Pull up a chair kiddies, Auntie is gonna tell you a story.
It was 1997. I was 20 years old. A young lady. State University and learning about how the world works.
I’d been on three dates with a guy named Ray. He was handsome, had a nice car, a nice condo, and a worldly last name. What’s not to like, right? It didn’t take long though, to realize that something was off. Insistent, assertive, and hyper-masculine…he seemed to know what he wanted, and would bull-doze anyone who impeded him. I was uncomfortable with him, and we were never ‘in a relationship’ so I thought it easiest to simply become too busy to date…so that’s what I did. Eventually he quit calling.
I lived in the dorms. My roommate, forever losing her key, would shove her key card in her bra and take off, leaving our door unlocked. It was never a problem. There were two additional sets of locks between us and the world. After a late night, processing film in the dark room, I returned to my room, showered and crawled in bed. I don’t really know how long I’d been asleep…minutes…hours…I honestly don’t have a time reference for the next span of time. He was on top of me. He was trying to…well…you can imagine….and I fought. I fought him as hard as is humanly possible. He had his hands on me. Groping…trying to find the edges of my clothes. I can tell you I remember the screaming in my head, although I’m not sure that it came out of my mouth. I fought…Out of my bed. Standing…throwing things at him. Hitting him…being hit back…pushing him out my door, down my hall….down the steps, fighting, being dragged. Pushing back. I shoved him out…out of the building…out of my life again. He turned and shoved the heavy security door closed on me, cursing me with every breath. The door clicked shut. The screaming stopped. It was quiet.
I returned to my room to find blood, hair, and an unholy mess. I had scrapes, bumps, and the beginnings of some glorious bruises, a dislocated shoulder and x-rays found stress fractures in my foot…but none of the blood in the room was mine. Although shaken, I felt a little badass…and a lot lucky.
Around 6am, back from the emergency room, I reported the incident to my residence director and campus police. She seemed offended, and immediately began to back-peddle about where the fault lay. See, the security door, the one with the combination lock on it, was broken. None of the residents knew. We all punched the code, turned the knob, and walked through. Turns out you didn’t need a code. Ray had followed a resident through the card swipe door, walked through the combination door, and right into my (unlocked) room. The university police and the RD promptly began interrogating me. Turned the tables entirely. Why hadn’t I called security? Why hadn’t I reported the incident last night? Why didn’t I sign in my guest? MY GUEST?? The absurdity of these questions is plain to me all these years later. Then, however, I was just floored. The displacement of responsibility….that’s the real ass chapper. I didn’t talk about it for years. It’s as if it never happened, except that I slept with a knife under my pillow and my arm draped over my neck. I didn’t sleep well for years. The university accepted no responsibility, suffered no ill from the situation, and even though I gave them Ray’s full name, address, and phone number, NOTHING was done. I was told that f I wanted to graduate I’d keep it quiet. I was young, easily intimidated, and scared of whatever repercussions the university might come up with. All these years later I still rarely speak of it because of the shame that was given to me. THIS is the problem. These incidents are real. They aren’t always violent, but they are REAL.
The recent public proclamations of abuse, aggression, assault, and inappropriate behavior by people in power has brought my anger and frustration back to the surface. It is horrible to be a victim, and though there are certainly some shameless individuals who may attempt to capitalize from false slander, let me assure you that they are the minority. It takes courage to come forward and tell your story. It isn’t fun to relive those emotions, especially when the system has already let you down. For decades there has been a quiet knowledge that women have been stifled from honestly addressing and pursuing their offender. The shame and degradation dispatched to victims is appalling…but lately there has been a shift. The energy and empowerment of the January women’s march lit a fire. Women began to speak their truths…quiet rumbling became incensed purging of decades of sublimation….we speak…yet there are those who still wish to subjugate.
What have we become? What is SO wrong with this country?? How have we deteriorated in moral composition, in ethical barometer, in what we deem excusable behavior? Sometimes it feels as if we have enabled a power structure of patriarchy from which, no matter how loudly we speak will never be heard? Have we reached a level of voyeuristic depravity that we would rather ogle the accusations made against people in power than to consider the implications on the lives of the accusers? We sit on our sofa watching the chaos unfold…and watching reactions that remind me of how I was treated by the university that was supposed to house me safely.
There is a group of people, men and women, who would rather allow and protect blatantly inappropriate treatment of women and girls…and young men as we lately have discovered. They would rather stand by a person with a known reputation of misbehavior than concede a loss to their ‘team’. The excuses are mind blowing, blaming young girls for the behavior of a man (I believe it was something to the effect of “14 year old girls don’t always make good decisions.”), “It was ‘over the panties.”, shrugging off statements about ‘grabbing them by their *lady parts*’ as hyperbole….These things are not okay…EVER. Male, female, transgender, gender neutral, it doesn’t matter. No one gets to panty wander without consent. I guarantee that if it were YOUR 14 year old, your wife, your sister, or your friend, it would be a problem.
We must act. We must speak and not stop speaking. We must stand up for our sisters and brothers. Embrace them in their pain and shield them from humiliation. We must educated, demonstrate, and show those who acquiesce to these behaviors. We, as a country, are better than this. We must not be afraid. I am not afraid….I’ll never be afraid again. No matter how long it has been, those moments will still echo in my head…but I’ll never be afraid of a man again…and I will NOT stand by while slander and carnal debasement is dispatched to people whose lives were forever effected by the actions of someone who took their power. Speak your truth. Stand with people speaking theirs. There is NO excuse worthy of allowing it to continue. Lastly (Sorry to my teacher.) Vote your ethics, not your party. If your party is excusing, exempting, or otherwise allowing sexual misconduct by your leadership, perhaps it’s time for you to take back your party.