We're Your Friends. Now we’re Not Anymore. How Harassers Use Friendship
15 Mar 2012 11:26 GMT
Between the years of 2003 and 2006 I experienced harassment at the University of Connecticut in my home country the United States of America while majoring in their landscape architecture program. When I was going through it, I often wondered about any others that might have been going through similar things. I wondered if they were experiencing it too and what they might say about my experience. I wondered, were I to bring up my experiences to them, if they might be able to tell me they had been through the same thing and recommend a course of action. Unfortunately, at the time there was nothing, not much anyway.
What there were snippets here and there. There was the general relating of incidents, accounts from legal proceedings and small newspaper reports - a lot of opinion and not much substance.
Then of course there was the loony conspiracy theory stuff. People online talking about nuttiness ranging from links to John F Kennedy to batty made up technology to UFOs. Not that it was, but the latter couldn't have been scripted better to turn off people from seeking help, affirmation and/ or survival aids or tips.
That was the opposite of what I needed. In terms of help, I certainly could not really find any outside of a little help from the NAACP and other similar groups. Though I am not black, after telling them who I was and being honest there, they gave me the best advice they could. I called a couple of other groups and law firms and they all suggested pretty much the same. Ultimately it came down to "leave if you feel it will be bad for your health to stay, otherwise try and stick it out and go through the proper channels when and if you feel you have some concrete evidence."
That was something they all stressed to me. Evidence would be difficult if not impossible to come up with. They all told that in such cases as mine it was the word of an established higher up with a decent record or a group against the person bringing the complaint. They told me that as such it was easy for those doing the harassing and institutions to cover their tracks and sweep such things away tidily.
If there was a dearth of witnesses to help prove things the institution would just quietly start offering bonuses, promotions, desired transfers, etc. These would all kick in after any interviews regarding complaints about harassment. People that were on shaky footing would be called in for a review and told there were some discrepancies in their record that could cause problems for them and they could be called in for an interview later. The word would quietly go out that whether these kicked in or not would depend on what people had to say during these interviews. People got the message, and as such institutions typically got what they wanted.
I saw similar things happen right in front of me. People were given good grades for cooperating with professors and others involved in harassing me and those that stayed neutral, or were sympathetic to me, had their grades drop and in some cases became targets of harassment themselves. I could see the dazed looks on their faces when this would happen and knew they would be "changing allegiances" soon. It hurt, but I understood. They had their own lives and after a while I detached and it affected me a little less. Fortunately for me it was a very small degree program with, at the time, only twenty one resumes accepted per graduating class.
After graduation I pursued a lawsuit in part because I had started to feel I wasn't being fair to those that would come after me and who, if I just did nothing, would have no voice to speak for them - nothing established on record. I tried a lawsuit, but ran into the statutes of limitations organizations and law firms I contacted when I was still in school referred to. As such, much of what I was complaining about would be inadmissible in court, because I did not complain when they happened to establish a history. I don't recommend that, but I did it for a reason as I came to learn that I had two choices - to complain or to try and stick it out. I knew that the moment I complained would be the moment I would fall victim yet again to those professors and other students harassing me.
There was a good chance they would be lying to make me look like the trouble maker etc. So I stayed silent. Perhaps it was the wrong choice but at the time it seemed right. I began to formulate strategies and counter strategies based on what I observed in their actions and employed those tactics and strategies to survive. After graduation, along with the need to get the word out about what happened there and as a way to get it out of my system, I began to write about my experiences at the University of Connecticut and post what I wrote online to share my experiences. Partly, the idea was it would give those going through experiences similar to what I went through some ideas about what I saw in terms of strategies and counter strategies so they might be able to launch them themselves or come up with their own - for those that chose to stick it out as I did.
One of the major breakthroughs for me happened early on when I noticed that the tactics and strategies used to harass me were usually variants on a handful of the same strategies. What astonished me was that over the three years I spent in school, I found they just did them over and over and hoped no one would catch on. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they thought the repetition would be crushing - but I just saw it as a chink in their armor and maybe a weakness.
As my harassers and myself were in such close proximity, and because they were arrogant, they would often talk about plans to "get me" right in front of or within earshot of myself. Just as I had legal restrictions so did they. They could not just blatantly harass me, so they needed to use more subtle methods that, when corroborated, could be explained away as coincidence, misinterpretation or even turned around on the person complaining.
