43

Every now and then, I'm reminded about something awful or embarrassing that I did, and this, sadly, includes sexual harassment, mostly in the form of - but not limited to - drunken messages or phone calls.

I understand that the best thing to do is just to not harass someone in the first place, but what can be done after the fact?

My first thought would be to write a message, apologizing for the unwarranted and most likely unpleasant advance, but I don't even know whether or not the victim remembers what happened, or if she would appreciate the apology - or being contacted in the first place.

Some points:

  • I am not talking about physical assault
  • I have no way of knowing whether or not the victim really experienced it as harassment
  • I do know that I feel terrible about it
  • I am specifically thinking about something that happened several years ago
  • I am not thinking about a workplace interaction, or one where either one of us is in a position of power

Is there anything I can do (besides not repeating my mistakes), or is this now completely in the hands of the victim?

I saw this question which is different from mine, in that it talks about scolding, and not sexual harassment.

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    Is this triggered by the recent wave of #metoo on social media? – Erik Oct 18 '17 at 6:42
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    @Erik it is indeed – Adam Jensen Oct 18 '17 at 6:45
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    We really need to know more information here? Where are you located? (Culture is a big part of interpersonal relationships, and location determines culture). What are you trying to accomplish here? Make yourself feel better? Relieve your guilt? Do what's best for the people you harassed? – user288 Oct 18 '17 at 11:03
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    Thanks for having the courage to ask this here, it's probably one of the better questions I've seen on the site so far. What you're doing here is a good example, please don't be discouraged by the closure. – apaul Oct 19 '17 at 5:06
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    You don't have necessarily to call it sexual harassment. At least it's not comparable to criminal sexual harassment. Being a jerk (as you were, I'll take your word that you have changed) is quite common among young people. – Pierre B Oct 19 '17 at 13:28
38

Given that this was triggered by the recent #metoo awareness campaign about sexual harassment, what I have seen some of my friends do and seems to have been received positively, is to join the campaign by publicly apologising for past behavior.

The reason is that the goal of the campaign is not only to show how many women suffer sexual harassment in their lives, but also to show that this isn't a case of some monsters within the species doing it (which makes it easy to say "not me" and distance yourself from it), but to show that it's a pervasive problem and it's done by so many, otherwise totally normal people.

I've been shocked to see public statements by some of the most respectful, friendly folks I know publicly apologizing, and it really helps drive the point home of how big this issue is.

So even if you've changed now, and know not to do it again, it might help show your friends and family that even otherwise decent people engage(d) in this behavior, and that it's a much bigger problem than they thought.

You don't need to call out any specific victims, or state any specific actions you did, but a general "Yes, this sexual harassment culture is a major problem and I'm sorry I used to contribute to it. My sincere apologies to all the women I treated poorly/made uncomfortable/hurt. I know better now." seems to strengthen the movement, well received and will probably help you feel better about it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 18 '17 at 20:26
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    @Erik, Is sexual harassment, in the way the campaign uses it, well defined? That is, do I know when I'm harassing, and when I'm just a bit of a dick? – Chris Wohlert Nov 17 '17 at 14:23
  • @ChrisWohlert I don't know whether you can figure out the difference. – Erik Nov 17 '17 at 14:45
  • @ Erik well, everyone has met people who were a bit of dicks. So I feel it's important to know people don't say #metoo because someone just acted a bit inappropriate. They are grouped with rape victims. – Chris Wohlert Nov 17 '17 at 20:01
21

I think the key thing here is that those events happened years ago. If they had been more recent I would've strongly recommended reaching out and apologizing as soon as possible, but in this situation I'm tempted to say otherwise. You could potentially still try to open up to the victim about it if you have the chance, but at the end of the day you run the very serious risk of merely reopening old wounds for the sake of making yourself feel better. In fact, seeing as it was never physical and they were, as you describe them, drunken messages and calls, then it's possible that it might not even be severe enough for them to think about anymore, in which case I think not contacting them would be an even better option.

It sounds like you've learned from your mistakes, feel bad about making them and have changed as a person since then. I don't know how others might feel about this, but to me, I'd say that's good enough. However, if the victim one day seeks you out and not the other way around (which I don't see as likely unless you have more information to share regarding that), or is at least the one to bring it up themselves in your presence, you may indeed want to apologize and be genuine about it.

As for the #metoo hashtag, I feel your only obligations are to yourself (to become a better person, as you say you have) and to the victim if they reach out to you (to apologize for your actions). Unless you go on to state otherwise, it sounds as though you've done nothing to other women, regret your actions and have changed yourself for the better. As such, unless you outright advocated or promoted actions similar to your own to other people back in the day, or caused harm to more than one person, or feel that you haven't truly moved on from those events, I feel it is not necessary to do any sort of public apology under that hashtag. The past is the past. In my view, all you would do is bring unnecessary judgment upon yourself for things you have already atoned for and no longer represent you.

I think this last point, however, might be down to cultural differences, as where I live, even with such forms of harassment being equally commonplace (possibly even moreso, and the victims are absolutely right to talk about it if they so desire) compared to places such as the US, such public apologies are seen in a much less positive light. This is not because people would try to defend such actions, but because it is seen more as bringing unnecessary attention to yourself instead of actively improving yourself as a person and not repeating your past mistakes, so you may want to keep that in mind if you are from a country such as the US and are reading this answer. The right to be forgotten is something that comes to my mind as being partially related to this, given how different the US views this right compared to much of Europe.

