The first time I can remember being sexually harassed I must have been about 14 or 15 years old. Back then I babysat pretty much every weekend, as did all of my friends. Usually we would all babysit for the same group of families, and I can remember at the time having conversations about which of the dads were "skeevy" and which ones weren't. What did I mean by that?
Well, the first time it happened, it was like this. The parents got home from dinner, it wasn't too late, maybe 11. As usual, the dad would drive me home. This time in particular wasn't very different from every other time. I could smell alcohol on his breath, and I sat in the front seat. Our conversation started out like it usually would "What grade are you in again?" or "So do you do any sports?". Sometimes the dads would ask about my older brothers, "How is he doing in soccer this year?" or even about my own parents, being friends of the family.
This dad in particular wasn't a family friend, he was someone that I hadn't babysat for before, a friend of mine had plans and asked me if I could cover for her, something we regularly did for each other, so our chit chat was pretty basic. Then it took a creepy turn. "So do you have a boyfriend?". This, again, wasn't uncommon. I had plenty of dads ask me if I had a boyfriend. When I was 14. Fourteen years old.
Like the other times, I laughed, "No, not right now" I said, looking out my window, avoiding looking at him. "Aw, why not? A girl as pretty as you?" He reached over and put his hand on my upper leg at this point, and I did nothing. I just kept looking out the window, most likely laughed again out of nervousness. I do remember getting a sick feeling in my stomach because we were getting closer to my house now, which meant the car was going to stop, and he was going to have to pay me, which meant having to have actual hand to hand contact with him.
"I bet you have lots of guys asking you out, come on." We pulled into my driveway now, and the outside light was on, but no one was waiting up for me, which wasn't out of the ordinary. Back then, without cellphones, we didn't check in quite as often as we do now. My mom would wait up for me but usually would be watching a movie or reading a book, not waiting by the door.
He parked the car and undid his seatbelt to reach into his pocket, and made a big deal of pulling cash out of his wallet, counting it. "Now how much do I owe you? I never know what my wife says she pays you," he laughed. I probably shrugged, I didn't feel comfortable telling him how much money to give me. He folded the money and leaned over to hand it to me, but leaned all the way in, "Hey, I'll give you a big tip if you give me a little kiss", he laughed again, putting the cash into my hand, breathing on me, smiling.
I remember leaning back, and to be honest, I probably just laughed too, hoping to make it all seem like a big joke. "Come on, I won't tell anyone, it will be our secret". At this, I remember feeling relieved, thinking that he wouldn't tell anyone that this whole thing happened. Why did I feel relieved? Because I felt like I would somehow get in trouble. I could picture him telling his wife, her telling her friends, one of those friends telling my mom, that me and her husband were in his car and he was trying to make out with me. For whatever reason I felt like I would be the one to blame.
I didn't kiss him, I kept laughing and said "Goodnight thanks!" probably a little too cheerfully as I opened the door and waved goodbye through the window as he sort of shrugged and laughed again and fumbled with the keys, turning the car back on. I felt sick and guilty and ashamed and I felt like a bad person. I don't know why, but that's how I felt. Like I did something wrong, too.
I didn't babysit for them again, and I did tell my friend that he was one of the "skeevy" dads and to be careful getting dropped off by him, not only because he might be drunk driving you home, but because he was "handsy". He was one of those dads. I never told my parents, and I'm pretty sure the rest of my friends kept it as a sort of open secret too. We would never, EVER consider telling the wife. We kept quiet about it mainly because we didn't want to get anyone "in trouble", or we didn't want to make it a "big deal". I am sure that I had friends that still babysat for him, and I am sure it happened again, and I know that it continued to happen with other dads on other nights and we all sort of just accepted that some dads were creeps and some were "normal".
This guy though, he wasn't a creep on the outside, to anyone else. He was a doctor, he lived in a nice house, he had a pretty wife and beautiful children and I would see him from time to time at the swim club and football games and the usual stuff where he largely pretended to not remember who I was, and the truth is, he probably didn't remember who I was. I was probably just one of the many cute teenaged babysitters he hit on after having a couple drinks at dinner with his wife. The idea that we would somehow speak up about him trying to grope us in his Mercedes was unthinkable, it would be "making a big deal out of it" and I can guarantee that back then zero would have happened if one of us said something. We would just not be asked to babysit anymore.
It wasn't the last time it happened. And it wasn't the last time I was sexually harassed and I am confident it will probably happen again in the future in one way or another. What makes me sad is that it took all these years to even revisit it and be like, wait a second, why did we all let that slide back then? Why was that okay? Because it is certainly NOT okay, it never is, and I am damned sure I will do my best to make my children understand how not okay it actually is.
I share this story with you all because we all have these stories. We all have these things we let slide because we didn't want to "make it a big deal". But the thing is, it's a huge deal. It's the biggest deal. And we have to start talking about it.