Trigger warning: mentions of online sexual harassment.
I was in 9th grade when a guy called me on Skype with a fake identity and masturbated. It began when I received a message on my Facebook account from a girl I had a few mutuals with. I glanced at the mutuals and did not for a second think that this might be a fake account. I read the message and it said that she had to tell me something very important. I didn’t initially respond but messages from this account lashed down on my message box unabated.
I finally messaged this girl, asking her what she wanted to tell me. She said she’d tell me on Skype. “It’s important and best if we talked,” read the black letters on my screen. I gave her my Skype account details but I was suspicious so I covered my camera and blanked the screen. She was doubtful if I was still listening. She typed “show me your hands” in the chat because she wanted to make sure I was there, falling deeper into her trap. Then she turned on her camera. At that point, I wasn’t even sure if it were a “she”.
I’ve told you already what I saw next. It was a man masturbating. The person asked me again if I was there. I looked in disgust at the words that glimmered in the chatbox. I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry.
His presence remained unscathed, but I was traumatized for life.
I turned off my computer after I understood what was happening. I felt so scared. Never in my wildest imagination had I thought that I could be sexually harassed online. I was young. I was innocent. I was naive. I didn’t believe in the worst side of this world.
I didn’t realize what was happening right in front of me. I was breathing heavily and feeling so scared. When I turned my computer off, I was winded like someone had punched me in the gut.
Sexual harassment has a way of making you feel so unsafe, regardless of the form. Even though the offender sat on the other side of the screen, I felt like he was right there. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know why he did this. And I didn’t know if I could ever confront him on what he did. His presence remained unscathed, but I was traumatized for life.
It happened again, one summer evening, on Snapchat.
Snapchat was trending in those days and, like everyone else, I jumped onto it. My account was new and I was still in the process of adding all my friends. And then, history repeated itself. A few years later, I received videos—this time from three accounts—of men masturbating. I immediately blocked those accounts. I was disgusted.
Who were these people? Why did they send me inappropriate, explicit, and disgusting content? Where they got my username from? I never found out.
Online sexual harassment is devastating, and the obnoxious content that you’re presented with can last in your memory forever.
I just know that both these incidents were extremely disturbing. I felt stupid for becoming a part of someone’s sexual activities and letting them manipulate me. I felt abused. I felt like it was my fault.
Most girls experience electronic harassment at some point in their life. Sometimes, it’s very graphic. Other times, it’s presented to them as sexually explicit messages from real or fake accounts. Either way, it’s equally devastating, unpleasant and inappropriate.
I still have so many messages on my social media accounts sent in by people I have never known in my life—asking me for sexual favors, complimenting me, or simply saying “hi”. I don’t read them, or respond to them. I tell myself they’re not worth my time.
But deep down, I still feel afraid. If these men are so frustrated that they can slip into a girl’s inbox they’ve never known or met, what must they be like in real life?
Online sexual harassment is devastating, and the obnoxious content that you’re presented with can last in your memory forever. And even years later, it can make you feel the same way—afraid, anxious, in disbelief. It lives with you. It breathes in your memory reminding you of what you endured.
If these men are so frustrated that they can slip into a girl’s inbox they’ve never known or met, what must they be like in real life?
To all the girls reading this—your experiences of sexual harassment are real despite what anyone tells you, or how many times you let them go because you didn’t want to make things messier. Don’t listen to people who degrade you. Don’t feel afraid of the world. And don’t let anyone invalidate your experience.
I believe you. I hear you. I see you. And I always will.