Why I Did Not Attend my High School Reunion PART 2

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.

The following resources are also available to you.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres

The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa

Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County

Ontario Provincial Police

© 2018 Julie Keon

 

More Than a Few Good Men

In light of my recent post (Why I Did Not Attend My High School Reunion), I have continued to reflect on the countless times in my life where I was ogled, groped, shamed, cat called, name called, threatened and assaulted by men. It is like a constant stream of images, experiences and memories that filter through my mind. Just when I think I have made a solid tally of all of the times men have behaved badly, I remember something else and I dig deeper until I unearth another memory and then another and another and it just keeps going.

I used to think I was one of the “lucky” ones as I had never been raped and since I had normalized inappropriate behaviours of some men for so long (just a part of being a woman, you know), I didn’t give these things a whole lot of thought until a well known Canadian musician, writer and radio broadcaster was found not guilty of four counts of sexual misconduct in 2016.

I remember lying with my husband on our bed one Sunday afternoon and talking with him about the measures I had gone to to keep myself safe throughout my life. He listened to me explain how most of these behaviours are unconscious and become second nature.  Although well informed, he was perhaps, a little shocked, to know that this was the experience of all women from the time we venture out on our own. And for some women we hone our safety skills long before that if we are raised in abusive and unsafe home environments. Even if we are in safe home environments, outside experiences can leave us feeling anxious from a very young age. We learn fast how to protect ourselves and hopefully not get assaulted.

With the #metoo and #timesup movement and the highly publicised sexual assault cases in the news along with the spotlight being shone on pompous, sexist men in power, we have been inundated with a reality that all women have been aware of for as long as we can remember. I have contemplated creating a detailed list of unwanted sexual experiences I have endured over my life. Add to that the hundreds of times I have been grabbed, groped, and objectified and well, I would have a pretty good list in a short amount of time.

Last week, I was sick in bed for three days and found my thoughts turning away from social media and the negativity that comes from watching the news. Instead, I turned my thoughts to the many good and decent men who have come in and out of my life since the beginning. And there have been many. So many that their numbers far surpass the ones who failed me.

I was born to a really great dad who didn’t have a lot of skills as a father when I was born as I was his second child of four. He learned along the way and navigated fatherhood with a sense of intuition, consistency and some tough love. I grew up knowing that he had my back and that he would keep me safe.  Even when outside forces hurt me, I knew my dad was always there for me, no matter what. I grew up with two sisters and one brother and although my brother is seven years younger than me, he is one of the kindest, coolest men I know and I call upon him when I need sound advice or a listening ear.

As a child, I chose to play with girls but as I moved into adolescence, I became a part of a close knit group of friends made up of both girls and boys. I have remained friends with most of this group. Just last week, one of the guys was in town from the Yukon and we sat at my kitchen table drinking wine and laughing our heads off just as we did as teenagers. Although we hadn’t seen each other in a few years, we picked up where we left off. I shared with him that I was about to post a piece about my high school experiences and he offered support and understanding and checked in with me the following day. A good man who is now raising a son and daughter of his own.

Being someone’s wife was never something I aspired to until I met my husband. It took me a long time to trust that he wasn’t going to turn on me and end up being a controlling asshole. He is a kind, steady, loving man who has my back in everything I do. In the 23 years we have been together, he has never uttered a derogatory term. He has a gentle strength that brings balance to my primal need for independence and the necessity of a safe space to retreat to in a very busy life.

There have been more than a few good men who have passed through my life. Some are obvious, like the ones mentioned above and then there are the ones who were going about their day with no idea how their actions impacted me as a woman. There were the ones who crossed the street when they saw me coming towards them knowing that I might feel apprehensive. The ones who got the message loud and clear when I stopped them from “going too far.” The ones who, when recognizing our signals got mixed, backed off immediately and then apologized. The ones who saw I was drinking and rather than drag me off to a room to be assaulted, kept a eye on me and made sure I got home safe. The ones who respected and valued my opinion even if it differed from their own and didn’t resort to calling me a bitch because I stood my ground. The ones who valued our friendship and never made me feel unsafe.

