#00266: Being misunderstood

Sorry about my recent post. No excuse to lash out like I did.

Let me tell you a story that happened a few months ago.

For my Clinical forensic medicine course, I had to give a presentation about any topic related to the subject. Naturally, I wrote about something controversial and sensitive. The topic I chose was: Physical abuse against women.

I wrote the report from the point of public health and policy, discussing the main issues and challenges. When it was time to give the presentation, I prepared myself and chose what words to use carefully.

During the presentation, I referenced the Harvey Weinstein case. I did so from the angle of “How do we protect women without physical proof to their claims?”
It’s a valid and vital scientific question: how do we prove something happened without proof? From a scientific point of view, physical and sexual assaults are challenging to prove if they’ve occurred within a short time frame, let alone after years of the incident.

As I was talking, one of the students stood up and said “you’re a disgusting bastard!”. Neither myself nor the examiners said anything for a few seconds because I don’t think anyone expected such an attack.
I asked her why does she think I’m a disgusting bastard? She answered “because you have no morals”.
She was asked to be quiet by the professor when she started saying “you people are barbarians. Your culture is filthy teaching you wrong ideas about women”.
She was either referring to my ethnicity (Arab) or religion (Islam). Or maybe she was referring to men in general. Or fat and bald people. Or just people. I don’t have proof that she meant what I understood she meant.

I replayed the event over and over in my head over the next few weeks. I went over my notes to try and understand what I said that could be interpreted as “disgusting” and “lacking morals”. The only reason I could come up with to this day is that this young lady, or someone she knows, might’ve been the victim of some form of abuse. Maybe I pressed on a very sensitive chord.

But here’s what that student refused to understand: I was a victim of such abuse when I was a child. I know what it feels like to be abused (allow me to refrain from discussing the type of abuse it was) and then blamed for being a victim. I know what it’s like to not have proof, to be so scared to tell anyone what happened. Even if I do claim to know those things, I still refuse to claim that I completely understand what each individual feels like.
The student refused to understand that I was discussing methods to protect victims of abuse even if they did not report it for years. I was trying to come up with a scientifically-based approach to protect anyone who has gone through such an ordeal.
She refused to understand that I’m a husband, father and son first and foremost. Before wanting to protect and help the world, I have people that are at the top of the priority list.

I emailed the professor afterwards to apologize if I was offensive or rude. He replied that I don’t need to apologize because I have said nothing wrong. He commended me on my report and clarity of presentation.

I tried to speak to the young lady who was offended by my presentation. She refused to speak to me. I did not try to press harder for an explanation.

What could’ve possibly triggered such a response, other than the assumption I mentioned above?


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