March 2, 2020
By, Jane Alvey Harris One day in early spring 24 years ago I was walking from my student housing to class on BYUcampus in Provo, Utah, when a boy (a man really, he was at least 21 because he’d served an LDS mission) came out of his house and asked if he could walk with me.
The word ‘riven’ means violently torn apart. My debut novel, RIVEN is about a girl who is being mentally torn apart by shame she has buried. As the publication date for RIVEN approaches, I am hard at work writing SECRET KEEPER, the second book in the MY MYTH Trilogy. I'm researching,exploring, and learning about the damage secrets can do to our ability to trust, to love, and to form healthy relationships.I want to rid myself of my own secrets and buried emotions. I want to ridmyself of shame. I hope in speaking this story that I haven’t shared with parents, siblings, or children before, I will empower those around me
Fast forward 24 years.So, how many unsolicited dick pics do you guys get these days?Is it a lot?I get A LOT.When it first started happening I was threatened and ashamed. On every social media platform my knee-jerk reaction was to disable my account IMMEDIATELY.When I shared what was happening with Important People in my life, this was the unsolicited advice I received from many (not all) of them:Don’t be so friendlyDon’t engage in conversationDon’t post selfiesMake your accounts private(And from the ladies) What are you complaining about? I wish guys hit on me.I scrutinized my actions, my words, my pictures. My Important People asked over and over, "why would someone send sexual pictures without thinking you wanted them to?" They decided I must be sending signals, I must be doing something wrong. Silently, I agreed with them. I was distraught. I felt humiliated and unsafe. I went into hiding over and over again.
With her help and the support of a few loving friends, I made progress in cyberspace and in the real world, too.My kids even suggested that every time I get an unsolicited dick pic I send one back, and while I've never done that, I don't fall apart anymore when I get one either. I block the perpetrator and move on.Over the course of several years I came out of my turtle shell and embraced my femininity, tried new things, met new people, and even went places in DRESSES without a MAN to PROTECT ME. I left an abusive marriage. I WROTE A BOOK.
With practice, I've gotten better at setting my own boundaries and not deteriorating into a shuddering mess of nerves when approached by a male stranger. Guys, I know I’m opening myself up to all kinds of criticism here. I can almost hear people thinking: Who does she think she is? She’s not even that pretty. And gross. She’s OLD. Stop flattering yourself you old hag. No one wants you. Sadly, I've thought those things, too. But, this isn’t about looks or age. It’s about self-blame and shame…two things I thought I had conquered.Until last night.I accept follow requests on every social media platform from anyone I think is a real person whose profile pic doesn’t contain guns or violence or pornography, including teens. I’m a young adult author and I want to connect with and learn from people, including young adults.
Last night I got a private message from someone whose username I didn’t recognize. It said:
Unknown User (UU): Are you the sub from CHS who writes books?
Me: YUSSS :D
UU: Do students ever send you inappropriate pics? (At this point I didn’t know if this was a guy or a girl, no profile pic, not a personal name as the username).
UU: What would you do if they did?
Me: Block them.
UU: But you wouldn’t really care that much?
ME: I WOULD care. I’ve gotten inappropriate pics from guys before, but not from someone I know and never a student. I would feel bad because it’s disrespectful. Who is this?
UU: You've subbed for me before. Can I send you a pic? I’m 18. I really want to. I want to show you my cock.
Me: Absolutely NOT
His pic appeared on the screen before I could block him. Faster than I would have thought possible, I reverted back to my automatic response to this trigger just like I'd never worked through these issues. I deleted my account. In shock, I went to bed. I didn’t even remember what had happened until I started getting texts today from friends asking why I’d deleted my account.And even though every single adult male friend I have who knows I work as a substitute teacher at a high school has made a variation of a comment on the theme "Hot For Teacher," or "I wish I'd had a teacher like you when I was in high school," all day long I’ve been feeling gross and horrible and ashamed, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Because this was a student.WHY WOULD A STUDENT DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT UNLESS HE THOUGHT I WANTED HIM TO???
*The voices of the Important People who'd blamed me in the past started shouting:You shouldn’t interact with teens!You shouldn’t have answered the initial message! You shouldn’t have continued the conversation! You shouldn’t converse with anyone you’re not related to, ever! You should wear a burka and stay indoors! You shouldn’t SMILE you shouldn't TALK you shouldn't EXIST!
But then I remembered that my therapist had me practice recognizing the difference between asking for a dick pic and receiving an unsolicited dick pic by writing down an example invitation... you know, so I wouldn’t get confused and think I had accidentally asked for one when I hadn’t:
"Hey Hottie, will you send me a pic of your dick?"
But at 14, I didn't. I didn't know.This culture we live in has been long in the making. The conditioning starts at a VERY young age. If you think that this sort of thing doesn't happen in middle and high school and EVERYWHERE ELSE, I am here to tell you: you are WRONG. It will take time to undo the damage that has been done, but I believe we can fix it.We can learn. We can CHANGE.
Parents. Ask your sons right now what I just asked mine: “You know you only send pics of your dick when someone asks you to, right?” or like I asked them the other day, “You know it isn’t alright to violate someone because they are unconscious and you are drunk, right?” Make sure they know that intimidation and manipulation are what cowards use to make themselves feel powerful.
Men. Listen. I have a thing for you guys. I have so many wonderful, supportive, respectful gentleman in my life, and you smell GREAT. Sending unsolicited pics isn't about misunderstanding. Assault isn't about confusion. But if you ever do feel confused? Ask. Listen. RESPECT. And we will, too.