Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Report This Guy for Sexual Harassment?
I'm a senior in high school. There's this guy I know who is incredibly strange and socially inept. He talks to me a lot and seems to think that we're Very Good Friends because I treat him with courtesy. I think he may "like" me, which I really don't want to be the case. This all may sound mean, but hear me out. He's said a number of weird things to me, things that border on, or may well constitute, sexual harassment. Here's a partial list:
-Asked me the name of the person I like, and when I said I didn't want to share that, bothered me until I told him.
-Upon hearing that I'm bisexual, asked me if I'd ever done the HND with a girl.
-Told me about his cowgirl fetish and how he's turned on by girls exercising.
-Said I look like Salma Hayek. (I don't.)
-Advised me to do the DIY HND because the person I like doesn't like me back.
-"You look like you've been working out. Do you have a six-pack?"
-"She's smokin'. But not as pretty as you."
And to my friend:
-"How many bases have you gotten to?"
I've gotten better about telling him that I don't like these questions and statements, but he doesn't seem to understand what exactly he says or does that creeps people out. Honestly, I feel sorry for him. I don't think he's ever had a friend. If any other guy said to me what he's said to me, I wouldn't hesitate to categorize it as sexual harassment and report him for it. Auntie, what do you think I should do?
Welllll, for starters, I think you should maybe spend a few minutes acquainting yourself with the difference between "sexual harassment" and "being a socially-awkward teenager who sometimes says gross things."
Because wowie, did I nearly do a spit-take with my coffee over that second-to-last line in your letter. Some of this stuff pushes the boundaries of good taste, sure—but bordering on sexual harassment? By my count, your list of this guy's offenses includes three boundary-challenged questions, one bizarre overshare, one unsolicited piece of squicky advice, three compliments… and, like, maybe one half of one instance of sexual harassment, depending upon whether the dude was aware at the time that his comments were unwelcome.
Don't get me wrong: if you're ever being bothered by someone who you've told unequivocally to leave you alone, and if it's getting in the way of your ability to feel comfortable and safe at school, that's what sexual harassment policies and reporting are for. But what they aren't for, and what you must not use them for, is ducking the initial responsibility of expressing your feelings directly. Those policies lose their power—for you, and for everyone else—when, rather than being direct with a peer who crosses the line, you go running to make an official report of every innuendo, awkward question, or (horror of horrors!) favorable comparison to Salma Hayek.
Meanwhile, you seem to be onto something yourself when you say that this guy's behavior is clueless rather than malicious. And since his lack of social savvy makes him especially dense about the boundaries between normal and inappropriate conversation, it would be especially not-very-nice of you to make your discomfort a matter of record before you've actually made it clear. You say you've "gotten better" about speaking up, but what does that actually mean? Have you told him even once, in straightforward terms, that he's making you uncomfortable? My guess is that you haven't—and if you haven't, then it's time to have that conversation.
Which will be hard, I know, especially when you've probably been told since birth that you ought to play nice, get along, and take the most indirect possible route in dealing with confrontations lest you hurt somebody's feelings. But now is as good a time as ever to start unlearning all that, because it's crap, and it doesn't serve you. Hell, it doesn't serve him, either. If you really feel sorry for this guy, then the best thing you can do for him is to let him know in no uncertain terms that his behavior won't fly, and give him the chance to not spend the rest of his life alienating people by acting like a creep. For example: "I don't like it when you talk about how I look or make sexual comments to me. It makes me uncomfortable, and it's not okay. Don't do it anymore." (And if he persists, that's when you can say: "I've asked you not to talk to me that way. If you do it again, I'm going to report you for sexual harassment.")
Hopefully, the first conversation is all you'll need to have, because even the most friendless, clueless awkward turtle can't miss a message that direct. But if you have to have it again, then you won't have to wonder whether it's appropriate to report the guy for harassment — because if he says something else to you, knowing you're not okay with it, then you'll know that you're dealing with something more than just social ineptitude. At which point you can freely, gleefully say as much to the proper authorities, and do it in full confidence that you went about it the right way.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.