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Sexual Harassment... Welcome to My World

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I've never given that much thought to sexual harassment.

You hear the stories on the news, you read about the court cases, but I'd be lying if I said my interest stretched any further than basic curiosity. I've certainly never understood what it must be like.

That was before I became the target at my local Australian rules football club.

As far as predatory locations go, football clubs in Australia are not generally seen as threatening sexual environments.

At the highest levels of the game you get the odd crazed idiot that stalks a player, but male players hitting on other male players... well, there's more chance of New York joining the Australian Football League.

I know this sounds like a bad opening line for Heartbalm, but it really did start innocently enough.

We were walking towards the ¼ time players huddle. In Aussie Rules it's an excepted norm that a teammate will give you a quick slap on the bum for encouragement.

What isn't the norm, is to walk alongside your teammate while his hand brushes your buttocks.

I know what you're thinking -- why didn't I just tell him to knock it off.

If you've ever suffered any form of sexual harassment, particularly from someone you know, you already know the answer to this question.

Every urge in your body screams "pull away," but at the same time you are strangely paralyzed.

This was a teammate, bordering on a friend, a bloke I thought I knew. I'd never given him any reason to think I was anything but a raving heterosexual.

To accuse him of going the grope would pretty much instantly kill the friendship.

Even if I had confronted him -- what else would he have done except feigned complete indignation?

Anyway, it was the easier option to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I was just overreacting? Maybe he was just a touchy-feely kinda of guy.

Looking back, I made the wrong call -- big time. By staying silent, I was inadvertently giving this fella the green light. In his eyes, I was leading him on.

And over the next few weeks he happily took up the invitation. Subtle sexual jokes were his preferred line of attack. Even doing up my shoes became problematic. He would walk over, stand a couple of inches from my face and slip in lines like...

"You know... while you are down there buddy..."

The tipping point came when I stupidly took up my teammate's offer of a lift to the hospital.

He behaved himself during the drive; the problem was when we got to the waiting room. There were at least three chairs he could have sat on. Instead he came and sat smack bang on my chair.

To justify his seating choice, he got out his phone and began flicking through shot after shot of girls he was "supposedly" dating through the internet.

It was sly, but very clever. Straight out of the sexual harasser's handbook. If I told him to rack off, he would have just put the guilt straight back on me.

Hey, how can I show you my photos if I'm sitting over there?

Are you accusing me of something?

I tried to make my disgust as obvious as possible with my body language. Pointless. It didn't matter how far I leant away, and I can assure you I was almost falling out the window. He just kept pushing into me closer and closer.

Who knows what the nurses were thinking. My greatest fear was that I could be in this room for anything up to eight hours. What if I was last on the surgeons list?

Then, I heard the words I thought I'd never hear...

"Adam... Adam Delbridge..."

The nurse had called me in. I don't think any person has ever been so relieved to hear their name called out for surgery. I practically sprinted into the theater.

Looking back on what had happened, I was a weak idiot for not telling him to go to hell from the first moment I suspected anything. All my silence did was encourage him more and more.

Yes, this all happened in the environment of a football club. I wasn't under any threat of losing my job, or put in a position where my job was contingent upon sexual acts.

But for the first time in my life I started to understand the psychological stress that sexual harassment causes.

I "get" why people feel they cannot do anything to stop it. It's a sly, evil form of abuse that is as carefully thought through as any well-planned crime.