Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"I Did Nothing / Feeling Like a Hypocrite," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
This is not easy to write about, even anonymously, as I have hardly discussed this with anyone, let alone written about it. So like a band-aid, I am going to just go for it rather than slowly opening things up.
As a man, especially being a man who has spent a good number of the past five years educating others about sexual assault and violence, the fact that this occurred left me feeling like a hypocrite and embarrassed to call myself a male feminist and violence prevention educator. If I couldn’t even follow my own words about prevention then how could anyone else? Since this happened (about three years ago now), I have spent a good amount of time either ignoring that it happened, or analyzing how I put myself in a situation where it could happen.
For the sake of anonymity I am not going to share too many personal details. I was sexually assaulted by someone that I worked with who was in a position of power over me. We worked closely together every day and I was excited to learn from him and so many other great people as I was in a new position at the time. However, as the days went by, things began to feel more and more strange. He went from shaking my hand or patting my back every day to hugging me or rubbing my shoulders. He went from occasionally buying me a cup of coffee to inviting me over for dinner or buying me random gifts from his hometown. He started by saying he wanted to mentor me to saying he thought of me as “his boy.” We had not known each other long enough to form that kind of bond but at the time I felt special – especially since he was in a position of power and had taken a liking to me.
I would go to the gym frequently and then he started going to the same gym at the same time.
He wouldn’t really do much either. Maybe walk on the treadmill for a few minutes and then wander around the gym. Then he would always make his way over to me and start talking to me. At first this was fine, but as things progressed he would ask me to flex or if he could feel my muscle. I don’t know what it was (probably my own insecurities about my body image) but I would let him do it pretty much every time. I have reflected on this numerous times and I have no idea why I felt so powerless to say no so many times. This type of thing went on nearly every day for a month.
Not once did I say I was uncomfortable even though I was every time – never giving explicit consent or refusal.
Things came to a head when we went on an overnight work trip together. It was a great opportunity for me to gain some good professional experience so I was excited to go. I was even more excited when our office manager forced him to get two separate rooms even though he requested that we only get one to “save money”. His insistence should have been a sign to me but I try to not think the worst in people and generally believe that people are good-natured. Fast forward to the second night of our trip and he is knocking at my door at 10 pm saying that he wants to talk about my future.
Being a new professional, I was all ears to get advice from someone with his experience. Then he walks in wearing his pajamas and insists that we sit on the couch together. Previously he had told me that he was really good at massages and that he’d like to give me one since he saw me at the gym from time to time. Apparently this was the time that he insisted on trying out his skills. When he asked, I had no idea what to do. We were alone, hours away from anyone I knew, and late at night. So I let him do pretty much whatever he wanted because I had no idea what he would do if I said no.
Would he leave me there?
Would he say that I tried to do something to him?
Would he make advances anyway?
Would he get violent?
I was much bigger than him and could have easily pushed him away or defended myself if needed, but worried about my job.
Ultimately, I did nothing. I don’t even remember saying a word. I mostly just closed my eyes and waited for him to do whatever and then leave me alone. This ended up in him removing my shirt, massaging my back, arms, chest, thighs, and butt. I’m pretty sure he put lotion on his hands, though I honestly wasn’t paying attention. Just let it happen and move on is what I was thinking. At one point he had me lay down on the bed and climbed on top of me. Again, I have no idea why I didn’t stop him. I didn’t want this. I gave zero indication that I wanted it. While he was on top of me he started sneakily trying to put his hands down my shorts. There were quite a few times where he touched my penis but tried to play it off as an accident. There were several times where he slid his hands down the back of my shorts to touch my bare ass and would just leave his hands there. Once he was done he just laid on top of me for an uncomfortable amount of time. I remember closing my eyes several times and hoping to wake up from a strange and terrible dream. Once he finally left, I took a bath (it’s just a weird thing I do when I am stressed) before going to bed.
The next morning he was back to being professional and went about his day. Before returning back from the trip he sat me down and spoke to me about the importance of trust and confidentiality. I knew exactly what he was doing. Once I arrived back in the office the next day, I finally went and had a very uncomfortable conversation with my supervisor about what was going on. Ultimately, this man lost his job – not because of me though. It was because he did something similar to someone else later on. I applaud them for sticking up for themselves.
I have never stopped feeling like a hypocrite since then.
However, this only reinforces the importance of empowering people to stand up for themselves, share their story, and let others know that they aren’t alone. Part of my hesitancy in sharing my story is that it’s not as bad as so many others that I have heard and helped people through. I wasn’t raped. Many people (including myself) would question why I didn’t do something to help myself. My heart aches for every person that has dealt with an assault directly or indirectly because I know the impact that something like what I went through has on someone. It’s also important not to compare these terrible events. It’s not a competition. It’s further proof that this affects everyone, including straight, white, cis-gendered men like me.
About the art:
I am thankful to have another perspective from a man shared in this project. This anonymous survivor is someone in the realm of student affairs that I have a lot of respect for, so when they reached about having experienced sexual assault, I was pretty shocked. Perhaps, that shock also comes from my own perceptions of male survivors and the reality that you never know WHO is affected by this form of trauma.
Alas, I am glad this survivor shared because it is a perspective of the power differentials that male authority figures can exert over their employees. Even their male employees. It's a troubling reality, but one that has become more and more prevalent as more men are speaking out against this form of abuse.
I'm proud to have created a piece for this survivor, based on the Senses Fail song, "Ancient Tombs," from the album, Renancer, which is where I got the inspiration for the color scheme. I achieved the colors by using my custom canvas/paint bleaching technique. These colors are rustic and unique. I like them a lot. Could've used some orange, but I didn't want to risk ruining a piece of which I was already happy.
This survivor has a lot of attachment to this song and the quote that he asked me to use for his piece because it is a reminder that healing is possible. Music provides a lot of healing for people. It's provides a lot of healing for this survivor.
He and I often discuss bands, albums, and songs through messages, and I'm thankful that this survivor wanted me to create this piece for him, knowing how much this band and song mean to him. Senses Fail is a band that talks a lot about men being vulnerable and finding comfort in the discomfort, especially since the lead singer, Buddy Nielsen, came out as being queer two years ago. So many fans of the band take the lyrics that came before Nielsen's coming as a gateway to understanding a man who was struggling with his own reality in order to find some healing. Much like Nielsen, I can tell that through sharing his story, this survivor has found some healing.
Thank you for telling your story, survivor.
I hope more men come forward to share theirs as well.