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#MeToo – The Secret Shame

By now, I’m sure most of you have seen the #MeToo movement going viral all over social media. 

What is #MeToo

(CNN) Two simple words became a rallying cry on Twitter to stand against sexual harassment and assault. “Me too.” Social media was flooded with messages Sunday, mostly from women, who tagged their profiles to indicate that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted

When the hashtag first started trending, I was relieved, believing I was one of the very rare few who didn’t have a story to share, who wasn’t able to tag herself as #MeToo….. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, that I did, in fact, have a story to share, a voice to be heard. But because of the blurred lines created by victim blaming and rape culture, I’d packed it away inside my head for the longest time because it was shameful and I thought I was to blame.

#MeToo… I have been a victim to and this is my story…..

I graduated from college at the end of 1992, with a British Confederation Of Health & Skin Care Therapy diploma and a Cidesco diploma in Somatology, as well as a bunch of other diplomas, including certification in sports massage,  personal training and exercise teacher trainer. I landed a job almost immediately, at a prominent hotel in Cape Town, working as a personal trainer and therapist in their Health And Wellness Center. 

I was 20 years old.

Young, naive and with stars in my eyes. The year was 1993, South Africa was just coming out of sanctions and the hotel I was working at was a destination for international sport stars, performing artists and business men. It was incredibly exciting as far as first jobs went. I got exposed to so many incredible people, sport stars, performing artists & so many more.

But, there was a dark side….

So many of these rich, relatively famous and powerful men, thought they had the right to have all access to me. On work premises. I saw more penises in the 8 months that I worked there than I’d ever seen in my life before. Men who got some cheap thrill out of flashing their junk at me, even when I’d explained to keep their underwear or swim shorts on for the sports massage. Men who got a thrill out of shoving their hands up my skirt, as I stood at the head of the therapy bed, during a treatment. Men who thought it was ok to try and grab my boobs or coerce me into giving them a “happy ending”, even after I’d repeatedly explained that this wasn’t that sort of establishment. 

I was more than just ashamed, I was scared.

I had a client, who returned three times in the space of a week, for treatments with me, each time, leaving me a large tip. On his last appointment, alone with the client, in the health center, he tried to coerce me into giving him oral sex. I got scared. When I asked him to leave, he screamed at me that I was unprofessional and that he was going to report me.

I did complain.

To the management of the health center, which was privately owned, by a woman, and not owned by the hotel. They just laughed at me and said something along the lines of men being men and I was young and blonde and it was to be expected and I should just enjoy the tips.

I can’t tell you how many times I had to clean semen of the therapy bed after a treatment, when I’d leave a client alone to change and come back to tidy up, only to discover he’d masturbated on the bed. It was humiliating and it made me feel dirty.

I only lasted 8 months.

I couldn’t handle it, it made me feel sick, dirty and ashamed and for a very long time after I left, I avoided working in environments were I’d have male colleagues or clients, something about working with men after that, made me extremely uncomfortable, it made me feel threatened and insecure. 

I was a trained professional but I felt like I was being treated as a rent-by-the-hour whore.

Sharing this was hard. I’m still not sure if I’ll even post it. I still feel hugely ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated by the months that I was exposed to that. 

Sharing this feels somehow scary…. Like I’m afraid of some kind of backlash. I have to keep reminding myself, I did nothing wrong. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t like it. I set boundaries and they were ignored. I reported the behavior and was made to feel ridiculous, like I was overreacting.

Join the movement….

Share your #MeToo story, or just comment below with the #MeToo so that I know I’m not so alone, I’m not overreacting and this is a big deal.

I wrote this for me. I wrote this to be validated by you, to know that I’m not alone, to remind myself, I did nothing wrong, I wan’t asking for it and I’m not to blame. Please receive this post in with the intention it was intended. 

My parents will probably read this….

And I’m sorry. I’m not even sure what I’m sorry for, for sharing this? For bringing shame? The secret shame? But I have to keep telling myself, I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t to blame, it’s not my fault. 

We need to stop looking to victims to find a solution to these problems, we need to start holding the perpetrators accountable. 

I’m also a mother now, a mother of two little girls, who will grow up to be women and who will face the same situations and I don’t want them to feel this shame, this secret shame! 

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32 Comments

  • Reply Susan

    Oh my goodness Sharon! You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! What happened is a terrible, huge deal. And it leaves scars. I don’t know what it is with some men. It makes me sick.
    #Me too
    I don’t have a terrible event like that from my adult life. I had one event at work when I was very young. I reported it and was also laughed off. It was a small event, but it made me feel embarrassed and angry. I had a boyfriend when I was a student who mentally and emotionally abused me. I only dated him for 6 months but it left scars that took years to heal. Some of the scars are still there.
    He broke up with me because I “wasn’t the same person I was when he met me”. No shit asshole! The irony!
    And I was sexually abused as a child. Just writing that makes me want to vomit. I haven’t ever written it down.

    You have nothing to apologize for. That is what is wrong with this world. Why are we the ones to feel ashamed and embarrassed when we didn’t do anything wrong?
    Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story.

