. He used the children many times in that way, to humiliate or remind me that he was in the position of power. That still makes me so sad. I was operating on an auto pilot of superhuman strength because I think of this now, of him, and I want to burn shit down. But SURVIVAL.
The fact that another teacher was present during several crimes and making jokes about the perpetrator being ‘turned on’ because I was ‘young and good looking’ most certainly affected my attempts to speak out. That person heard me fight him off, swear and warn him about the fact he was committing crimes right that minute. What the hell do you do if the person witnessing it replies that ‘he’s just a middle aged guy’ who’s ‘in a drought’ and ‘not getting any from his wife’. Like I am a receptacle for use? A service for over entitled assholes who abuse power and privilege for kicks? If that person later warned me about ‘ruining his marriage’ and being ‘an obvious cock tease’ (read: I brought it upon myself. For eight months) then what the hell would other people say? She created a whole other reality about what happened and the threat was clear: she would repeat it thus if I said anything.
When the Principal walked into my colleague’s office where I sat, hysterical, saying that I couldn’t keep up the facade any longer, I didn’t want to tell him either. I knew he was a weak person and offensively ill equipped for his new role. I had also been present when he laughed at the perpetrator joking about “Which of the Mums you’d ‘do’ at assembly”. Or which of the staff were “too fat to fuck”. The principal never said a word to stop him saying those things and indeed laughed and nodded. They had gone to school together themselves when they were kids. This ‘history’ was often the subject of references in staff meetings that made others groan but it was more than that to me. It said that there was an alliance already present that would make me even harder to believe. It was going to be almost impossible. And that bastard wove a web in readiness for that, playing the principal and other staff like a puppeteer. So that when I said something, though he was so sure I never would, I’d be met with derision and ‘He told me you might say that’… But the principal exceeded my own low expectations when he declared it a ‘team issue’ and set a meeting for the next week so that the three of us could ‘clarify things’ as we’d obviously been ‘miscommunicating’. No, fucker, I just told you that your assistant stalks me, interferes with my property, has assaulted me (I did not describe the touching or implicate the other colleague as witness to the most serious assaults at this time), tried to force me to kiss him, turned up at my home and said “Every time I look at you I just want to bone you” and will not take no for an answer. I’ve just told you that I struggle to come to work and that I cry myself to sleep every night because I love my job but I can’t (nay, shouldn’t) do it under these extreme conditions. I didn’t go as far as describing my genitals or the sequence of fighting him off then just freezing and floating away in my head. I didn’t do this because I was sure it wasn’t necessary to raise a red flag – I’d said enough to be of concern, no? The other reason was in the room and had not five minutes before warned me that to tell that part of the story would put her “in deep shit”. I was losing control to spill that much but not so much that I didn’t see her staring at me as I revealed almost all to the boss. This is when he looked up and saw the perp watching us all through the window like the creeper that he was. “Oh my God, he’s watching us now” says this grown man, leader, my career in his incapable hands. I knew I was fucked, really, but I truly believed that if I spoke, I’d be heard. I worried very much what my boss would think of me but I was thinking from a ‘why didn’t you tell me sooner?’ angle. Ha! I was ashamed to have to explain being touched, followed, harassed and have him imagine my body in this way in his tiny little brain.
The fact that these two senior colleagues both deny this discussion even took place to this day has had a greater impact than the crimes committed by the other one. After this day I was warned repeatedly to “be professional with them or go” by the principal. When it got to the point that I had to put the details to the Department formally as no one inside the school was appropriate or ethical, he STILL called me into his office to “be a professional”. By this time he knew that the other teacher had been in the room, etc, throughout and he still threatened that my job was becoming untenable as “she’s not going anywhere. I’ve known her for years. She’s the kind of teacher who puts extra photocopies in your pigeon hole” WHAT THE FUCK?! Truly, I entered the Twilight Zone as the three of them tried to out-gaslight each other around me. I cannot believe I finished the year. I simply cannot.
The perpetrator was sent on paid leave while Police investigated so I did finish the year without his physical presence, though the other two made it far from an easy ride. The two friends I had made were told not to be seen sitting next to me (seriously) and I endured the last term of school on medication and stubbornness. During the final months there, some parents of students approached me asking about what they’d heard happened, the ‘disappearance’ of the perpetrator and what their kids had told them.
The principal held a staff meeting especially to tell the staff that the assistant was “on leave because someone here has made a complaint about him”. This was against protocol as complaints are to be kept confidential to protect all parties involved (and may come to nothing) and it was excruciatingly obvious that I was the complainant. Other staff had made unofficial remarks about his inappropriate behaviour and that they were uncomfortable with his innuendo but I was definitely on my own now.
So, those above me are thinking about me and judging me. This is my first teaching job. My only possible reference if I had to leave and start again. I had a folder of letters from parents and students, newspaper clippings and excellent Performance Reviews. My contract had been extended early on. Now my bosses were just talking about whether I was some kind of Lolita or if I’d messed around with him and was crying wolf. Mortifying.
