By Tiffany A. Potter
At the time of our deadline, and the weeks prior, we’ve experienced a storm surge of sexual harassment and molestation stories and allegations nationally. From Hollywood elites to politicians, we as a society can no longer deny or disregard that which most of us women have known our entire life, that we live among predators. They are, in fact, everywhere.
Let me say this from the onset, I—we—love and appreciate the men who stand with us in solidarity; those who believe us without question and are equally mortified that their brothers have done such horrible things. It’s only slightly disheartening that this needs to be stated, but I want to be clear: Not I—nor any other woman that I know—believes that every man participates in such behavior. I also understand that women are predators, but for the sake of this column I will be speaking from my personal experiences with men.
For years, I have supplemented my income as a substitute teacher in whatever school district I live in; since 2013, it’s been the Fresno Unified School District. I’m good at what I do, so much so that I’m considered a “preferred substitute” at a number of schools in the district. Meaning, I’m personally asked back time and time again to the same school sites, and this particular school was no different.
April 2015, I accepted a job at a specialized, therapeutic school site in the district for students who—due to severe past and/ or present trauma that runs the gamut—struggle to function well at their home high school. Because of the challenges these kids face daily, the school, while small, employs four therapists for the approximately 30 students who are enrolled.
For 15 months, subbing at this school kept me as busy as my work/travel schedule would allow. So much so that I was the teacher on record for two different educators, teaching every day, seven weeks at a time. I came to truly care about the kids and the staff that I worked with. There were no easy days, to be sure, but I enjoyed the work.
One therapist, in particular, became what I thought to be a friend of mine. Not only did I enjoy his company in school and out, but I respected his professionalism and the way that he worked with the kids, tremendously. He was one of the good guys—or so I thought.
Five months ago, one of the former students, whom I have since become a mentor to, entrusted me with some information involving this therapist and one of the other students, an underage girl who he had been working with for the previous few years. This student shared stories about the relationship between the two that were incredibly inappropriate and serious in nature. When I confronted said therapist with what I was told, he lied, denied, omitted information and then recruited the female student to help him cover his tracks. It became apparent that as a mandated reporter I absolutely had to act.
The following months resulted in me immediately passing along all information I had to the principal only for her to, presumably, do nothing with it (after she had agreed that it needed to be investigated further). I then felt it necessary to report what I knew to the Fresno Police Department, turning over 40+pages of screenshots/text conversations where I had personally caught him in lies. The result: The detective assigned to the case felt that what I provided was sufficient to warrant a full investigation at the criminal and administrative level.
Here’s what I have come to learn from my life experiences in dealing with predatory behavior: You just never know who it will come from. There’s no profile we can all rely on to pick one out in a crowd in an effort to feel safe. They are exceptionally good at what they do. We’re (especially girls) taught to trust and believe the best in people be them our elders or our peers as long as they aren’t strangers (“stranger danger” and all).
Over the span of my life I have been a victim of sexual assault in college, the recipient of unsolicited dick pics of which I can never unsee and been on the receiving end of a boss who made comments to me about my breasts (only to be defended by my female manager when I filed the complaint). Now, as of five months ago, I was also recruited as an unintended advocate for all the underage girls who, now or in the future, could cross paths with my ex-colleague when they come to him seeking safety and security (provided he still has his license—which he shouldn’t as far as I’m concerned).
I, and the majority of women who have ever come forward, have been shamed and blamed along the way. Am I the exception and not the rule? Am I just a magnet to power-hungry, selfish assholes who take advantage of my kindness and friendliness? Am I gullible? Perhaps. The mere fact that I must consider these questions, reflecting back on myself to find answers, is sad. But I do so in an effort to be fair. But I just don’t think so.
We are encouraged through unwritten, unspoken, societal rules to keep quiet, especially because we grow up fully aware that we will have to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion. Rape victims in a court of law are questioned relentlessly about what they were wearing or if they were intoxicated at the time of their assault. Did they invite the abuse? We are expected to defend ourselves because the shitty systemic, patriarchal society values power, money and conquests—and finds “locker room talk” acceptable and funny—over decency, reigns supreme. Hell, you can even become president of the United States if ya wanna.
To the jerks who don’t know their place in this world, who thrive on being master manipulators and who take what is not theirs just to satisfy their wants and desires, fuck you. And for those who have an affinity for the underaged—Roy Moore and every other man who uses their power and influence over a child—you’re disgusting on an entirely different level. May you rot in hell.
To my sisters in this world, those who have suffered, who have questioned their self-worth, who have felt backed into a corner, who were really convinced that he liked and cared about you and there was a future in your inappropriate relationship, or who are/were too frightened to speak out against their abusers, I can only hope that this time in history will give you the courage to be brave. None of it was your fault. And know that every woman who has come before you is rooting for your rise.
Tiffany is a disability consultant, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and change agent. Find her at www.TiffanysTake.com on Instagram: Tiffanys_Take.columnist or Twitter: T_Tcolumnist.