    October 17, 2017 at 8:19 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Thank you… xx

      October 17, 2017 at 8:26 am
  • Reply Jonelle

    I don’t even have words!! This is so traumatic for someone so young… you did nothing wrong. <3

    October 17, 2017 at 8:39 am
  • Reply lyn85

    It is so common place that it is scary. As recently as last year I had a client who insisted on making suggestive comments and always found a way to touch me. When I complained to my male boss he said, “He can touch you all he wants, as long as he signs his bookings with the other hand.” Suffice to say I do not work there anymore. If I had a rand for every male client who made some kind of lewd comment or suggestion I would have no need to work. It is not okay and we need to talk about it!

    October 17, 2017 at 8:42 am
  • Reply Belinda (@BelindaMountain)

    This makes me feel sick. I want to say I feel shocked but the sad thing is that I’m unsurprised by the behaviour of men these days:(. So sorry you had to be put through all of that and thanks so much for sharing. I’ve suffered minor harassments from being propositioned by a married men at a workplace in London, to being pinned down by a drunk jock who couldn’t take no for an answer (luckily he passed out) to having a man masturbate behind me on the beach. All these stories are sickening but the more we share, the more awareness we raise and perhaps eventually we can change behaviour.

    October 17, 2017 at 8:48 am
  • Reply Mich

    Hi Sharon. Your e not alone. #Metoo. The CEO of one of my previous companies tried to kiss me at a company party. I froze in shock and let him do it because I was too scared to do anything else. To this day I beat myself up about it and am ashamed. Why did I not slap him and scream?

    October 17, 2017 at 8:56 am
  • Reply nunu5

    # Metoo I dont think there are many women who have not been sexually harssed if not assulted. I was nine staying at the beach with neighbours. But because I was not raped I felt I could not complain that there was nothing worng. But Oh did I feel guilty. Then as a 19 yr old in Paris I was grabbed by my pony tail and nearly abducted, again the guilt for not screaming out or fighting back. Luckily I must have looked very uncomfortable and a waiter rescued me from a restaurant we walked past. I had almost forgotten this incident till this campaingn as we know there are creeps out there – nothing unusual. But it shouldnt be like that.

    I am thinking of teaching my daughter there is nothing wrong with touching or sex just to spare her the guilt which is for me the most debilitating part of it all.

    October 17, 2017 at 9:04 am
  • Reply Wεทchy ¸.¸. ҉¨

    I’m sorry 🙁

    October 17, 2017 at 9:10 am
  • Reply paddatjiesema

    Thank you for sharing.

    I’m not willing to share my #metoo stories, biggest reason is that I don’t want my parents and rest of the family to find out, even though I’m 40 years old. On the one hand I think they’ll blame me, but I also don’t want them to see me differently, to look at me with pity. And one of the people in my stories is part of the extended family. I’ve got this incredible fear that one day he’ll decide to publically apologise for what he did, and then everyone will know.

    October 17, 2017 at 9:13 am
    • Reply Sharon

      The secret shame right? The hardest part about sharing my story was knowing that my parents could read it and feeling humiliated and ashamed because they’d know….

      October 17, 2017 at 9:17 am
  • Reply flutterbymegs

    Seeing your #MeToo post makes me want to hug you. It’s real. Those of you who can or can’t post it, you’re loved and supported too. xx

    October 17, 2017 at 9:14 am
  • Reply Charlene

    I’m so sorry 🙁

    October 17, 2017 at 9:23 am
  • Reply Rose

    Hi Sharon, thanks for sharing your story and you definitely shouldn’t feel to blame for any of this. Those men are entitled pigs. One thing though – the term “whore” is very problematic and not very feminist at all. Women who choose to partake in sex work as a legitimate way to support themselves shouldn’t be demonised or called names. Now is the time for us to empower women, using words like that only reinforces the negative sentiments established by the patriarchy.

    October 17, 2017 at 9:28 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Mmmm, I never actually thought about it like that… you’re right.

      October 17, 2017 at 9:36 am
  • Reply Jodie

    I can’t understand the shame – the same shame that I myself feel after my experience many years ago. The sad thing is that both my sisters have experienced the same thing and when I see my mother’s reaction to those, I feel even worse sharing my “secret”. I don’t know why though. Maybe because it’s so many years ago? Maybe because whether she knows or doesn’t know won’t change the experience? Maybe because I’ve put it behind me and moved on and don’t want to rehash the event? I don’t know. But it’s sad! Very sad. Thanks for sharing xxx

    October 17, 2017 at 9:31 am
  • Reply Pandora

    When I was 14 we were at a caravan park, and one evening, I was in the communal TV lounge, full of people, when an old man put his arm around my shoulders. I moved forward, away from him and he turned and walked out. To this day I have no idea why I didn’t say anything, or why I never told anyone. I don’t think I was consciously thinking that people would blame me, and yet I felt I couldn’t tell.

    I also worked in a bar for a while, and the amount of guys that think ‘being a barmaid’ means you will happily sleep with them was staggering. One creep asked “Isnt it part of the job?” We were all harrassed in a similar fashion, people trying to pull your top down at the neckline, or sticking hands up your skirt, groping you, leaving their hotel room numbers, or even trying to give you the keys. The their credit, the management did always stick up for us, and many a guy was ejected from the venue for such behaviour.