And then there are the men who found themselves in circumstances where they could have assaulted me but they didn’t. I remember travelling through Europe as a 19 year old backpacker and the many times I drank in a pub with strangers in a country where I had no home to return to and how I made it back to the hostel safely, every single time. And the only reason that happened is because the men I was keeping company with weren’t rapists.  As a birth doula, I used to leave the hospital at oddball hours in the night. I had to walk to a parking garage to my car and I remember eyeballing the security guards to determine their “creep factor.” If they seemed creepy, I would take my chances and walk to my car alone. If I got a sense that they were unlikely to assault me, I would ask them to accompany me. After decades of this unconscious self safety management, I started believing I could pick them out. It wasn’t a perfect system but sometimes it was all I had to go on.

As I think about my life and reflect on all of the times I wasn’t assaulted or harassed, I can create a list that far exceeds the list I have spent the last couple of years preoccupied with. The good men are among us. Their numbers are great and I am counting on them, more than ever, to stand with us.

 

 

Why I Did Not Attend my High School Reunion

“If he ever lays a hand on me again, I will kill the bastard.”                                              ~ from my personal journal

This past spring, the high school I attended had a reunion to celebrate 50 years since opening its doors. I had considered attending but as the date approached, I decided that it was best that I do not. High school is often portrayed as the “best days of your life” however, I never really bought into this as it left the future looking rather bleak. For me, high school was something I had to get through so I could get on with the rest of life. There were several positive moments but for the most part, they have faded in comparison to the deep-seated rage I have carried around with me since graduating almost thirty years ago. I wish I could say my experience happened in isolation but it did not and the pervasiveness of it all is the very reason my rage persisted.

I looked forward to high school and starting this new chapter in my life. I was nervous, of course, but entered grade nine with a sense of optimism and excitement.

Grade 9

I was on the cusp of leaving childhood behind and moving full force into adolescence. I cannot remember when it happened exactly but I know that within months of starting secondary school, there was an undercurrent of warnings that travelled through the female population of the school.  It was a well-known fact, that one particular teacher was known for being a slimeball, for lack of a better word.

Sliminess aside, he was also charismatic and connected well with his students. He spoke to us on a level that made us feel grown up and he was relaxed when it came to getting our schoolwork done. At first, I thought he was pretty cool and I looked forward to my classes with him.

His advances began innocently enough, or at least innocent to my 15 year old mind. While walking through the halls between classes, he would stand in the doorway of his classroom and say “hello” with a wink as I walked by. This progressed into compliments about how I was dressed and then eventually he took it just a little bit further. From his desk, he would stare at me causing me to squirm with discomfort and when I would glare back at him, he would make a kissing gesture followed by a wink.

By grade 10, the sexual innuendos morphed into harassment. I recall how he would brush his hand on my breast while “helping” me with a project or put a hand on my lower back to walk by when there were three other avenues of getting from point A to point B that did not require uncomfortably close contact with my body. My firm requests for him to stop this behaviour seemed to entice him even more. I assume he persisted because I was a challenge to him. I was outspoken and had no problem telling him to keep his hands off of me. But the more I asked him to stop, the more he sought me out.

Other female students openly talked about what a “perv” he was and how frustrating it was to have to deal with his constant harassment. I recall sharing my situation with a friend who was ten years older than me and she shared that nine years earlier, as a student at the same high school, she, too, dealt with the very same thing. I was puzzled as to how this teacher could get away with this for so many years.

Still, he was a popular teacher and very much liked by his students. Although, he seemed to pay particular attention to his female students, there were also male students whom he befriended. They were the ones who excelled in the topic he taught. A select group of both male and female students were part of the ‘in’ group that got invited to intimate “gatherings” he would host at his house. Although he continued to harass me on a daily basis, I was never invited to these gatherings. I suspect he realized what a risk that would be. There were rumours that he had special ‘relationships’ with certain female students. It was common knowledge amongst the students that one young woman in particular was his “girlfriend.” She wasn’t the only one, though. I knew of other students who believed that he actually loved them and that after graduation, he would keep his promise of whisking them away to live happily ever after.

