Passing the Test

Last week, through friends, I heard of a teenage girl who had been assaulted and her parents were being unsupportive (i.e. slut shaming her about the incident). My friends wanted this teen to know that there were people out there who believed and supported her and that had had similar experiences.

So, a group of women got together to write about experiences with sexual harassment and assault on a Tumblr blog called: i believe you / it’s not your fault. I decided to join the 13 other women and contribute. My only hesitation was choosing which incident to write about. I decided to focus on one that occurred when I was a teen also.

Then & Now 2Dear Teenager,

I was 16 and attending a SAT-prep class. I wanted to perform well on the test, so I faithfully attended every class and stayed late many nights to study on my own.

While in one of the study rooms one night, I met a guy in his 20s who was studying for the MCAT (the Medical College Admission Test). As we chatted, I discovered he was European. We started talking about international affairs. I supposed I was trying to impress him with own international travel and teenage worldliness.

As we were leaving, I learned he lived in my neighborhood, so I offered to give him a ride home. We continued chatting in the car. I told him all about my teenage life – where I lived, went to school, my after-school activities.

I saw him every time at the SAT center and then I started to see him around school. Hanging out at the schoolyard gate and sitting in the stands during high school football games. I was cheerleading at the time and he would sit in the stands right in front of me. Each time waving to be sure I saw him.

At first I was flattered that an older guy of about 28 would be interested, especially since he seemed so cosmopolitan with his accent and international pedigree. Then I started to get a bad feeling. He would always be outside when I was leaving the SAT study hall and ask for a ride. I started making excuses that I wasn’t going straight home but instead meeting friends at the other end of town.

I finally told my father, a former cop. He listened to me carefully and then accompanied me to the SAT offices where I pointed out the offending fellow. I sat in the lobby while he had a closed-door conversation with the head of the SAT center. I could only image what was being said.

My father was not the kind of guy you messed with—not with his training and temperament. And I was his only daughter. When he came out of the office he took a good long look at the MCAT student in the other room and then we went home. I never saw that Polish guy again, although something tells me he saw my father again.

I finished out the series of classes, with my SAT only a few weeks away, although I no longer stayed late at night to study. It was the first time that I, as a female, had to alter my behavior to ensure my own safety. Leaving the building before dark and closely surveying the parking lot before walking to my car. Habits that were new then, but unfortunately have become old habit.

I was lucky in this case. Although stalking me, the older student only admired from afar. And I had my father there who listened to me, trusted what I had to say, and then ran an intervention. My father never blamed me, but he did stress the importance of not being overly friendly, not giving out information too freely, not being too open with people that I don’t yet know.

Unlike my SAT vocabulary, it was a lesson that has taken me a while to master. For years, I continued to smile a lot (my natural expression) and make friends easily. But slowly, as the harassment, stalkings, and more serious offenses continued to mount, I learned that my father was right—being overly friendly as a woman can be dangerous.

Now as an adult woman who travels the world alone, I still strive to balance self-preservation with an outgoing personality. It’s a lesson hard won every single day.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 25th, 2014 and is filed under Erin Then.

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