There I was, a naive 20 year old girl stepping on to a plane and chasing her wildest dreams. I was so young then, a different person really. I chose my seat and had no idea the impact that decision alone would have on the rest of my trip. He was only the tip of the iceberg.
What I learned on my first flight was that just because you were only talking to the people next you, didn’t mean that the rest of the plane couldn’t hear you,too. Fast forward to baggage claim. His blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes wanted me. He had heard me discussing my internship on the plane and became very, very interested in me. And my body.
I was so lost, scared, and homesick in this new place that taking comfort in the arms of a stranger almost seemed like a good idea. Falling into the bed of a strange man I had just met almost seemed like what I was supposed to be doing there.
It wasn’t. And I didn’t. Thank god that I didn’t.
Las Vegas is a strange place. It is a world so filled with people that any shred of loneliness seemed absurd to me. I was surrounded by strangers who wanted my attention, but the only thing I could think of was how alone I was. There could be a million people swarming around me and still I would always feel so small, so unimportant.
And that’s exactly how they get you.
My job was a literal dream. I couldn’t believe that at the age of 20, I had already achieved one of my biggest goals in life. I was scared, but I was happy. I finally understood what my teacher had meant when they said that you wanted to find a job where you got to go to work, rather than had to. I was excited to go to work every day, and I finally felt like I was starting to settle in to my new desert home.
But then one day, everything changed.
So often we are inclined to place people, situations, and just anything that we love up on a pedestal. We worship them, and they become our gods. In our blind adoration, we often brush aside the moments that do not fit within our perfect visions.
Maybe today someone made a comment that didn’t sit quite right with you or someone touched you in a way that crossed the line between professional and predatory. Maybe your peers tell you “that’s just how things are here,” and then you start to tell yourself the exact same thing. You tell yourself it’s just flattery and so nice to be complimented when the male artists come downstairs to the costume shop just to tell your supervisor for the night that you are pretty. You tell yourself it is so great to finally get the attention from men you have always been seeking but never quite received in your teenage years. You tell yourself to just get over it when words and actions cross a line that now make a place that once felt like heaven burn like hell.
You tell yourself that it is your fault when your supervisors pull you aside and confront you about what has been going on. You chastise yourself for not just sucking it up and staying true to your promise you made in the beginning that you would never report anyone for sexual harassment. That’s just not who you are, and after all, that’s just how things are there, right?
But that’s the thing. That may be how things are in our current culture but that sure as hell doesn’t make it right. No one should be interrupting your work day to tell you that you are pretty. No one should be grabbing you while you’re working and your back is turned. No one should be asking the kind coworker who has been giving you rides home if they can give you a ride home instead. No one should be showing up at your hotel to see someone else and then wishing they knew what your room number was so they could find you,too. A grown married adult shouldn’t be asking for your phone number and taking your phone to put it in when you freeze. Two grown married adults shouldn’t be talking about and mimicking how they would have sex with you in front of you while you are just trying to do your job. And no one should ever make you feel like the one in the wrong when you have done nothing but fall victim to their harassment and sexual advances.
I was lucky. Nothing ever went any farther than sexual harassment because someone else stepped in when things didn’t seem quite right. But not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone has coworkers and bosses who believe them; not everyone has someone who will take the victim’s side. I was so lucky.
Yet, I was so mad at my supervisors the night they pulled me aside to find out what was going on. I still have my moments where I wish I would not have told them the truth. Moments where I wish I could have finished my internship without having so many people start to look at me differently. Some were visibly mad at me; the main offender half-heartedly apologized, but I will never believe his excuse of “I didn’t know I was making you uncomfortable.” Nothing about me ever said I was comfortable.
But then on one of my last days there, something clicked as I spoke with one of my supervisors about the situation. This wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for this. All I asked for was to learn and to work and to enjoy the time that I had there. I didn’t want someone to follow me around and say lewd things. I didn’t want someone to corner me in the hallway the first time they knew I was truly alone. I didn’t ask for any of this, and no one else going through this did either. I almost let a small handful of people ruin one of the best experiences of my entire life.
Don’t let them take that from you. This is your life. These are your dreams, and no one has the right to make you feel small when you deserve to soar.
You belong here. Their harassment and inappropriate behavior do not.