In the days leading up to my 16th birthday, things came to a head when he entered the classroom,  put his arm around my waist (as he often did), resting his hand on my hip and pressing his body against mine, and asked me to take a seat. I stood there in front of the class and told him to take his hand off of me. He did not. Instead, he asked me, again, to take a seat. I stood my ground and again, told him that I wasn’t moving until he took his hand off of me. By this time, the other students’ eyes were fixed on us. Again, he told me to take a seat and when I refused to be seated until he removed his hand from my body, he threatened to send me to the principal’s office. In a blinding rage, I headed out to the hallway where I called my mom to tell her what had happened. When I got home, my father had already made arrangements to meet with him the following Monday.

“Tomorrow, I will finally end this nightmare with Mr. _______. Mom, dad and I are going to meet with him and the principal.  The bastard sent me to the office on Friday because I told him to keep his goddamn hands off of me and to quit calling me ‘Sweetheart, Dear, Sweetie and Honey.’ I just want it to stop. He is becoming such a pervert. The school won’t do anything until a girl is emotionally damaged for the rest of her life. He has gone too far this time. But I am still scared to do this. It has gone on for so long and there hasn’t been one girl who has spoken out so I guess I gotta do it if I ever want it to stop. It has to stop.” ~ from my personal journal

 As it turned out, my dad met with him one-on-one. I wish I could say that my dad beat the scum out of this teacher and that all of the girls he ever harassed (assaulted) came forward and he spent the rest of his life in prison but that is not how this story unfolds. He was flippant and told my dad that he treated all of his students the same way and that I was just overly sensitive. My dad made it very clear that if there were any more “issues,” he would be going to his superiors. When he returned home that evening, my dad told me that I would be moved to the back of the class and that I should have no more problems. I was devastated.

I returned to school the next day, found my seat in the back of the room and faced this teacher’s sarcastic comments made in front of the class about my “sensitivity.” I was shamed and humiliated which only fueled my rage. By the time June rolled around, I learned that I had received an award in the subject he taught. To this day, I am not certain why I attended the awards night. I remember walking on stage, shaking his hand and then walking into the hallway for a photo op where he firmly placed his arm around my waist. Somewhere within the vast collection of high school photos is a shot of me with a forced smile and gritted teeth.

By the time I was 17 years old, a woman I babysat for thought it would be helpful for me to speak with a social worker.  I met with the social worker a couple of times over coffee and I shared my frustrations about home and school life. My parents had separated the year before and had recently reconciled. I also told her about my continued anger with this particular teacher. I recall how she had considered involving the police but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to do so.  As it stood, I was the only one talking and so my allegations were kept in a file at Family & Children Services in the case that someone else came forward. My file was closed a couple of months later and remained in the archives of FCS until recently.

Unbeknownst to me at that time, at least one other girl did come forward. She spoke to the guidance counsellor who promptly told her, “Show me the proof.” I would be willing to bet that several students came forward to school authorities with each one having their concerns shut down as quickly as the words left their mouth.

High school eventually ended and I carried this rage with me into my twenties. I secretly hoped someone would come forward to the police but it never happened. I promised that when it did happen (as I believed it was just a matter of time) that I would be the first in line to confirm their allegations. I knew I was not the first and would certainly not be the last.

Several years after graduating, I picked up a young female hitchhiker who had missed the bus. In the moments it took to drive her to the high school and with some vague prodding on my part, I learned that the girls at my old high school continued to be harassed by this male teacher. He was still a creep. Still a predator.

It wasn’t until 24 years after my graduation when I caught up with an old friend from high school that I understood how he got away with what he did. My friend had been part of the “in” group that attended the gatherings at his house.  I wanted to talk with her about why no one ever came forward and why to this day, several former students continued to be friends with him. She told me, quite matter-of-factly, that he hadn’t done anything wrong. They (the students who were minors) made the choice to go to his gatherings and to consume the booze and drugs he freely offered. And, she maintained, they made the choice to engage in the sexual escapades that he orchestrated. As she shared the details and defended her “choices,” I felt the familiar rage rise up in me once again. The reality of what went on was far worse than my imaginings as a teenager.

How could anyone think any of this was okay? But in that moment of disclosure by my friend, I realized that in order to survive, she had convinced herself that it was perfectly normal and consensual for a minor to have sex with a high school teacher. Facing the fact that she was a victim of a predator would be far too devastating. Besides, they were flattered to be invited and had fun hanging out at his home. He wasn’t stupid. He relied on the shame that was at the core of every girl he preyed upon to keep anyone from ever talking about it.

