My Worst Moment: Discovering that my best friend in graduate school and classmate in my program, essentially my partner in crime battling the forces of physics homework and tackling research ideas and oral qualifying exams together (who, by the way, also consistently wore the “Not a bystander” t-shirts advocating for sexual harassment awareness distributed by my school and touted himself as an ally to women), had set up a video camera in our bathroom (he was one of my three roommates) in order to record me showering, putting on lotion, etc., so that he could pull up these videos at any time on his phone or home computer and masturbate to the images of my naked body. I still do not know whether he still has these videos or if they have been circulated online. I found out about the video camera in my bathroom after several months of it going on (actually, I’m still not really sure – it could have been happening for over a year). When I discovered the camera and confronted the perpetrator about it, he realized I had seen the camera and had pulled out his gun (which he had a concealed carry license for) to clean it. When I asked ‘what the hell’ he was doing (meaning, what was the camera), he claimed he was merely looking up guns online. In hindsight, I recognize this moment as a frightening assertion of power and aggression. I immediately locked myself in my room with my dog.
It took me several months, living with this person and seeing them at school every day, before finally reporting the incident to my school. There were many moments after I confronted him that he consistently re-asserted his dominance. He would say things like “the only real power in the world is achieved through violence”; or he came to my desk once, wearing his “not a bystander” t-shirt (mind you, *after* I had confronted him) and talked about how he wanted to put up pictures of my dead mother around my desk. In his testimony for the eventual investigation by the school he compared me to a donut shop: “anyone walking by a donut shop cannot resist the temptation to go inside.”
I Have Given Up On: Trusting most men, particularly the ones that are the most obvious, apparent allies. It’s time women stand for women, and women run for congress, and women becomes CEOs, and women change the system by working from the top.
I’m Afraid: That videos of me are on the internet, on some voyeurism website. That I’m not the only one the perpetrator did this to; that he’ll do the same thing again, somewhere else. That he still views the videos he recorded of me even after being exposed for what he did. That he’ll find a career being a supervisor to people including women and find a way to exploit their bodies.
This Has Cost Me: The biggest impact has been on my mental health. I dealt with PTSD for several months after reporting to my school and will likely carry some version of my paranoias — such as locking my bedroom door at night and always checking the bathroom before undressing to shower — for a long time.
During the investigation by the school, I often had to stay home from school due to distress or fear of running into him on the way to campus. I fell very behind in my research and ended up presenting a poster at the major conference in my field on minimal results. I had to find a new roommate to replace the perpetrator in my apartment — this took much time and resources.
Something You Should Know: I will fight for my sisters on this earth and I will never give up.
Is There a Bright Side: I found some truly amazing friends in the process, who helped me find the courage to report the perpetrator to my department and school. I feel lucky: he was eventually expelled from the program and the school. I think the #MeToo movement, which was launched the same month that the investigation by the school started, really helped me find my courage and also applied pressure to my school to do the right thing. Granted, I was still discouraged by the school to talk to the police, and they were hesitant about launching a full-blown investigation, but we eventually got there. It is because of the boldness of the women before me, and the women at my side, that my story didn’t fester in my mind and destroy my career, and that my story has a happier ending than most.
My Fight Song: “Confident” by Demi Lovato and “Shake it off” by Taylor Swift
Secret Weapon: My friends and my boyfriend.