I have never told my stories or felt that they merited attention. But I now affirm that they do.
Deep breath. I share my story in Cosmopolitan…
I too have been sexually assaulted. I have been sexually assaulted so many times that I cannot even count them. That very fact is pathetic, reprehensible, sickening.
"This is what happens to women," my momma lamented when I called her, troubled by the travesty of a presidential election. “I have more stories than you’d ever want to hear.” She has told me only snippets from her days as a television producer in sports in the 1970s – one woman in a sea of powerful, brash men.
I cried talking to my mother about sexual assault while wandering aimlessly Wednesday night. I cried reading the stream of #NotOkay tweets this week where millions of women (and men) share their personal experiences with sexual assault. I cried watching Michelle Obama deliver a historic speech yesterday that encapsulated what so many women feel deep within their hearts.
I cried when I was attacked once too.
I was getting a massage at a place I’d been to many times before. I was exhausted, having just returned from traveling. I lay on my stomach, then turned over halfway through with a towel covering my chest. I dozed off, as I often do. I woke shortly thereafter to his two hands massaging my breasts, under the towel. I moved my body and he swiftly removed his hands. I felt uncomfortable, but thought perhaps I had misinterpreted where his hands actually were. The massage continued. I drifted off again. I woke up because his hands were applying firm pressure to my pelvis. I opened my eyes and stared directly at him. He met my shocked glance and then shoved a finger inside of me. I froze. Tears welled up in my eyes, as they are as I type these words. Chills took over my body. He forced his finger deeper and moved it around. I leapt from the table with my back against the wall. He looked at me in silent panic, opened the door, and quickly left.
"THE FIRST TIME I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE MEANING OF THAT PHRASE."
I stood paralyzed. What just happened? Had this man really just groped and fingered my 22-year-old self in such a vulnerable setting? I dressed and bolted out of the building without acknowledging anyone or paying a dime. I walked home in silence. I entered an empty house and collapsed to the floor in tears. My boyfriend came home later. I didn’t say anything at first, I couldn’t. Then I broke down in shame and disgust but struggled to express my emotions. When I told him I was touched inappropriately, he was appalled. He wanted to go back to tell the owner, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was so ashamed.
The first time I was sexually assaulted, I didn’t even know the meaning of that phrase. I was 12 years old and holding my tiny puppy in the lobby of my mom’s office building. A man in a suit walked out of the elevator and came over to say hello to the fluffball in my arms. He made small talk while he pet Kasie. But his hands did not stay on her for long. Soon, he was petting my pubescent breasts. He kept talking to me, as he alternated his glance between my chest and eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I held tight to my dog and did not budge. Minutes passed. People entered and exited the building. He kept stroking me. I finally made up some excuse about having to see my mom and left. I never saw him again and, until now, have not once spoken of that horror.
As a teenager, I was at dinner in New York City with a friend, her family, and a few other friends. Her parents left, so we were alone (and very much underage) at the restaurant as it turned into a nightlife hub. A manager told me that if I loved the décor in the main room, I had to go check out the restrooms. That seemed harmless enough, as I knew the women’s room had an attendant. He accompanied me in that direction – and when we reached the entrance, he walked us directly past the smiling woman and into a stall barely large enough for the two of us. He unzipped his pants, pushed my head down, forcing me to my knees on the filthy floor, and said, “Come on, baby.” Choking and in shock, I looked up at this massive man towering above. I elbowed his knees, pushed around his body, unbolted the door and raced out past the still-smiling woman. I composed my shaking, panting body as I approached the table where my friends sat entirely ignorant of my recent happenings. I did not say a word. He did not dare approach the table. I never returned to that place in my life, nor have I shared of its horrors. Because I felt I brought it upon myself and because it seemed comparatively inconsequential – another reason #WhyWomenDontReport.
I have tales of men rubbing their hard penises up against me on the train, of men gripping my inner thigh from a motorcycle as I stood on a street corner while whispering lewd comments before driving off, of men sticking their tongue down my throat and slamming me up against a wall in a hallway only a few feet from friends. This does not include the thousands who have shouted something obscene on the street, stood too close, gripped in the wrong place, lingered too long, made vulgar comments, glances, and gestures.
And yet because I have never been raped, never had someone force me to have sex, never been subjected to physical injury by way of sexual assault, I have never identified as a survivor. I have never told my stories or felt that they merited attention. But I now affirm that they do – all of these personal truths do.
Donald Trump’s campaign has brought rape culture to the forefront of our national conversation. In the wake of a leaked video clip in which Trump boasts about nonconsensual kissing and groping of women, millions of women have shared their stories of assault. Some have even come forward to accuse Trump himself of assaulting them. And despite Trump’s taped “apology” a week ago, he has made it clear that either he does not understand or does not care about the impact of sexual violence. He has tried to brush aside his comments about “grabbing [women] by the pussy” as locker room talk and suggested that a People magazine writer who said he assaulted her wasn’t attractive enough for him to pursue. His surrogates have claimed his accusers are looking for their 15 minutes of fame or that we should be getting back to the “main issues we need to be focusing on.”
I am not delicate, inept or afraid. But I am shaken by the prevalence of sexual assault today – and society’s perpetuation of dangerous rhetoric and male exploitation of power. Sexual assault is a violation, both physically and emotionally. It hurts on all levels. The perpetrator’s words and actions are always indefensible and wholly unpardonable. And yet each time I have been victimized, I have felt ashamed. I’ve thought that I must have done something inappropriate, something wrong, something to invite perverted actions. Given the victim-blaming done by a man who seeks the highest office in this country, and by far too many people in 2016, this is sadly no surprise.
If Trump’s presidential campaign has one positive legacy, it may be women speaking up from personal experience in response to his sexist brags and alleged crimes, exposing the frequency and intensity of sexual assault and verbal or physical harassment in a world that too easily dismisses or normalizes claims.
“Too many are treating this as just another day’s headline, as if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted, as if this is normal, just politics as usual,” Michelle Obama said in her speech yesterday. “This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable.”
Read my article on Cosmopolitan.