What Happens When You Find Out Your Boyfriend Is Harassing Other Women
One woman shares her experience.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms, but what happens when you find out that it's someone you know doing the harassing? Here one writer recalls her own experience with an ex-boyfriend who used social media to sexually harass other women...
It was 7:45am on a Thursday and I woke up to a series of messages on my phone.
‘Amy sent a photo.'
‘Amy sent a photo.'
‘Amy sent a photo.'
‘Amy: This is getting weird.'
Before even opening my phone, I already knew exactly what I was about to see. And for what felt like the millionth time, I was hit with the now all-too-familiar sinking feeling of "you've got to be kidding me – this shit again?"
This shit would be (and was) screenshots of messages, from my ex-boyfriend, sexually harassing Amy, a friend from home he'd met ONCE four years ago. And this shit was, sadly, not a shock.
Let's rewind a sec. I met, let's call him Andrew, about five years ago in halls at university. We did that classic thing so many clueless students do, which was pair up and stay paired up throughout the majority of our degrees. We were *that* couple we all knew during uni, the foundational couple that, even if they were on again and off again, almost always came as a joint package. I’m sure we looked very happy. However, we were not.
Andrew was abusive. Not just an asshole or a gaslighter or a manipulator, but the full colourful spectrum of chronically abhorrent. Rarely did we get through a week where he didn’t call me bitch or the c-word, where he didn’t convince me that I was crazy, and, yeah, where he didn’t lay a hand on me.
So, as you can imagine, after three years of dealing with an abuser on an almost daily basis, I was relieved to get away. We stayed in touch for a while before it sunk in just how loathsome and horrific of a person he was (again, the gaslighting really made me feel like how he treated me was somehow partially my fault), but then I did what I could to cut him out of my life entirely. I moved to a new city, I stopped replying to his messages (even in group texts), and got a year beyond being with him not worrying about him any more.
But there’s been one thing standing in the way of just shaking him off entirely and getting him out of my life. And that’s where we fast forward to those messages I received that Thursday morning that have become regular and familiar parts of my life. The one thing stopping me from getting away from my ex-abuser altogether? He is prolifically and unashamedly sexually harassing other women.
Over the last year, I've opened my phone to screenshots on Twitter and Facebook of seedy messages received in the middle of the night, casually heard about him harassing women through the grapevine, and still get almost monthly messages from different women who've been freshly harassed. Not only is this something I keep seeing now, over a year after our break up, but was also a frequent feature of our relationship. It was something I, at the time, tried to press mute on in my head because I wanted to keep the relationship from falling apart and wanted to ignore that my boyfriend was constantly sexualising women who weren’t me.
But when I saw these messages from Amy, something in my head just snapped. This guy was no longer my responsibility, but when my hurt turned into rage, and I felt some feminist call to protect other women from what had happened to me happening to them. I decided to do something about it.
So if you, like me, feel up to this challenge, here’s my advice for how to deal:
Take care of yourself first.
As I said before, it took me months and months to realise that I had even been in an abusive relationship, despite being physically and emotionally abused on the regular and still even interacted with my ex up to 6 months post-break up. Stockholm Syndrome is real and your mental health is not to be dealt with lightly, so take care of yourself and seek help before you deal with this asshole. Speaking to your GP about any severe mental health issues or just getting some counselling can make a world of difference (and you can do a lot of that online if you don’t like the idea of having to get out of bed for it). You come first and keep that in mind.
Know that you don’t have to deal with it
That being said, know that you absolutely do not have to deal with your abuser. This was the toughest pill for me to swallow when I kept seeing my ex harassing women because I felt that I had become some sort of kingpin in his web of abuse and that it would take only me to stop him. But this was not the case with me and it’s not the case with you. You are not responsible for your abuser, so if you don’t want to deal with it, or can’t, then don’t. This is not your job. You’re allowed to walk away.
Let go of any shame you have over dating him
One thing that keeps women from speaking out is their own shame over having dated someone so atrocious/their shame over not saying something sooner. Now is the time to let go of that shame. You are a literal victim of literal abuse and, as said in point 1, you are not responsible for abusive behaviour just because you’ve come into contact with it. Don’t let your past experience with your abuser keep you from saying something and don’t shame yourself for something that is not your fault.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it with your mutuals
Out that motherf***er to mutuals you share. One of the most effective ways to clip his wings is by not covering for him when you’re with your mutual friends. Of course, there’s no need to blurt it out or shoehorn it in, but if you’re asked about him, if he’s brought up, whatever, don’t be afraid to say that he’s been harassing women and that you want to do something about it.
Tell someone who is *actually* responsible for them
Whether it’s his best friend, whether it’s his parents, whether it’s the police, there is someone out there who is actually suited to deal with him. Get in touch with whoever that is, tell them what the hell he’s been doing (include some physical evidence if you have it), and make it clear that what he’s doing has to stop.
It’s tough to find a woman who’s made it to her mid-twenties and hasn’t personally dealt with or known a guy who harassed or abused them or someone they knew. And as much as we want to just pretend these guys are so small that they don’t exist, sometimes it can become literally impossible to ignore a guy who won’t stop popping back up into your life, especially when it also means it’s hurting entirely innocent women. So if you want to take it on, more power to you. Ultimately, though, this guy and his actions are not your responsibility. And they never ever were.
- Words by Sarah Manavis
If you or someone you know is experiencing stalking or harassment, or you want more information on how to protect yourself online, you can find tons of support at VictimSupport.org.uk.
Check out Hannah Witton answering some of your biggest sex and relationships questions below...