Silenced into shame

Maria Rovito
Opinion Editor

It comes as no surprise to me that I am a woman. I identify my gender as female, and I am perfectly comfortable with that realization.

It also comes as no surprise to me that I am a 20 year-old college student; many would consider these years in a person’s life to be vulnerable, fragile, or innocent.

It is the combination of being a young woman, however, where I feel threatened.

At work, school, in public, in the media, and elsewhere, I witness sexual harassment and aggravation being done to many other women my own age.

Whether it’s being stared at while sitting in class, being told suggestive comments and jokes, or receiving unwelcome touches or gestures, many women and girls are forced to experience these kinds of actions.

And I can honestly tell you, it happens here at Millersville as well.

I received an anonymous statement this past week from another woman in the same position as me. She stated, “There is nothing more pernicious than when institutions who tout themselves as beacons of progress on sexual harassment, rape and women’s rights are in truth fostering the epidemic of shame and silence that victims of sexual assault endure.

“Society expects this corruption from certain institutions like the military and the Catholic Church, but when schools that champion themselves as defenders of sexual assault employ the same tactics in order to protect sexual predators, society is deceived into believing that progress is being made.

“It is time to disabuse the public of this lie and reveal these institutions for what they are–not sanctuaries for victims, but hunting grounds where sexual predators are implicitly granted full authority to commit their crimes with no fear of repercussions.”

sexualharassmentIt is rather unfortunate that women, including myself, must endure these kinds of behaviors, when we are only trying to earn a degree, work a part- or full-time job, and focus on our academics and extracurricular activities. This is especially true when someone much older and in a position of authority makes unwelcome advances towards us in an environment considered “safe” or “non-threatening,” such as in the classroom or elsewhere on campus.

The Equal Rights Advocates state, “Sexual harassment is a serious problem for students at all educational levels. Students in elementary and secondary schools, as well as vocational schools, apprenticeship programs, colleges and universities can be victims of sexual harassment.

“This problem is more common than you might think because many students are scared or too embarrassed to report sexual harassment. It is different from flirting, playing around, or other types of behavior that you enjoy or welcome. Sexual harassment can be requests for sexual favors or unwelcome sexual behavior that is bad enough or happens often enough to make you feel uncomfortable, scared or confused and that interferes with your schoolwork or your ability to participate in extracurricular activities or attend classes.”

What’s even worse is that we are silenced into passivity when attempting to report the harassment we witness is already extremely difficult and frightening. Call me frigid, cold-hearted, or rigid: if it is unwelcome, we are not interested. It’s really that simple!

harassmentbannerIt is truly disastrous that we must face this discrimination based on our gender. Everywhere in academia and in the workplace, those who can wield their authority over those less powerful abuse their influence and force others to feel unsafe, violated, and harassed.

If you feel that you are being harassed, objectified, or intimidated based on your gender or sexuality, you need to speak up about it. If you feel so uncomfortable in class or elsewhere on campus, you need to stick up for yourself. No one should be forced to suffer with a muted voice.

Women in my position are here at Millersville for one thing only: to receive an education. It is truly unfortunate that our right to learn and achieve success is interfered by this immature and frustrating behavior.