Now every colleague who didn’t already know there was a problem knew that I’d made a formal complaint against him. They were thinking about it, talking about it in their own small groups and making their judgements, also. Many were shared with me (thanks). I got a few messages of support but they were in secret; one a note left for me with chocolate saying ‘Hang in there’ and a couple of nods. Isolating and punishment upon punishment when I was the bloody victim.
The students and parents were talking about me, him, The Something. I’ve written before about how some of the kids were affected and went to their parents somewhere here. Mortifying and deeply concerning regarding student welfare. Just my little opinion.
I will never forget the phone call with my union representative when she said, “Look, have you thought about just letting this go?” Until that moment they had been staunch, if slightly awkward, allies. If the union thinks I should just ‘cop it on the chin’ who the hell is going to stand with me?
At the Christmas lunch at this school before I left, the principal handed out jokey awards to staff. Can you believe this prick read out a “Red Neck Award; for always being red in the face, on the verge of tears or about to explode” Staff clap. Yeah, that’s funny. She is always upset. ROFL.
When the Department itself conducted its own investigation (loose term, yo) the letter attached to the findings from the head of the region stated that I “probably misread a lot of situations due to being emotional” and that I should forgive much of my alleged treatment as people involved “were new to their roles”. So, I know what he was thinking about me and my situation then. If that’s what he wrote on official letterhead…
The professional Institute/body then began their own investigation and I gave evidence in disturbing detail, made to go through my mouldy diaries and be extremely direct and exact. About everything. That started about three years ago now. I’ve never heard anything. They must have thought it was no biggy, either. Thank you.
I realised that people were talking about this region wide…well, when some other teachers who worked in head office told me that. That’s a large chunk of the state I live in. Hideous. I actually moved out of the entire region briefly after this but my whole life is here. My family.
I made contact with a teaching agency. I’d be an ’emergency’ teacher, fill in when they were sick, etc. The word back was I didn’t have a prayer. No one at that school would agree to be named as a referee. I did it all for nothing. If you have a think about it, you’ll remember at least one sub teacher who was an abomination, not a teacher at all. I was now lower than that person. Pretty fucking low.
I have spent a long time with my head down. Dreading running into a student or parent. Feeling so ashamed and sad. Also pissed off that the others were still teachers, doing what I loved to do, while I shopped at the petrol station or drive through places.
The longer this has dragged on I have slowly realised that all I can do is be me, and be comfortable with that woman. I cannot control the opinions and gossip of others no matter how awful and unfair they have been.
The words from others are useless unless we believe them in our own hearts
I know who I am. I know what happened. I know who did what. I know they are horrible, unethical assholes. I have to accept that this knowledge is all I am going to get. The knowledge of all I have lost through this treatment at work, in my dream job, I must face alone. Without vindication or public justice. Which I wanted so desperately. The gossip, investigations and my deterioration was public. Why the fuck can’t my absolution? I suppose because assholes are assholes and sometimes human beings suck.
When you’re worried about how others think about you, you are in their domain. And if you’re busy living in their domain, how can you be present for yourself and your own domain?
This one’s a cracker, because I do NOT want to be anywhere NEAR the domain of those people. Their domains stink. They’re poisonous. And I would be wasting a lot of greatness on losers who don’t give me a second thought anymore. Until they get a call or a letter about me pursuing compensation now. Hehehe. May their domains be sleepless, full of tears and abject fear for their careers and reputations. Especially her. I hope she is inside out with worry. Because she knows all of the truth. And they underestimated the fight in this kitten.
When you live according to your truth and stay in your own mental sphere, others are more likely to honour you and the truth you live, too, whether they agree with you or not
And the added bonus is, with practice, you give less shits what those people think of you. That’s not at all easy given the personal nature of this topic and experience. Not. At. All. But I feel the shift and I will keep reminding myself. Though their thoughts and judgements have screwed my career in this field…they are not about me, really. Their shit is about them.*
PS Fuck the haters. Kick some ass. Yell your truth from the rooftops*
*Repeat daily, as often as needed. See your doctor if symptoms persist. I believe you.
- ‘Don’t be that Guy’ posters attack the perpetrators, not victim, on the right track (metronews.ca)
- The Slut and The Crazy Bitch (fromawhispertoaroar.com)
- Sexual assault centre launches new campaign about believing victims, not blaming them (metronews.ca)
- Sex assault survivor works to make sure it doesn’t happen to others (jsonline.com)
- The Elusive Perfect Victim, And How I Wasn’t Her (cultofcourtney.com)
- Our Part (ssaitco.wordpress.com)
- Project for Open Voices: “Blurred Lines” (thekenyonthrill.com)
- Bullying: Our Experience (character2max.wordpress.com)
- Abuse is FORCE Used to Control Others (cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com)