An Open Letter to You, My Harasser

When I met you, there was something about you that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; something unsettling, unnerving. Perhaps it was the way you remained conspicuously quiet even in a group setting, on the outskirts but nonetheless present, looking in. You were a newcomer to our group and being a close-knit bunch, we tried to include you in our social plans off campus. When the others began to write you off as weird and awkward, I decided to befriend you anyway. Not out of pity but because I was a shy child and I know what it feels like to be left behind. As I got to know you better, I saw that talking to me seemed infinitely easier for you than talking to anyone else and it did not go unnoticed. I laughed off their jokes about your crush on me but when I could no longer ignore the lovesick elephant in the room, I emailed you to clarify that my interest in you did not extend past friendship. To my relief, you responded immediately, telling me that I was not wrong about your feelings and that you respected my honesty. You hoped we could still remain friends and I responded affirmatively, thanking you for your maturity.

Sadly, your ‘understanding’ seemed to evaporate within hours and the seemingly endless emails and SMSes you began to bombard me with in the days and weeks that followed made me anxious at every beep of my phone. If still waters run deep, yours run deep into some dark unchartered territory where your sense of entitlement is bolstered by the confidence you seem to gain in writing down what you cannot say. You ignored my repeated requests to be left alone and when you started talking about coming to my house so we could talk, I reported you to our course convenor who told me to contact DISCHO. I made my appointment and handed over all of your emails and SMSes, confident that I would be vindicated. They called you in, you gave your version of events and it was decided that you should write me a letter of apology as your punishment. You, with your unsolicited yet eloquently worded emails about your desire for my time and affection, were instructed to write to me once more. Outraged, I rejected their resolution outright although I was told that you wrote the letter anyway and that it was clear that you were not sorry at all.

I contemplated not enrolling for the next year of our degree because of you. I went back to DISCHO, anxious about facing you each day and UCT told me that you had fully satisfied the academic requirements to register and that you should be allowed to do so. They told me I could take my issue to a tribunal but that I should be prepared to have my own behaviour called into question. I found out that you had done this to someone else before me and I contacted DISCHO again but she didn’t want to go through the disciplinary process either. Because while all you had to contend with is your hurt ego at your unrequited affection, victim blaming and victim shaming is sadly an almost inevitable outcome for anyone brave enough to report their harassment or sexual assault. The social stigma of being sexually harassed or raped is a continued and sustained trauma to someone who has already suffered immeasurably, and my piles of evidence meant nothing unless I was prepared to forever be associated with you and what you did to me. I chose to move on and focus on what I came to UCT to do.

Your male privilege means that what you did to me matters less than what I had to have done to provoke your behaviour. After reporting you, it seems to mean that your right to study at UCT matters more than my right to be safe at UCT. And in some twisted sense, it definitely means that I need to safeguard myself against sexual harassment and/or assault EVERY MOMENT OF MY LIFE by modifying what I say, wear and do because you and harassers like you do not understand that NO means NO. You will graduate from UCT, an honoured alumni of a truly great institution and forget about me and this failed attempt at romance. I will forever remember you as someone who ruined my university experience because I tried to be your friend.

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