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Akher Kalam: “No means no, right?”

"No means no, right? But what if you say no and nobody reacts, and the guy or girl just goes further?"

Gala El Hadidi ’05, ’07 is an international opera singer and was an alumni speaker at MySafeUni Day

I had a situation myself in Germany where I was performing 10 years ago, and the tradition there is that your fans appear at the main stage and congratulate you. Sometimes they bring flowers or presents, and sometimes they just want your autograph on the pamphlet of the show. A certain gentleman was always appearing, writing nice notes. I never reacted. You’re not expected as a performer to react — only on social media are you allowed to react but nothing personal. I was just basically thanking everyone online.  

One day, walking on the street, that man went down on his knees and proposed. I refused very nicely. He was around 70 years old, but that’s not the point. The point is that he took liberty to think that he knows me; he approached me without my consent. And when I refused, he started harassing me. He started stalking me. He was waiting every night after my shows outside the opera house  to see me coming out, to make himself known, to make his presence known so that I become scared. And guess  what? I was scared. I was so scared that I turned to my boss and asked him if I could jump out of the window in  his office because it’s on the other side of the opera house so I could avoid the stage’s door. Can you believe this? 

I went home one time after seeing that man again, and I cried. And I made the decision that day that it’s up to  me; it’s my choice how I deal with it. Then again, legally, he was just standing at the stage’s door. He could be  talking to anyone. But what did he actually do? The effect was that I was scared. I limited my life. I jumped out of  a window.  

Anything that happens without your consent is called harassment, but you have to control your feelings before  they control you because we all know where that leads to — being scared and being the victim. Yes, there are  predators outside, but it’s up to you to make the choice not to be a victim. Once you look into your predator’s  eyes and just pass right in front of them and give them that feeling that I’m not giving in and you cannot get to me  — they stop being a predator because you stopped being a victim. You should acknowledge what happened but  choose to give it its proportion because it consumes you to be a victim. It makes you a sad person, and it makes  harassment even more a part of your life.  

So what did I do? I passed by this man, right at the stage’s door. I looked him in the eye and told him in German  that if he doesn’t back off, he will live to regret it. And that was my first victory.  

You have a choice to get out of there, to look ahead, to react positively so you could actually stand up and help  others get past this. I’m asking you all not to do like me at the beginning and jump out of the window. I’m asking  everyone to think, reconsider, take control of your emotions — to walk through that main door and back into your  lives. It’s difficult; it took me 10 years. But this vicious cycle has to stop, and it starts with you.

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