On October 1st, I finally shared something I have been carrying around with me for decades. The moment THIS POST went live on this blog, I was immediately hit with waves of anxiety. Coincidentally, I was also very sick that day with a cold and spent three days in bed, in the confines of my bedroom, under the covers, in my pajamas. It worked out well as I was feeling so unexpectedly vulnerable that staying indoors and being forced to practise self-care proved to be the best course of action when disclosing something like this.
I was taking a risk because I was a mere bystander to this particular teacher’s inappropriate behaviour and sexual advances. I KNEW what he was up to and I attempted to report him and stop him in his tracks however my efforts were unsuccessful. And so sharing this unique sense of rage came with a price. I placed myself on the chopping block and knew that everyone who read it could easily shake their heads and conclude that I had just wanted to jump on the “Me Too” bandwagon but had nothing of real substance to do so.
To be honest, I could have written about the time I was 18 years old working in a bar in Peterborough when a big, meathead of a bouncer came into the staff coat room right before my 9pm shift started and forcibly pushed me up against the wall and groped me. He threatened me saying he could lock the door and have his way with me. Being short and petite, I managed to slip away from him and run out of the room. The terror of that moment stayed with me for a long time.
Or I could have written about the time I was 20 years old and had just returned from a backpacking trip in Europe. I went to a local bar with a friend and by night’s end, she had made plans to go to a house party with a group of military guys she had met. I thought it was probably not the best idea and opted to walk to the apartment of another friend where I was staying that night. My friend’s brother was also at the bar and he offered to walk with me. He acted weird as we walked along the Main Street of Pembroke…..dodging into alleyways and jumping out at me. When we finally arrived at the apartment he refused to unlock the door and so I decided to leave and go find a payphone to call my friend. He followed me and pushed me down a hill that was adjacent to the sidewalk. He got a hold of me and was rough. I bit him to release his hold on me and ran. He followed, got a hold of me, grabbed my arm and bit through the light jacket I was wearing, breaking the skin. I ran back to the apartment and he followed, finally unlocking the door. A bed was made for me on the sofa where he proceeded to sit and continue to harrass me. I asked him to leave so I could go to bed and he grabbed my breast violently. Again, I told him to leave or I would wake his sister (my friend). Finally, he retreated to his room. I awoke the next day with severe bruising on my chest and bruising and teeth marks on my arm.
I could have written about the time when I was 16 years old and was being followed and stalked by some person who would call me the minute I walked into the house at 1am after working a night shift. He’d tell me how pretty my hair looked and how he liked my clothes (describing what I was wearing that night). His calls would always start with the standard ‘heavy breathing’ greeting (how original). I also could have written about the many times I was whistled at, hissed, at, clucked at, had sexual gestures thrown my way, assaulted with grabs of my ass or my breasts by random strangers or just made to feel uneasy when walking alone, getting into a cab or finding my way to my car in a parking garage after attending a birth in the wee hours of the morning. My point is, I have an abundance of stories that “qualify” as being far more serious than my experience in high school.
After much thought and reflection, I know that my reactions during that time and afterward and the impact it had on me had little to do with what was done but what wasn’t done. In the hours and days after posting this article, I received countless messages from former students of all different ages confirming that what I wrote was, indeed, reminiscent of their experiences. What came as a surprise, were the emails from students exclaiming, “I KNOW exactly who you are talking about” followed by the sharing of the first initial of the teacher’s name. Lo and behold, it was a completely different teacher. The teacher I wrote about wasn’t alone. There was at least one other.
At the end of the first day of sharing this piece, I spoke with my friend who was preyed upon and victimized by this teacher and when we spoke, I broke down and cried the tears of my 16 year old self. I felt a deep sadness for what had happened to her and the other students. Setting my story free allowed me to feel the grief that resided just beneath the rage I had been carrying for so long. For the first time in 30 years, I no longer felt rage around this time of my life, only sorrow.
I knew that my article would stir up anxiety in his victims and I hoped they would get the support and help that they desperately needed and should have had back then and in the years that followed. It was a different time. It is easy to wonder, in the midst of the MeToo movement how nothing was done but it was the time. It’s almost 2019 and victims still barely have a voice. This investigative report released yesterday by CBC is eerily familiar and gives me hope that one day, my teacher will be charged for the crimes he committed. Sadly he still has a strong hold on his victims even thirty years later. The impact of predators like this teacher is immeasurable and victims will go to great lengths to protect them.
I have received so many messages and emails from people of all ages and their words were very much appreciated in those early days after releasing it. By leaving out a lot of identifying detail and keeping my piece vague, it resonated with a lot of people who went through similar experiences. One woman disclosed the abuse she endured at the hands of her teacher in a Toronto high school in the 60’s. She had never told a soul and shared her story publicly as a comment. Another assumed I was talking about a high school in Mississauga because the similarities were uncanny. I received so many emails and private messages from strangers sharing their high school experiences that it became clear really fast that the school system is, sadly, another organized breeding ground for predators.
This did not happen in isolation. It is far more rampant than one would like to believe and I think in the years to come, we will see more and more former students stepping forward with allegations of abuse of those who were in positions of power and took advantage of that.
It turns out that it was a wise decision on my part to not attend my high school reunion. I knew he would have the audacity to show up there and he did. His behaviour, according to some former students, was indicative of an abuser who has no shame and zero remorse for the crimes (yes, crimes) he committed so many years ago.
Sharing my story and shining the light on this particular teacher and this issue is only the beginning. Not only has it dissipated my rage, it has fueled my determination to continue to pursue this and try to make sense of how this happened in our rural Ontario high school. It did happen and it should have stopped the moment allegations were surfacing. It is my hope that the women who were once the prey of this sick predator will one day recognize that although they were powerless then, they have the power now to seek justice and expose him for who and what he was and still is.
I continue to be available to anyone who needs to talk or share their experiences. This BLOG is also a safe place to share any story by any woman who needs a place to put it. Contact me at julie (at) juliekeon (dot) com if you have a story to share.
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© 2018 Julie Keon