September 24, 2018
#BelieveSurvivors #WhyIDidntReport #StopKavanaugh #MeToo
** Content Warning** Sexual assault etc. This is a lot more akin to a personal entry than anything else. Think Xanga or LiveJournal circa 2003… just as much swearing, hopefully less typos, and content that the author might end up making private but in the year of our Lorde 2018 the personal is more political than ever, so here we are.
There are too many hashtags, I’m certain I’ve forgotten some. But here we are. #KavaNOPE. #BelieveSurvivorsPGH. Hash tag, me fucking too.
I was unable to get downtown today to be with the amazing folks who attended the National Walk Out to support Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, but I’ve been thinking about it all day. Hearing the discussion this past week has been a lot. I know it’s been a lot for many of us.
Earlier this evening, I was running some errands, and I felt a fog around me, not really being able to place why. As I was driving to a friend’s house to drop something off, I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes. There was a palpable feeling of helplessness. I needed to do something with this. I arrived at my friend’s house, and told her I needed to write tonight. She asked what about, and we said the following exchange, which at this point is wholly unremarkable, because women have had this type of exchange frequently.
Me: I want to write about this whole sexual assault thing.
Friend: Where is it going?
Me: This is not unique at all, but I was raped at 18. I have some feelings right now.
Friend: I was raped too.
Hashtag Me. Fucking. Too.
I’m angry. I’m sad and I’m angry. You see, 18 is behind me. I was sexually assaulted less than a month before my 19th birthday. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve been to lots of therapy. I jumped into advocacy in college for sexual assault survivors, over the years I shared my story a bunch of times in classrooms and rallies, I’ve written about it on this website, I even made a video of me sharing my story after the Steubenville case. I can speak about the experience in a dispassionate way.
My assault is, and has been behind me. I can’t deny that it has colored a lot of my experiences moving forward, but it hasn’t been something that I’ve thought about on a daily basis for a very long time, and I’m thankful for that.
I had no idea there was a whole new chapter of trauma I’d live through around this.
What I mean by that is, in the last couple years, I’ve experienced grief, anger, anxiety, and frankly sheer panic that I truly thought I was done with.
A recurring thought I’ve had over and over is this:
When I was assaulted, I spoke with a lawyer about pressing charges against my rapist. He cautioned that because of the evidence or lack thereof with my assault, filing charges would almost certainly not yield a conviction, and the experience of going through all of that would likely be even more traumatizing than my rape.
It’s over ten years later. After watching the dialogue around sexual assault take place in media, the political sphere, various folks I know, especially in the last couple years, I can’t stop thinking that he was right. And that is excruciating to think about, over and over.
Not short version:
2006 When I was initially assaulted, I felt mortified, confused, and ashamed. I told very few people, and it took me a few days to even understand that what happened to me was indeed rape. I confided in my ex-boyfriend, who snidely remarked that I could no longer say I’d only slept with one person (so supportive, right?). I wanted to disappear. I worked with this person, I was definitely drugged but also had been at a party with underage drinking, so I felt a lot of personal blame. I had no intentions of reporting, because I just wanted all of this to be over.
I was seen for an STD and pregnancy test a couple weeks later when I returned home, and thankfully things were all clear. My mom found something in the mail from the insurance company, confronted me, and I shared what happened. Naturally, Patty is furious and insists that I press charges, and I refuse. Until this happened to me, I NEVER understood why so few folks press charges, but now I understood completely.
A couple more weeks pass. I’m traveling for work (teaching cheerleading camps) with someone from my rapist’s school. His name comes up, and my coworker said that he hated the guy. I ask why, and he said bluntly, “because he raped my teammate.” That was it. My feelings of sadness and violation were replaced with righteous anger, which felt a LOT better. I realized that what happened to me wasn’t a one time incident, and I needed to stop him before he continued to do this to other folks.
I give my mom the okay to connect me to a lawyer, a family friend. He was kind when he gave me his advice. Because a month had passed, there was obviously no evidence of the event. Since I had been passed out (from the bodily reaction I had, my guess was GHB) I was not a good witness. Even best case scenario, these cases rarely go anywhere, and at every level I would be subject to serious invasions of privacy, and public humiliation. Women generally aren’t treated well in these cases, and he wanted to make sure I knew what I was signing up for.
At the time, I was so so angry. I finally found a place to put these disgusting feelings, to possibly take power back, and it was already gone.