    While studying we had that lecturer that walks up behind you and massages your shoulders. He was a laughing stock, but no-one actually did anything. It was just a well known fact, and each year the girls were warned to not go near him alone.

    I think sometimes the reason we don’t speak up is because
    1) people in authority laugh it off, make it seem less serious than it is, tell us we misunderstood because he’s just being a guy and tell us not to dress or act so provocatively.
    And 2) because the inevitable comments about “Look how beautiful and irresistable she thinks she is, everyone ‘harrasses’ her . Maybe she shouldn’t dress like that or wear so much make-up, because clearly, she wants men to look at her! Then when they do they are ‘harrassing’ her!”

    So when a man gropes you in a crowded place, and you loudly call him on it, surely he will reply with ‘Don’t flatter yourself, I wouldnt touch you!’ I for one wouldn’t want to know how many people would laugh.

    October 17, 2017 at 10:16 am
  • Reply Christelle

    #MeToo

    October 17, 2017 at 10:56 am
  • Reply Amelia

    I think that the biggest challenge is getting people (men and women) to understand and acknowledge what inappropriate behaviour is. As a waitress, I had dads sitting with their families and trying to sneak their hand up my skirt, old men running their hands down the front of my pants while I held onto hot plates…I worked for amazing people that supported me when I put the plates down and hit the man. But, not everyone does. Some people think it’s what you said – men being men. These are usually the people that haven’t had it happen to their own little girls. If you’re not happy to watch someone do that to your daughter, it’s inappropriate behaviour and it needs to be dealt with.

    October 17, 2017 at 11:00 am
  • Reply Caroline

    #MeToo

    October 17, 2017 at 11:40 am
  • Reply Natalie

    #metoo

    I’ve been raped, groped, and been taken advantage of. I’ve been afraid to say no, I’ve fought of would-be rapists, and I’ve lain with my eyes closed waiting for it to be over.

    BUT this isn’t the worse. Those were isolated incidents but the fear is constant; when out shopping, in business meetings, relaxing with friends and acquaintances. It’s planning my day around being ‘safe’, constant comments about women’s figures and dress, being belittled and lectured in conversation, strangers commenting on my breasts, never being allowed to fully relax because if you smile too much or are perceived as too friendly, all bets are off.

    October 17, 2017 at 11:56 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I’m sorry this happened to you. xx

      October 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm
  • Reply kerryheathfield

    I am so gutted to read this and I am just so sorry. You honesty always amazes me so thank you for sharing and being so honest. This will help a lot of women in some way or another.

    October 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm
  • Reply Anushka Jansen

    #metoo

    It is not OK and I am so sorry that you experienced that Sharon. Utterly disgusting how some men behave and it’s excused by “them just being men”. Thank you for sharing your story.

    As a mom it terrifies me for what my daughter might have to face and experience as she grows up and goes through her life.

    I was groped and sexually harassed by a boss at my first office job. He did it to most the girls and seemingly got away with it. Also had issues with lewd comments, bum pinching and what not when I was waitressing. And had an attempted rape by a boy that I was seeing when I was a teenager. I couldn’t handle it and developed an eating disorder which has plagued me most of my life. I also had bad relationships where was verbally and emotionally abused as I think I attracted it to me as I believed I was not worthy of more. Why do we the victims have to carry the guilt and the shame?

    October 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm
  • Reply Karen Narayadu

    #MeToo after reading your article I have tears in my eyes and a scream rising up from my belly! I get how you feel Sharon …You’re not to blame! What a world we live in. Thankyou for being brave and sharing your pain! #muchlove

    October 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm
  • Reply Melissa Javan

    Oh Sharon, thank you for sharing this. So sorry you went through this. Xoxo

    October 17, 2017 at 6:52 pm
  • Reply Taryn

    You have absolutely nothing. NOTHING. to be ashamed of. #metoo

    October 17, 2017 at 7:10 pm
  • Reply Heather

    Big hugs Sharon. I am so sorry. I haven’t really been physically harassed, just some lewd comments when I was working as a waitress at the Spur. And I was so shocked I just did not respond. So “other” but I think I have learnt, unfortunately, that men can be pigs.

    October 17, 2017 at 8:58 pm
  • Reply Diana Studer

    #MeToo (mine was trivial), but my colleague couldn’t take the harassment and moved to another library.

    October 17, 2017 at 9:47 pm
  • Reply LZ

    #MeToo. At least we are all revisiting various things we have boxed and stored away and allowed to become part of our story. This is not who we are. We are not victims we are warriors.

    October 18, 2017 at 7:12 am
  • Reply Tracy

    #metoo

    October 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm
  • Reply Jeanette

    I do not want to go into detail, but I was molested as child, yes only a few times but it happened. My mom in later years made the following comment….”you know girls overreact, if a man looks up your skirt you shout molestation!” Guess what mom, it is molestation.

    October 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      That is horrific! It’s just another sign of how we’ve been conditioned to victim blame and accept rape culture and normal! I’m so sorry!

      October 19, 2017 at 3:09 pm

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