So they had to harass me and create an environment hostile enough to make me want to a) quit from the stress b) flunk out due to my grades being lowered as a result of the stress or c) get kicked out because I reacted in such a way that allowed them to say I broke rules and as such had to go. It was already a stressful major with hours spent working before a deadline - much longer than your average paper took to write or average test took to study for, and most often were up all night for anywhere from one to three days straight as a matter of course before turning in assignments then presenting them in front of the whole class and guest critics. Not for the faint of heart.
They would employ these tactics, dressing them up slightly differently each time, and after a while I could see them coming and prepare a little. It helped to survive, though it still was difficult, stressful and painful, not to mention illegal.
Along with the main strategy being employed at any given time, there were tangential and lesser strategies and tactics meant to ensure things went smoothly. Also the side strategies and tactics would be used to weaken and wear down the person being harassed so when the end was reached, the hope was the effect of the larger strategy plus the wearing down and added stress from the side ones, would help the people trying to harass a person out of their midst find success.
To set the stage for the strategies and sides strategies to be employed, those doing the harassment needed to control the interactions the person being harassed had with the group by isolating them and giving them no indication of what was going on or what people were talking about. Then the harassers could begin to exploit the advantage through the strategies and lesser strategies employed. For example, those doing the harassing would have one or two people sort of out of the blue befriend the person being harassed and get chummy. They might start with small talk or refer to what was going on and then slipping the person being harassed some help.
It would build up to the point the person being harassed would feel this "new friend" was a person they could rely on and maybe even trust, that knew the scoop but were loyal to the person being harassed regardless. A real buddy. Then, just as they were moving close to the date of another end point of a specific strategy the "new friend" would find a way to turn on the person being harassed through an act of very blatant, or intended to be outright severe, disloyalty.
For instance, there may be a person that, within the context of the setting wherein the target of harassment is being harassed, could be viewed as one of the the polar opposites of the "new friend" at least to the person being harassed - an antagonist if you will. One day out of the blue the "new friend" will begin befriending this antagonist in front of the person being harassed. They may even build up to some measure of break in the friendship whereby the "new friend" either stops being friendly towards the person being harassed or steps away a good measure; starts ignoring the person being harassed etc.
This is intended to make the person being harassed feel dejected and alone. It also removes the one source of information on what is going on for the person being harassed, and if done effectively they hope it will leave the harassed person feeling extremely alone. There will be the hopes for numerous things with such a move. They will plan to make the person feel as though they are helpless and need to give up and shift or move in the direction the people doing the harassing want them to. It may lead to a very public blow up that could be used against the person being harassed getting reported on as having a temper or behavioral issues if there are ever any complaints.
It may also lead to, if nothing else, a kind of general spiritual, emotional or psychological (or some combination thereof) weakening. That way when the final trap is triggered the fact they now feel alone and hurt may contribute to their a) quitting from all the stress b) flunking out or their performance causing them to be let go of due to their not being able to handle the stress or c) they act out as a result of stress and thus get themselves kicked out of the situation.
They often do such things over and over again and oddly enough they will even use the same people over and over. It's as though they feel the person being harassed won't catch on. If you are being harassed and notice the same thing happening know it will probably happen again. Know this, the person playing the "new friend" will be using you. Cold hard and straight - that's how it is. They intend only to lure you in to set you up to be thrown off balance again. That's their deal. They are doing it for whatever reasons you know about and those you may not know about - having more to do with their personal character, life and history.
As such, when you see it happen once and you see them coming again you need to do the same if you intend to survive. You need to use those specific people. Know all the while they are doing the same to you, so just get what you need from them and try not to let on you are doing so. When the triggering of the trap comes up hopefully you'll be prepared and not affected. Plus, hopefully, you'll have the additional advantage of not being affected by the act of disloyalty. Remember, no matter how good they are at pretending, they are not your friends, especially if they've done this once already. That is not advice for life in general of course, just in cases of harassment. If you have never been through such things, what I'm saying might not make sense to you at all. If you are being harassed and this sounds familiar, be prepared.
I write this not to hurt those that hurt me, but because I hope it will be helpful to those suffering similar things. I myself could find no such tips or advice when I was going through it. My only hope is that those that come after me will be able to apply this to their struggle. If you're going through it good luck to you, and have faith in your own abilities even against people that are smarter, stronger and more powerful than you. Those things are not as insurmountable as they may seem. After all, there isn't anything exceptional about me but in the end, I graduated.
To read about my inspiration for this article go to www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com.