I’m posting this today because, one of my communities, medieval studies, is in a bit of an uproar as sexual harassment cases are being shared publically for the first time. I’m currently looking for resources for creating safe space and building community culture around respect, support and safety. Because ultimately I think what needs to be built is a culture of intervention and support. Most of the time, bystanders don’t step in to help and the victim is left standing alone and told it’s not worth their time or energy or risk to their career to advocate for themselves.
This happened to me in 2006. Friends, family members, mentors told me to be quiet, that this senior professor, a man I was going to ask to be my supervisor, was probably drunk and didn’t remember the horrible things he shouted about me to a patio full of people, in front of an amassed group of colleagues when I was a 21 year old, first year Ph.D. student. I sat there and let him make fun of me and speculate about me sleeping with the male student I happened to be sitting with, and then worse, go on to accuse me of being no good at my work, tell me that I shouldn’t start a reading group because my language skills – in a class he had never taught me – weren’t good enough. He publicly humiliated me and plenty of people, male and female colleagues alike, sat there and said nothing. And afterwards, skepticism, excuses, apologia- phrases like ‘I wasn’t there, I can’t comment’ or ‘oh but he’s such a good scholar’, and , the worst, ‘but you should still work with him because he’s such a big name.’
This needs to stop. We need to tell students, junior faculty, all faculty that this behaviour is unacceptable. That if someone verbally attacks you, threatens you, touches you, assaults you, tries to sleep with you, it’s not okay. And there are people you can go to who will help you file the necessary paperwork and stand beside you when the perpetrator is handed their consequences.
I am angry, almost 10 years later, that I never filed a complaint. I had more than enough reason and more than enough witnesses and I didn’t say a damn thing on record.
And it is so much worse for so many women I know in medieval studies who were harassed by this man and many others.
If you have any suggestions, or just want to connect, please reply in the comments or e-mail SASSY to get my contact information.
Story signed by : Giselle Gos
The story happened to me as a PhD student in the year(s) 2005-2009 at an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’