Although I walked away relatively unscathed, this time of my life took a deep, emotional toll on me. I spent my twenties questioning my judgement, my self-worth and my ability to trust my intuition. I often blamed myself for being “too sensitive.” I have survived sexual assaults in my life that were far worse than his inappropriate touching and yet I spent almost three decades harbouring rage towards this person and about that time in my life.

I now understand that it had little to do with what was done to me. It was rooted in what wasn’t done to stop this predator in his tracks.  It had more to do with what I knew he was doing to other girls who perhaps did not have family support or a voice to come forward. My rage came down to the simple fact that I was helpless and he was allowed to carry on for years without anyone stopping it. I had spoken up in a time long before the #metoo and #timesup movement. I am certain there were others (in positions of power) who knew what he was doing but chose to turn a blind eye.  Over the years, I have wondered how things could have been done differently. Anytime I spoke about that time of my life, my body would tremble. The rage ran so deep that my body expressed it when emotionally I was unable to. I have often looked forward to a day when it all comes crumbling down for him.

As I move towards my 50’s, I wish to put this to rest once and for all. Decades of carrying around old rage is long enough. By writing this piece, I am giving a voice to my 16 year old self who so desperately needed to be heard by those who were in a position to do something. More importantly, I write it for all of the young women who were silenced and shamed into believing it was their fault. I want them to know that it was never their fault. When they could not feel their rage, I carried enough for all of us.

By sharing this publicly, I hope that it reaches all of the women impacted by the actions and words of this one teacher and that they are validated in the knowledge that they were not alone nor did they do anything wrong.

Eventually, he retired and many years later I passed by him in a shopping mall. After he did a double take, he scuttled away like a cockroach does when you shine a spotlight on them. I suppose you could say he got away with decades of harassing, preying on and abusing his young female students.

I suspect and hope that he suffers every single day with unrelenting, suffocating anxiety knowing that outspoken, feisty girls grow into outspoken, feisty women who never, ever forget.

 Afterword

I wrote this piece in February of 2018. Since then it has been shared with the social worker whom I saw as a teenager, with the Director of our local women’s sexual assault centre, with an OPP constable who deals with historic sexual abuse/ assault and with a criminal law lawyer. The details of this piece have been purposely kept vague.

Writing this piece and sharing it with people in positions of power has validated and eased my rage. It is my wish that by telling my story, even one woman is helped. Giving a voice to our anger, our regret, our grief and our shame is terrifying yet freeing. Stifled emotions will eventually find a way to be expressed. If you recognize yourself in this piece, there is help available to you. I have provided resources below for this region but these resources exist everywhere:

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres

The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa

Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County

Ontario Provincial Police

© 2018 Julie Keon

 

 

 

 

 

The Why of One Woman’s Words

It was never my intention to create another blog. I already maintain two blogs that are seriously neglected at the best of times. They require energy I don’t seem to have these days. And, frankly, I am not sure Blogs are much of a “thing” anymore. With that said, I have a good reason in creating this space.

I have carried a story around with me for the last 30+ years and due to a variety of circumstances, I decided to give it a voice. This story has quietly resided in the  shadows of my life and has not served me well.  As I see my 50th birthday on the horizon, I wish to be done with everything that occurred in the first half century of my life that caused me pain. I have done my work over the years in making peace with all of the things that I perceived as damaging or challenging. I have forgiven myself and others for any hardships I experienced as a result of my own choices or other’s actions. Yet, this one story has clung to me like tar and I have been unsuccessful in letting it go.

This story doesn’t fit on my What I Would Tell You blog or on the website that showcases my professional work. It needs to stand alone. I originally planned to post it as a guest blogger on a friend’s website but I anticipate needing more space to write about this and so this blog was born.

The thing is, we all have stories that we carry around and the act of writing it out and taking the necessary steps to shine a big bright light on it, has been remarkably cathartic and healing. I want to offer this space to other women who might want to share a story/ experience/ anything that they have not been able to shake.  One Woman’s Words is ALL of our words. I have created this space not only for me but for any woman who wishes to free herself from a story.

Stay tuned, my piece will be the first and I hope many will follow.