I graduated from my undergraduate degree in June of 2003. While I was completing my degree I took a number of classes taught by the same professor. Let’s call him Professor L. Towards the end of my degree and certainly over the summer that followed Professor L and I became friends. I didn’t think much about it, I was engaged, clearly unavailable, he was my teacher. We used to talk about ethics and academic topics. I visited his house once or twice and he came for dinner with my finance and me at our house. Over the summer I helped him with some research projects. In the Fall he was out of town for a few months for work. We would email back and forth. He’d send me poetry.
I was 23 years old and he was 45, almost twice my age. I was fairly naive and I overlooked some obvious red flags.
About a week before Christmas, December 2003, we had plans to meet and go shopping for Christmas gifts together. He was back from his trip and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. He came by my apartment to pick me up and when he arrived he said he was tired. He asked if he could come inside to rest for a few minutes. I hesitated, I felt uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure…but I trusted this man I’d known for almost 4 years and I let him in.
Looking back on that day, I wish I had listened to my body’s signals and said no.
Professor L came inside and we sat on the couch in the living room. He sat down very close beside me. I felt nervous, anxious to go out and go shopping as we had planned. It was the first time we’d been alone in my apartment together.
To be honest I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I know he began stroking my arm. He asked if he could see my scars, he asked me if I wanted him to touch the scars. I still have flashbacks 13 years later if someone touches the scars on my arms or asks to touch them.
I was wearing a black long sleeved shirt, it was one of my favourites that I’d purchased on a trip to New York in 2002. It was soft and beautiful. After that day I shoved it in a drawer and I never wore it again. I couldn’t bring myself to put it back on and eventually I donated it to charity, even though I still loved it I didn’t love the memories of him touching me while I wore it.
He was wearing a black scarf with gold flecks in it. The gold made a design or pattern on the black scarf. I remember staring at that scarf until the gold spots blurred together. That scarf became the focus for my disassociation.
I didn’t say no. I didn’t say stop. I froze and I disassociated. And I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse, I could have been raped and I wouldn’t have resisted because I checked out.
I remember him stroking my arm and then touching my breasts. I think he kissed me, but I mostly remember the touching.
I don’t know how much time went by, but at some point he realized that I was gone, that I wasn’t participating or responding, even when he spoke to me directly. He got up and went to the bathroom.
I remember crying softly. I don’t remember how much time went by, it seemed like hours but it probably was less than 20 minutes. I sat curled up on the couch crying and unable to speak. He spoke to me and tried to make things better and I didn’t respond.
Eventually I came back to reality and I asked him to leave. He left. I was so relieved. I knew I’d been incredibly lucky to escape. I was terrified knowing that I couldn’t have defended myself. I felt like my body had betrayed me by disassociating rather than fighting back.
I couldn’t understand what had just happened? Why did he do this? He knew I was in a serious relationship, I was 20 years younger than him, I never asked him to touch me, I didn’t invite him into the house…
I spoke to him by email. I was crushed, I thought he was my friend, but I realized that I might have to end the friendship. I asked him to take responsibility for what he had done. I knew it was premeditated because he invited himself in. But he wouldn’t admit it was planned. A few months later I cut off contact with him because he was never accountable for assaulting me.
I remember going home for Christmas that year. I was so triggered by what happened. I remember crying. I remember moving the bed in my room up against the wall so I would feel safer at night.
The worst part about what happened was that Professor L was the person I planned to use for reference letters to get jobs or to get into graduate school. I hated the idea that I would have to ask him for a reference letter. I felt like he would write a good letter only because he thought of me sexually. It made me feel used and sick in ways I can’t even describe.
I went to the University and I told the academic counselor that I would need reference letters but I wasn’t comfortable contacting Professor L myself. They were understanding but said that likely nothing could be done about his behaviour because I was no longer a student, so we were essentially just two adults. That wasn’t entirely true because he still had power over me in terms of being my academic reference.
In 2008, I applied to go back to school for my Masters degree. Professor L mailed the reference letter to me and I didn’t have to speak to him. When I received the letter, I got immediately upset. I remember leaving the house after the kids were asleep and walking to meet my friend. I was holding the letter, crying and shaking, having flashbacks to the assault, just because I was touching a letter that he had also touched. It was awful. My friend helped me calm down and I was able to send the reference letter in.
I got into Grad school. No thanks to Professor L.
Silence means no.