Alongside my partner Bob and my two nieces, I love my sister Jennifer more than anyone in the world. It breaks my heart that Fall has had a way in recent years, of bringing about events that move my her to share heartbreaking personal stories. However my pride in her courage and willingness to open up, to create dialogue and change, is beyond description. Ladies and gentlemen, please read this week’s important guest post.
I don’t consider myself a writer, and I certainly didn’t want to write this piece. But just as it was last November, current events, personal experience and an acute sense of universal injustice compel me to speak. Although I work in broadcast communications as a career, my private life is something I guard with care. This is a difficult story for me to tell. But here it is because tell it I must…
Women are coming forward in droves with horrifying tales of physical violation. These stories do more than provide corroboration for the sick words Donald Trump spoke on the now-famous Access Hollywood tape from 2005. These reports lay bare that Trump’s vile rhetoric was much more than indiscrete “locker room talk” The accounts of these women expose a pattern of frightening, inhumane Trump experiences, experiences which he is of course refuting. When pressed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper during the second presidential debate on Sunday October 8, Trump claimed that his revolting dialogue was just loose “guys will be guys” bluster. Certainly he never assaulted anyone….
Tell that to the multitude of women over decades who experienced traumas verbatim to what Trump described to disgraced Today Show anchor Billy Bush. A particularly disturbing account from a former People magazine reporter sent chills down my spine. I don’t have to imagine the humiliation and terror she must have felt being violated on the job by a powerful man.
It’s not hard to put myself in Natasha Stoynoff’s shoes because like far too many women (conservative estimates place the incidence at 1 in 6), I have been a victim of sexual assault. More than once. The first violation occurred was when I was 12 years old, walking down a neighborhood street with my older sister. A man walking in the opposite direction grabbed my breast, gave a satisfied leer and continued on. I can never forget that look, like he was certain something erotic had passed between us, the disgusting, humiliating intimacy it suggested. Sickening. Though other passerby and drivers on the busy road must have seen something, no one bothered to help. I was a child assaulted in broad urban daylight.
Though this unnamed educator never crossed the line to physical contact, as a senior in high school, I experienced systematic degradation from an AP English Language teacher. Every time I raised my hand to participate in class, I was acknowledged by the “pet name” Cookie Buns. After many such publicly embarrassing, misogynist incidents, I stopped raising my hand. This man did more to negatively impact my education (academically, and the school of life) than he will ever know.
That same year, a stranger followed me home from the train to my apartment vestibule. Initially, I wasn’t sure if he lived in the building. Anonymous city life. Then he pinned me against the door of my unit and started to reach up my skirt. It was shrill screaming and the insane barking from my very large Golden Retriever, Max (always keenly on the lookout for threats to my safety) from behind the locked door that saved me from what was certain to be rape, if not more. After my attacker fled, I was so shaken I couldn’t dial 911 for several minutes. I also blamed myself for what happened. I remember crying and asking, “Why did I wear a skirt today?!” But the tragedy wasn’t complete until a male neighbor later told me he heard my screams but thought I was “horsing around.” That man, a member of my community, could have intervened or called authorities. Maybe the sicko who attacked me would have been caught. To my knowledge, he never was.
I wish this was the end of my story. But it’s not. In my early 20s, I was grabbed by the breasts (again) by a drunk supervisor at a company event. Some of my colleagues witnessed this, as the assault took place in a crowded room. I went to another (female) supervisor, embarrassed and enraged. I naively figured she’d move quickly to address the obvious impropriety. Instead she all but dismissed the incident with this observation: “I assumed you’d be okay with it.”
Boys will be boys, right? Never mind that I’d done nothing to invite that kind of behavior, or that I was married with a child. What kind of person publicly acts out his sick private thoughts and keeps his job? I’m sure it will surprise few women to know that he did remain employed. Years later, when we professionally encountered each other again, he pretended not to know who I was. Another tactic to obfuscate and rob me of my dignity.
This is the society we live in. A society in which we blame and shame the victim, call them liars, insist that they “asked for it.” No matter what anyone says, this is why Trump’s targets didn’t come forward sooner. Sexual assault is an isolating, psychologically gutting experience. It’s reasonable to believe these women were looking for a safe sign to come out of the shadows. The leaked Access Hollywood tape and Trump’s bold, arrogant denials provided that signal. It’s beyond maddening that these accounts are being tossed aside by some for political expediency since we are a month away from an election. Very inconvenient for Republicans. Another classic case of victimizing the victim, forcing them to relieve trauma all over again.
I confessed my struggle with putting this story out for public consumption. I have experienced the denial, the shame, the fear and the isolation. Frankly, it’s not a side of me I want people to know, especially my daughters. I don’t want them to think of their mommy in danger or, worse, fear for their own safety. But this story is bigger than one narrative. I am Trump’s victims and they are me. And although women bear the brunt of our society’s rape culture, too many boys and men have also been violated, or love someone that has suffered and continues to suffer. Paralyzing fear is a tool of the oppressor. I’m done being oppressed. Staying silent does nothing.
This story is for all those with an agenda, attempting to invalidate a women’s personhood or trauma. You’re disgusting and on the wrong side of history.
This story is for those who haven’t talked about their harassment and/or assault, regardless of the reason. You deserve to be heard, and I believe you.
This story is for all the young boys and girls who may experience unwanted, unasked for aggression in the future. Anyone who behaves in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable is in the wrong. Period. Speak up. Scream as loud as you need to.
This story is for anyone who isn’t yet clear about respecting other human beings. Assume nothing. You have no fundamental right to someone’s body. Don’t touch anyone without permission.
History will not be kind to the 2016 presidential election and its Republican standard bearer. But we can learn. And we can start healing wounds and prevent future damage. We have a common interest in doing so.
“The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”
– Mahatma Gandhi