By Elayne Savage, PhD
A few years ago someone I did not personally know posted an outrageous sexual accusation about me to 34 members of his fraternity alumni email list. The 'event' supposedly took place five decades ago!
I was mortified.
It has been six years since this degrading experience and even though it has been an unsettling memory, this is the first time I have summoned up enough to write about it.
Why now? Donald Trump' s “Just Locker Room Talk” excuse brought up memories of the excuse given to the fraternity email list: "an attempt gone bad of aggressive locker room humor.“
Really? Yes – the good ole 'boys will be boys' justification!
This poisonous post was in response to the blog I published describing my joyful return to the University of Alabama to speak at the memorial honoring a college mentor. My brother enthusiastically shared my Alabama experience with the fraternity email list. The responses were wonderfully appreciative and supportive. Except for this one.
First he sent a private email to my brother making the decades old accusation about me. Then 10 minutes later, he decided to share his clever humor with the whole list. But this time he embellished it, adding more lurid details.
He described sexual behavior supposedly involving me and happening five decades ago! (And he thought it would be a nice touch to add, “she should change the name of the news letter to 'tits from the queen of rejection.')
This was crazy making. Surreal. What he was describing when I was a Senior and he was a Freshman never happened. I only knew him in passing and I had never been to the supposed fraternity house location.
His actions reminded me of the high school boys ‘crowing contests’ I used to hear about. Surely not what you’d expect from a grown man.
Locker Room Humor Gone Bad
Many of his fraternity brothers responded they were appalled and shocked at his despicable behavior and the degree of misogyny.
When he finally apologized to the group and he excused his actions as “an attempt gone bad of aggressive locker room humor.“ He never really admitted he fabricated the story.
I think his only sorrow was about being called out on his sick sense of humor and embarrassed to be chastised by peers. Some fraternity brothers wrote that he was portraying himself as a victim!
Two months later, only after learning he was going to be sued for defamation, he sent an email to the alumni list saying “the event I made reference to never occurred.” He never admitted he lied.
Being the brunt of his sick locker room humor was incredible demeaning. I knew many people on that email list. Several of them were brothers of my college friends. As you can imagine, this was excruciatingly humiliating for me.
To make things worse, it triggered early memories of other inappropriately sexualizing events in my early life.
I was feeling pretty good about my decision to bring a defamation lawsuit against him. I had good support from my brother, friends and some of the alumni on that email list.
I flew to Alabama for the deposition. It was pretty awful. The worst part was when the writer of the emails walked in and sat down across the table from me. I had to endure him staring at me. It was creepy and intimidating, but I guess that was the intention.
The positive side of him being in the room was that he had to sit there while I repeated how several upset fraternity brothers described him as "a vicious, delusional lie," “misogynistic," "woman-hating," "vile," "mean-spirited," and "malicious."
I had to endure his attorney haranguing me. It helped a lot when I noticed the “tell.” I quickly discovered whenever she set out to bait me, the corner of her mouth would start to twitch! I could see the baits coming. Each time I refused to bite the bait, she overreacted, snarling at me.
For the full four hours I felt baited and bullied by her. But I guess that was the intention.
Sleight of Hand; Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Interestingly, when I finally got to read the deposition transcript, one of her lengthy and exceptionally bullying harangues was missing! I wonder how that could have happened.
That’s not all that was missing. A few days before the scheduled pretrial meeting with the judge, I discovered there were four deposition pages missing from the judge’s packet.
Curiously these four pages described how these false accusations triggered anxiety related to early memories of inappropriate sexual comments and behavior by others when I was a child. My doctors diagnosed my present anxiety as PTSD.
Interestingly, this is the same testimony the defendant’s attorney was trying to have deemed irrelevant and inadmissible.
Very slick slight of hand. She solved that problem by not including it in the judge’s packet. Then it was no longer a problem for her.
Once I realized these four pages had been removed from the packet, I decided there was just too much slimyness here for me to proceed with a trial.
Even though my attorney assured me there was no question about his guilt in defaming me,I realized I may possibly be facing an all-male southern jury. Not to mention again facing an attorney who shamelessly harassed and bullied me during the deposition. How might she try to humiliate me in court?
I was so done with it. And what a relief to not have to come face-to-face again with her twitchy little mouth!
Perhaps the best outcome was the news that when his corporate employer found out he was using the company’s computer system he was immediately dismissed.
The saddest part for me was how his warped attempt at locker room humor has the effect of contaminating my feelings for the University. It has corrupted future dealings with long-time friends in what should be life-long college relationships.
I am still affected this way by what happened 6 years ago.
On a positive note, even with my many years working with clients experiencing PTSD, I have now personally become even more aware of how easily it can be triggered. In this case all it took was a juvenile attempt at locker room humor.
Whenever you find yourself getting triggered here are some ideas to help you stay centered:
- Recognize that there may be early experiences that are contributing to you becoming upset.
- Do you know what these early messages might be?
- Try to separate the ‘then’ from the ‘now.
- Remind yourself that certain childhood beliefs may no longer carry the same power.
- Walk alongside yourself. Notice as much as you can. Observing gets the flow
going and opens up space for making choices.
- Keep reminding yourself that you do have choices.
- Remember that allowing vulnerability is a strength. It’s very different from feeling vulnerable.
- Remind yourself if you’re uncomfortable in a situation, you can leave — taking a time-out is just fine.
- Be compassionate and kind to yourself
- Congratulate yourself for your strength and resilience.
- Ask yourself, “What’s different this time? How is this different?
- The phrase I pass along to psychotherapy and workplace clients is “Try Self-respect instead of Self-reject.”
Maybe this Self Care Wheel will be helpful to you . . .
You can most likely see how the recent demeaning "just locker room talk" quote has had quite an effect on me – re-triggering the humiliation I experienced six years ago.
Writing about my experience of being sexually harassed by a clueles misogynist is the best way I know to empower and take good care of myself!
Here’s the original post of my joyous experience of returning to the University of Alabama. He just couldn’t refrain from reacting to my blog post with sick locker room humor:
© Elayne Savage, PhD
Until next month,
Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
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