2010. I’m not a teenager anymore. I have grown so much as a person through my experience. I turned it into a means for me to take back my power, my personal narrative, and to be there for others. While I’d gotten used to sharing my story in front of classrooms and clubs, it took me longer to feel comfortable telling romantic partners. When I was in my early twenties, after over a year of dating, I told one boyfriend about my experience. While he was supportive and said he believed me, he thought that my case was more of an exception, and that a lot of women make these things up. He shared an anecdote about one of his fraternity brothers and as I type this I’m amazed and horrified that I didn’t GTFO faster.
2016-now. Yeah, I’m no longer in my early twenties. I feel so much more at home in my own skin. I surround myself with friends who support me. I’ve broken my habit of dating non-supportive bros. I’m grateful to be part of an activist community that is constantly strengthening me, inspiring me, and giving me hope.
And yet, as I live and breathe… I am so fucking eternally thankful that I didn’t report my assault. I hate typing that. I feel like it’s irresponsible to say that, but, it’s a thought I’ve found floating into my brain so many times in the last couple years.
The Saturday morning in 2016 after the infamous “pussy grabbing” tape dropped, I gave the keynote at a Walk A Mile In Her Shoes rally/march. I had clarity on what it meant that an out rapist might become the most powerful person in the world.
In the weeks to come, I thought more about my assault than I had in over 10 years. Suddenly, rape and sexual assault discussions were happening everywhere, and the stakes were incredibly high. To elect Donald Trump would mean to tell women that we don’t give a fuck about them. To support him for ANY reason, would mean saying that assaulting women is okay, excusable. I saw men I considered friends call his accusers liars. I saw well-meaning folks question the nuances of reporting, and how assault victims/survivors are supposed to act.
It was October 2016, and my assault from June 2006 was suddenly taking up more bandwidth in my brain than it had in years. “This is why I didn’t report.” I would hear that phrase in my head, so many times. As I would see folks I know comment on the stories, or support Trump, I began to see markers in my head; this is a person I couldn’t have told. This is a person I wouldn’t tell now.
To reiterate, I was in a privileged position where my JOB was inherently feminist, discussions around bodily autonomy were frequent and encouraged, I had so many built in supports and these thoughts were still causing so much distress.
The morning after Trump was elected, I remember throwing up. I cried in my shower, and I staved off actual panic attacks all day. This wasn’t just about the political ramifications of how positively fucked we were, and how so much hard work wasn’t enough.
The world has been hostile to women since we got here. Frankly, men should be thankfully woman are just demanding equality, instead of revenge. *Please, someone buy me that keychain. This wasn’t new. But, electing this man that we knew was a rapist, that bragged about it. This felt like a damning affirmation that we really don’t value women, and we don’t care about sexual assault. Period.
The #metoo movement was in a lot of ways, in my opinion, in part a reaction to us having an actual rapist in the White House.
Even as this plays out, there is so much to be angry about. The fact that abusers like Sean Penn and Woody Allen think anyone wants to hear literally ANYTHING from them, especially about this, is infuriating.
Men have compared #MeToo to a witch hunt, because apparently going to rehab or taking a few months off from the spotlight is comparable to literally getting hung or burnt at the stake.
Woody Allen is still making movies. R. Kelly is still making music. Louis CK is in the process of making a comeback, and it’s only a matter of time before Harvey Weinstein sits on someone’s tv couch to apologize for his “sex addiction.” It feels like gaslighting when folks have the gall to say #MeToo has gone too far when no one has faced any substantial consequences. While some folks have been forced out of their jobs, getting rid of a handful of individuals doesn’t actually address the systemic, institutional issues that make this abuse of power possible to begin with.
Folks with low wage jobs are at an even larger disadvantage. The service industry is rampant with sexism and harassment, and many workers are forced to deal with it, at the risk of losing their jobs.
Witnessing folks try to excuse Kavanaugh’s behavior has been sickening, and has stirred all of this back up.
I could go on more and more, but this is exhausting.
I knew there was more than one person Kavanaugh assaulted, because as I said earlier, assault isn’t a thing someone just does once. It is a pattern of behavior. When Ramirez bravely stepped up to speak out as well, it wasn’t surprising that he’d done this to someone else. It was surprising that someone had the tenacity to stand up and say so, knowing what happened to Anita Hill years ago, and seeing how women including Dr. Ford are treated now.
Right now, the way things are, I am glad that I didn’t report my assault. I don’t know how I could have handled moving forward with those steps at 19.
I want to be in a world where I don’t consider sending a lawyer a fruit basket a decade later because he encouraged me NOT to report.
I think about myself, the many young women I know, and the little girls who haven’t had to think about this yet. I want to be in a world where women can speak out and are believed, and where sexual assault is seen as the crime it is.
I want a world without rape.
These are all lofty goals, so right now, I’d settle for a world where we don’t confirm a rapist to the Supreme Court.
In 2018, I realize that might be too much to ask.