In case you needed a reminder: you don’t owe anyone anything. You are your own boss. And that means that you are the boss of everything in your own life – your body, your opinions, your means of expression, your interpretations of events, how you learn, what you want and refuse to do (sexually, physically, or otherwise). You control you. And no man (or woman) should ever be permitted to control you.
As Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady during the Great Depression, once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” That includes instances you may find harassing.
In this blog post I recount my personal, most recent experience with harassment (so you get an idea of what harassment may look like) and how I dealt with it #likeafemmeboss. Because my views are my views, and no one else’s. And I deserve to feel safe in my own home. You should too. I also outline the process of creating a Cease & Desist letter that should be robust enough to hold up in court. Disclaimer: Oftentimes the event of receiving an official-sounding Cease & Desist letter is enough deterrent to get someone to stop the harassing behavior. This article does NOT in any way substitute for professional legal advice, however. Please consult a lawyer if you would like to make sure this document can substantiate as evidence in court.
I met my next-door neighbor a couple months after I moved in. We seemed to have an amicable relationship at first. Since we both were undergoing career changes that required brushing up on new skills, I invited him over once for a group study session. After that, he continued texting me, but I had terminated my job and was making the transition (and wanted to be by myself to process all of it). So I ghosted him. He wasn’t my highest priority (whoa, shocker!) so I just didn’t give him more of my precious time and energy. And apparently that did him in.
He approached me about a week later telling me directly that he was “you know, kinda mad that [I] never texted [him] back.” I told him, sorry, it was nothing personal, and went on with my day. A few days later he texted me saying that he wanted to “kick my dumb Amazon mail,” which I took to mean that he was still angry and wanted to harm my personal property. So I texted him the following:
“This is on the verge of harassment. Do not text me again.”
Nevertheless, the a$$hole couldn’t take a hint, so three days ago he approached me again while I was out in the parking lot cleaning out my car. “I got your text. I didn’t really understand what you meant,” he said. “I think you were overreacting – I mean it was just a joke.”
By this point I was fuming. “You, know,” I said, “if you’ve never experienced harassment, you don’t really know what it feels like….” I didn’t get to finish my thought because he waved me off and just walked away before I could even explain my point of view about how things had transpired. I yelled “F*ck off” and then decided to research how to write the Cease & Desist letter. No one gets to tell me how to think or that my point of view is “overreacting,” stupid, or invalid.
Having experienced the following issues before (see below), and just rolling over and taking them, I finally decided enough was enough:
- Sophomore year of college: sexual harassment by – not one – but two(!?) of the Organic Chemistry TA’s (not like that class isn’t already hard enough without having to walk on eggshells all year with superiors too! → Learn more about how to deal with sexual harassment MUCH more proactively here (coming soon). I want to save you as much grief as possible.)
- Sophomore year of college: sexual assault by a guy I was dating
- Junior year of college: a stalker I met in my chemistry class
- Junior year of college: a persistent and very large man who kept trying to ask me out everytime I went to the library at night
- First year of graduate school: gender discrimination by my professor of research because I couldn’t possibly already know what I was doing because I have blond hair and wear lipstick to the lab. He gave the male colleague in my year a project for which he had control and access to all of the instrumentation required, while I had to scurry and hunt and beg and peck my way to get access to my required tools (a female upperclassmen in his research group corroborated my experience with her own impression that the women in the group are required to “prove themselves” while the men are already assumed to be competent coming into the group)
- Second year of graduate school: “date” rape by a classmate – we were studying data science at night and he decided I needed to have sex (f*ck that guy! – I still have to deal with flashbacks because of him!)
SERIOUSLY, I AM SO TIRED OF THIS SH*T.
So, here are the steps I used to deal constructively with this situation:
- Recall the instances where the harassing behavior occurred. Document the date, approximate time, location, and description of what occurred for each instance. This allows you to have an informal record of what you might choose to write in your Cease & Desist letter, and it at least gives you the peace of mind that you know what to tell a policeman or a lawyer or mediator, should this escalate.
- Go to Rocket Lawyer → type Cease & Desist letter → choose “harassment” as the reason for your letter.
- Scroll down to the letter and look over the format. What does it already have to say in this format?
- Customize, explaining your grievances and what you would like the harasser to do instead (like, for example, leave you alone).
- Be sure to indicate a time limit by which you expect the harassing behavior to end. Specifying this formally ensures you’ve covered loose ends associated with telling someone to stop (you’ve made it very clear, even for the biggest idiot).
- Go to the USPS near you and send your letter to the harassing person via Certified Mail with Tracking. You can get a tracking number associated with this as a legally-supported official record that you have indeed served this Cease & Desist directive to the harassing person. If they decline to sign for the document at the door, you also have a record that they rejected signing for the letter.
- In the meantime, keep locking your car and apartment, being prudent to keep yourself safe. You should probably also keep some mace with you on your keys in the event that someone should try to inflict physical harm on you. Try to avoid engaging with the harasser again.
- Seek out validation and support from your friends and/or family.
Please speak up in the comments section below if you found any of this information helpful. I hope I can save you some of the pain I’ve had to endure as a result of the idiot men who have simply assumed that I could not possibly “not like or be asking for” their advances.
Rozalyn Davis holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.S., Chemistry, from Purdue University. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability.