I know a young woman, A., who is an aspiring interpreter in her early twenties. In the third year of the undergraduate program, each of the students enrolled was supposed to have an internship relevant to their major. Since A. was an A-student with enough skills and ambition to land a good position, she asked one of her professors about the upcoming academic events. It was a usual practice to invite students to try their hand at consecutive interpretation at university lectures.
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Unfortunately, the professor with whom A. talked about such an opportunity decided to take advantage of his leverage. He was not upfront about his intentions with A., instead, he attempted to approach the woman slowly and take gradual steps. First, he had longer after-hours discussions with A. than usual. Second, once he received her phone number, he started sending her messages where he would make compliments and use terms of endearments.
Finally, whenever she stayed after class to talk to him about her career prospects, he tried to touch her inappropriately and escalate from there. A. was taken aback and disgusted by his advances, and after she had done some thinking, she decided to stay away from him. To A., losing a valuable connection was worth her safety and professional integrity.
Within Hopson and Adams’ typology of life events, what happened to A. was unanticipated. Sexual harassment in the workplace and academia is not the norm, and when A. approached the professor, she was not expecting such an outcome. It goes without saying that that the event was stressful for her. Her reactions and the emotional processing that experiencing sexual harassment took are consistent with the theory of transition stages by Hopson and Adams.
At the very beginning, A. felt the initial shock of being violated, which constitutes the theory’s first stage, immobilization. A.’s friends asked her why she never stopped him early on when he first started texting her, to which she responded that she was caught off guard by his behavior. She trusted the professor and knew him as someone with exemplary work ethics. Her mind could not quite process the discrepancy between his public and private personas. A.’s confusion can also be described as minimization – the second stage outlined by Hopson and Adams.
She tried to make the change appear less significant than it was. It took her a great deal of rationalization and searching for reasons for his behavior. Her thinking process was fueled by self-doubt, which is attributed to the third stage. At some point, A. started to ask herself whether she led him on or sent mixed signals.
After some time, A. went through the phase of letting go. She managed to abandon feelings of anger and sadness that the situation caused and emotionally detach herself from the stressful event. A. says that she only started to feel better when she went in no contact with the professor. Once she put sexual harassment behind her, she could enter the fifth stage and test out. A. finally could see that the professor was not the only source of knowledge and opportunities, and as a talented young woman, she could take care of her career on her own. Lastly, A. successfully went through the “search for the meaning stage.” She reported being more aware of the issue of sexual harassment. She states that experience taught her to spot early signs and stand up for herself.