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#metoo

Reaghan Wharff, Editor-in-Chief

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Recently on social media platforms, many women have started tweeting with the hashtag, #metoo.

#metoo is meant to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment has been seen as a very taboo thing to talk about; however, it seems to happen all the time. It happens often enough that two of my female coworkers and I can talk about incidents that we have experienced for two hours. Two hours for three people’s experiences.

Sexual harassment is something that a lot of people tend to brush off, often blaming the victim.

#metoo is helping women and men alike cope with what happened to them, as well as trying to bring attention to sexual harassment and say, “Hey, stop ignoring this very scary and very real, dangerous thing that happens to people all the time.” It shouldn’t go unrecognized because it is a big deal.”

#metoo is used by anyone who wants to either share their story or help raise awareness because a friend, sibling, parent or even just a peer has had something happen to them.

Recent #metoo tweets have been sent out by De Soto High School students, which makes the reality of sexual harassment hit home.

One of the tweets read “#metoo because a black belt around my waist is seen as a challenge, not a symbol of respect, power and hard work.”

Yes, that tweet was my own, and I feel like now is as good a time as ever to share my story with the world so that people can know how to help other people and maybe even protect themselves.

My story took place when I was 15 years old. At 15, you are only supposed to drive to and from school, work and church. At 15, you are a freshman or sophomore in high school. Fifteen is under the legal age of consent in the state of Kansas. Fifteen is such a young age to be exposed to the harshness of the world, but girls are constantly sexualized no matter what age they are.

I went to taekwondo early one day because the master of my school wanted to teach me self defense because, in my regular class, I help other black belts. He sat in his office while I sat on the floor, stretching.

As sexual harassment is usually shrugged off with comments like, “Well, with the way you were dressed/acting, you were asking for it.” I feel as though now I should explain what I wear during taekwondo practice: a black cotton t-shirt with the school logos on the back and front, along with thick, blue cotton pants and, at the time, my second-degree black belt.

At that point in time, I was one of the highest ranking students in the school, and I still am.

This man, around age 19 or 20, walked into the school with his mother and they talked to the master about starting. I was kinda excited to teach a new student, especially one that was not a young kid and that would actually be able to comprehend what taekwondo was all about: protecting yourself.

The guy went and changed into his uniform, then said goodbye to his mother as she left to go grocery shopping. The master asked if I could handle teaching this class by myself, and I said yes because I had already taught classes by myself before.

The beginning of class went smoothly and without any hiccups or objections to the basic taekwondo warm-ups of stretching, punching and kicking that I was explaining to him. The two of us got along fairly well and he seemed like a very nice kid. We talked a little about how he was a student at Johnson County Community College and was in his second year there.

After a few rounds of kicking warm ups, the master came out of his office and yelled at the guy about not kicking hard enough, then went back into his office.

I told him not to really pay that much attention to the master because he was doing great for his first day, and that I really kind of tune the master’s criticisms out because I had been one of his students for so long.

The guy then asked how long I had been doing taekwondo and I told him five years. He seemed very impressed and then asked, also seeming very innocently, how old I was. And I replied that I was 15.

After the word 15 left my mouth, it felt like the whole atmosphere in the school changed and took a turn for the worst. All of the sudden, the room felt gloomy and dark.

The guy’s whole demeanor changed. He gave me a very creepy smile, one that you would associate with a serial killer, and straightened up to be appear even taller than he already was, which was at least a foot taller than me.

He clasped his hands in front of him and began to strut in a circle around me. It felt like a scene out of a movie, kind of like when the protagonist is captured by the antagonist and starts pacing while petting a very fluffy, very white cat.

I remembered from my training, as well as my common sense, that I needed to make sure that I kept myself facing him and that, whatever happened, to never turn my back to him.

As he circled me, he stroked his chin and repeated, “15, 15,” to himself a couple times.

Not really knowing what to do, I called for a water break. While on break, I quickly texted a black-belt friend of mine and another instructor and explained to them what was happening and that I was uncomfortable, continually checking over my shoulder every so often to make sure he was not behind me. I got a reply from my friend, saying that he would be there in 20 minutes and to hang in there, saying I would “be okay.” My instructor also responded and said that I was just overreacting and that I would be fine.

I then asked the master if he wanted to take over for the last 30 minute of class. He shooed me out of his office, so I went and finished teaching the guy without another creepy incident.

A couple weeks went by without me seeing him, but he did end up coming back. This time, however, both the friend and the instructor I had texted were with me, but the master had gone home sick about half an hour earlier.

As the guy entered, he made eye contact with me and gave me another creepy smile, wiggling his eyebrows. I turned to my friend and the instructor and told them that I did not feel comfortable and asked if I could go sit in the office while the guy was here. The instructor told me not to worry and that I would be fine because I had two other people with me. I still insisted but was told no.

I then asked if I could stand off to the side for the class. Once again, I was told I was just being paranoid and then was put right in the middle of the room. My friend leaned over and told me that he would stand next to the guy so that, in case something happened, he would be the first one to stop it.

Throughout the entire class, it was very apparent to me and my friend that this guy was more focused on me than on what I was saying. The first half of class went by without a problem.

The instructor called break and we all went to get a drink. My friend told me that he did not like the way the guy was looking at me and was sorry he did not come help me when I asked for it. The instructor told us that we were both being ridiculous though and that everything was fine.

My friend and I looked at each other because we both knew it was indeed not fine.

The instructor asked if the guy was ready to start class again, and he replied with “one second” and walked right into the changing room.

Another look was shared between me and my friend and the instructor simply commented on how weird the situation was.

My friend called my name and slowly asked if the guy had brought any clothes to change into, without moving his gaze away from the changing room door.

I replied no.

Twenty minutes went by before the guy came back out, allowing us to wrap up class. My friend refused to leave my side because we were both very suspicious as to what had happened in the changing room.

As soon as the guy left, we rushed to the changing room and opened the door. My clothes were thrown all over the room, instead of in the neat pile I had left them in.

I threw those clothes away as soon as I got home.

I told a few of my friends this story, but I did not tell my parents because I was scared they would not let me go out without them again and that they would not believe that something like that would ever happen. I always had felt safe, no matter where I was, because I lived in a nice town, but this changed my perspective.

I did not even realize how much this affected me until one day while I was driving to work and saw him walking down the street. I had a physical reaction to push up against my door to be as far away from him as possible, even though I was driving and he was walking. I felt my throat close up and I was immediately terrified, even though I knew there was no possible way that we could have had an interaction as I was in the car.

While my story may not have been a prime example of sexual harassment, it could have ended very differently had I not done what I did or had my friend and the instructor not been there. I am very fortunate to just have those events as memories and not have any physical or psychological damage done, but some people are not so lucky.

It is so important for us, as human beings, to make sure that we keep each other safe. Even those we do not know. It is even more important that we stop things like sexual harassment from happening.

That is why a movement like #metoo is so crucial. It gets people talking, and it gets people’s blood boiling and really puts a perspective on how many people are affected by sexual harassment.

#metoo is a movement that made me very sad and angry to learn and think about, I am very glad that it is such a big movement.

I was extremely moved by my classmates and my friends #metoo tweets and I hope that my story can strike you as well with the same feelings.

Sexual harassment is something that should not be joked about or taken lightly.

The most important thing to do is to get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation before it turns dangerous.

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