If You Didn’t Speak Then… Speak Now – How I Came To Terms With My Sexual Harassment
“Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.”
– Vironika Tugaleva
I was 18 when I left my home in Manila to attend an international honors program in Taiwan.
To call it “culture shock” is putting it lightly. And coming from a Filipino-Chinese background, I honestly did not expect it to be so hard to adapt.
I never in a million years thought someone would presume I was a domestic helper or a factory worker just because of my nationality.
I never imagined someone wanting to be my friend in school only because she needed help in writing her English homework.
I certainly never expected someone to assume I was a mail-order bride because I was from the Philippines.
And I never EVER expected to be touched inappropriately by someone I trusted.
But all of this did happen.
There was a Korean visiting professor at my university — he seemed kind, smart, respectable, and pleasant enough. One evening he asked another student and me to stay late and help him check the midterms from one of his classes. When we finished, he offered to take us out to dinner to say thank-you.
The other student said she already had other plans, but she encouraged me to go ahead and accept his offer.
So I went.
The dinner was good, the conversation cordial, and when we had finished I was ready to walk back to my dormitory on campus. He was also heading back, as he still had other papers to check, so we walked together and continued to chat.
Then he suddenly grabbed my hand… and held on.
It was dark — there was nobody else on the street — so I pulled my hand away from his and kept walking. I pretended nothing had happened, and we kept the conversation going.
But I was shaken up. I was ashamed. I was unsure why it had happened. I didn’t know what to do. Did I give the wrong impression? What were his intentions? I didn’t want to believe that a respected professor would suddenly grab my hand so possessively in the middle of a dark and empty road.
For me, it was straight harassment.
The next day, I explained what had happened to the assistant of the department I was working in, and asked where I could report the incident.
She strongly suggested against the idea because he was a visiting professor, and a distinguished one at that. She also stressed that, in Taiwan, most people take the man’s side. It would be his word against mine.
And, because I was a foreign woman from a country that’s not “highly thought of,” I would likely lose.
I didn’t know how to respond; I was speechless.
I heard her words, but my mind couldn’t comprehend them. In the Philippines, women’s voices aren’t devalued. And there are strict guidelines regarding the behavior of professors and students that university staff adhere to. I suddenly felt even more isolated, alone in this alien place that challenged everything I thought I knew.
I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. And I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to my family, my government, my country…
So I let it be, and I did nothing.
I still saw the professor once in awhile, but I made sure I was never alone with him. I pretended that what had happened hadn’t. When he returned to Korea a year or so later, I thought that meant that I could finally forget everything.
I was wrong.
Even though he was gone, he was never far away. He haunted my thoughts. The incident was buried so deep within me that I carried the shame and the anger with me like a tumor, eating away at my spirit.
And I never spoke of it.
Because it did happen.
I was harassed.
I was on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior.
And I didn’t do anything about it.
For a long time I felt ashamed for being so weak, and for simply accepting the status quo.
I knew I couldn’t change the past. But neither could I continue to carry the burden of having done nothing. I’d been young, naive, and alone in a foreign land. Shutting it all out and pretending it didn’t exist was the only way I could cope.
Once I understood this, I finally forgave myself.
And I share this story now with one intention:
To let you know that if you have been harassed and did not do anything about it… you have nothing to be ashamed of.
When I forgave myself for not speaking up, I liberated myself of that deep shame.
So forgive yourself for all the things you chose to “forget” or “set aside.”
Forgive yourself for all the things you pretended “didn’t happen.”
Forgive yourself for not speaking up… and speak now.
Release yourself from the burdens of your past by speaking or writing about it, if only for no one but yourself. You don’t need to publish your story. You don’t even need to share it with anyone. Bury it, burn it, rip it to shreds if you want to. But once you acknowledge it and let it out, you will purge that poison and finally begin to heal… just as I did. That is my wish for you.
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