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    "very serious risk of merely reopening old wounds for the sake of making yourself feel better." It would be creepy too, to contact a person after many years. Possibly, a person who does not want to be contacted. – Pierre B Oct 18 '17 at 20:09
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    But if the victims were hurt and possibly cannot recover from the past, shouldn't something be done on this? And who has the responsibility for this, if not the harassing person? The fact that many women says #metoo even when their past have past for long time and they are happy at the present do tell us that deeply they still want to hear an apology. – Ooker Oct 19 '17 at 0:01
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    @Ooker Keep in mind that he said drunken texts and phone calls. If the victim can't recover from that, odds are the OP is either omitting some information or there are bigger problems with the victim in the first place. If it's the former, that's bad for the OP. If it's the latter, then it's already well out of his hands. And it's not like he's not showing resposibility. That's why he made the thread and admitted it. You don't have to do that by going public or reopening old wounds unnecessarily. The point about the hashtag also only applies if the victim themselves tweets under it. – user7334 Oct 19 '17 at 4:35
  • @Ooker, It depends on the apology. For instance, Turner Brock admits to a drinking problem, not to the fact that he's a rapist. His apology is all about defending his self-image. Also, note that Facebook doesn't have a "Dislike" button, it only has "Like". And sexual harassment/assault victims are usually not going to be Facebook friends with their perpetrator. They'll have the person blocked. Or they may even be off Facebook/social media entirely. And if a perpetrator misremembers an incident to protect his self-image, a victim trying to publicly set the record straight puts herself at risk. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 20 '17 at 13:31
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    @Ooker All people has hurt someone in one way or another. Sexual harassment , verbal abuse, bullying, bigotry, violence, etc. Its part of our social interactions and way of learning thru mistakes. The OP just realized he committed sexual harassment and wants to atone. Best way and he probably already has, its learning from his mistakes. The victim in all this period of time has not considered that an apology from him its needed for her recovery if she hasn't recovered from that. So if he apologizes that won't help the victim and the apology would only make the OP feel better. – Salvador Ruiz Guevara Oct 20 '17 at 13:36
4

The defining trait of harrassment is that it is one-sidedly pressing an interaction onto somebody who does not want to engage in such an interaction.

You would just be picking up where you left off. Leave an apology for the time you meet her by chance, give it to her, and then leave rather than causing her to leave whatever place you hit upon each other again.

And make sure that in the mean time you don't do the same to anybody else.

1

I'm reminded of the 12 Steps of AA, a action plan that provides for some life-changing framing.

I'm thinking of these Steps

"8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others"

0

Thanks for asking this Adam. An effective google search led me here as I have have been thinking about a personal experience months ago. I even composed a facebook message yesterday, apologizing to my ex. As I thought about sending it, I started to recognize, and even more so after reading northernGateway's excellent post today, that motives in these types of situations are very tricky.

I would recommend being patient and really considering why you are planning to apologize. In the moment, we may feel we're doing the noble or right thing. But at the end of the day, or the next day, we may realize we acted out of self motivation and not for the benefit of the victim.

Maybe it would help if I summarized what happened to me. A year and a half or so ago, my then girlfriend at the time spent the night at my house and we shared some consensual second base stuff (we didn't go to third or home base: no genital touching or intercourse). She woke up the next morning, and probably feeling guilty, hurriedly got ready to leave. I hugged her, and told her she didn't need to hurry out. But the situation got a little inappropriate as she repeated the desire to leave and tried to get up and I still hugged her. When I recognized that her voice was more serious, I felt awful. I knew that I needed to let go. I apologized immediately and sent an apology via text later that day as well.

I'm not a huge guy, but I was probably strong enough to hold her against her will for a moment there. To be honest, I was feeling a bit guilty that morning about the second base stuff as well. We both were religious and our actions violated our personal belief set. In scenarios like that, I want my partner to stick around and talk about it, and not just sprint off in shame. Being alone sucks. So my motives for hugging/holding her hopefully weren't the worst? Regardless, with all of these #metoo posts, I cringe to imagine that I may have contributed to any sort of oppression or negative feelings that women go through. Abuseful words or actions done towards women are absolutely awful and undeserved. The whole scenario is very unpleasant.

Yesterday, as these worries were growing about my actions many months ago, sending a personal apology seemed like the right thing to do.

But another key factor in this scenario is that we are no longer dating. A couple months after this incident, and hopefully hopefully unrelated to this event, my gf dumped me. It broke my heart. To be honest, I think that I loved her. When she ended it over the phone hundreds of miles away, I began to think about all the things that may have led to her leaving me. I was helpless and tried to understand why and apologized for anything. But it was one of the worst nights of my life.

Now, about a year later, approaching halloween day when we had our first date several years ago, my mind is filled with thoughts of her. I want to be with her, or the idea of her at least. I know through fb likes, that she has been happy to see #metoo posts. So me apologizing to her in private, or in public...idk, it just seems impossible to do without having some sort of personal motive to impress her and win her back. I feel awful about my actions that morning, but I also still miss her. I hope that she has forgotten about the whole thing, and I hope she's happy with someone else in her life.

That's a lie, the idea of her being with someone kind of sucks. I've dated several people after her, and no one compares.

Sorry, I digress. Just the same, and way too many personal details later, I think it's best that I internalize my feelings of remorse at this point, that I like and support other posts of people sharing their experience/apologizing, and that I try to improve my friendships with other people who may need someone to talk to. And of course, never repeat that type of action again.

Figured I'd share this personal experience. Hopefully my open form thoughts help someone who is similarly on the fence about reaching out to apologize for something said or done in the past. I may be wrong, and would welcome anyone's thoughts/opinions. I hope this post finds you all hopeful and in good health.

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