**Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post almost two weeks ago, but decided not to publish it until I heard about Matt Damon’s bullshit comments...Why Matt? Why?**
In the last couple of months, more than 30 high-profile men have been publicly accused of sexual harassment (and worse). As one would predict, there has been much controversy and many doubts surrounding the accusations. Many of those focusing on the victims, instead of the accusers. I would not be surprised, except for the fact that this is the country who elected a man as president, who openly bragged about assaulting women.
The fact is, we tear victim apart in our society by not only doubting their stories, but also by questioning their motives for speaking out. After all, if their stories were true, they would have come forward at the time of the assault. We interrogate the victim as if they were the guilty one. We ask them ridiculous questions, including one I find particularly absurd:
“Why did you wait?”
Well, I can’t answer this question for other victims, but I can answer for myself.
Both of my stories happened more than 10 years ago, while I was in my 20’s. I was working full-time as an administrative assistant during the first incidence which involved multiple co-workers and multiple witnesses, who did nothing but watch.
It started pretty innocently. I had just come back after taking a week off to undergo a breast augmentation. I had only mentioned the surgery to a few people prior to taking the time off, but it was pretty obvious to anyone with eyes as to why I had been gone a week and I certainly wasn’t shy about it when they figured it out and started teasing me. At first it didn’t bother me. In fact, I made a few jokes of my own and laughed with the others. These jokes persisted and escalated throughout the day. At a certain point, though, they stopped being funny and began crossing a line. I decided to stay quiet and focus on my work, hoping my co-workers would get the message. Unfortunately, They didn’t. In fact, not too long after I sat down at my desk, I heard a bunch of laughter just before some air-filled bags (the kind used as packing material) were thrown on my desk directly in front of me with some comment that I could use more CC’s. My face started getting hot with embarrassment while I held back tears, humiliated and upset with myself for playing along in the beginning. That’s when I knew things had gone way too far.
When the jokes didn’t stop the next day, I decided to call a friend who had transferred to the H.R. department and told her what happened. After listening to me, she urged me to report it and if I was nervous about “making waves”, I could do it anonymously and nobody could retaliate against me. It was a difficult decision to make because I got along well with the co-workers involved. I didn’t want to get them in trouble and I didn’t want to appear like I was being dramatic, especially since it was my fault. Furthermore, some of the managers who were in the office that day heard everything. Yet, they hadn’t stopped it. Wouldn’t they have done so if it was, in fact, sexual harassment?
I thought about it for a couple days and ended up deciding to report it. My hope was that it would result in a generalized discussion, without being attributed to what happened. I decided not to do it anonymously because I wanted to be involved in the follow-up and it was policy to protect my identity, anyway.
A few weeks later, I was called into my manager’s office. I thought I was going to be told how things were going to proceed. I was wrong. I was called in because it was decided I was showing too much cleavage. I was a little surprised at the accusation, given there were women in the office who dressed more inappropriately than I was dressed and had never been approached. I didn’t want to fight about it though, so I apologized and said I would be more careful in the future, before asking if he knew anything about my complaint.
“Yeah, It was brought up in a meeting about a week ago and “they” decided not to go any further with it,” he answered.
“why?”, I asked, a little stunned.
“Well, it was determined you were the one who initiated everything, so we really can’t hold anyone responsible for a situation you created.”
In other words, I was the guilty one, not my co-workers.
I left his office feeling even more embarrassed than I had the day I came back from my surgery, wondering why I had bothered to say anything in the first place. I mean, how stupid could I be? Of course, it was my fault! Looking back, I realize I could have appealed the decision, but at the time, I truly believed I deserved what had happened to me. It took a few years before I realized this wasn’t true.
A couple years later, the situation came back to haunt me.
I had transferred to sales and I was trying to negotiate a contract with a male customer who, quite frankly, gave me the creeps. During our first visit, I caught him looking down at my chest. I remember the look on his face weirding me out so much that I moved my chair closer to the door, just in case. I dreaded our next visit, but I needed to get the contract signed and I couldn’t exactly refuse based on the grounds I was uncomfortable. This time, however, I made sure to stay in the door way so he couldn’t shut the door. I could tell it bothered him, but he didn’t say anything. As he sat down to sign the contract, he muttered that he didn’t have a pen and got up to go get one from a neighboring office. I started to make room for him to get past me. but he stopped me by putting his hand on my shoulder. “Go ahead and sit down, I’ll be right back.” he said, as he brushed up against me on his way out the door, putting his hand on my chest long enough for me to realize it wasn’t an accident. I picked up my phone as if I had gotten a call. “Dear God, please don’t let my phone ring!” I thought as he walked back into the room, pausing to grab my shoulder.
I could hear my heart pounding as I pretended my boss had called and put me on hold. I was definitely not safe. As soon as I saw him finish signing, I lept out of my chair to grab the contract. As I reached for it, he grabbed my wrist. “We should go to lunch.”, he said while I avoided eye contact. “We’ll have to do it another time, I’m late for another appointment.” I said quickly. I got up to leave and he walked around the desk to hand me the contract. As soon as I had it in my hands, I thanked him and turned quickly to get the hell out of there. He followed me to the door and just before I crossed the threshold, I felt his hand grab and pat my ass.
I walked as quickly as possible to my car, before getting in. My hands shook and I felt tears start to form in my eyes. I called the office, making up an excuse that I wasn’t feeling well so I could go home.
I contemplated reporting it, but I stopped when I remembered what happened when I reported it the first time. If they had ignored it once, they would surely ignore it this time. It’s not like I could prove anything, anyway. So, I made up my mind to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want to end up being humiliated again. I didn’t want to be treated as if it were my fault, because maybe it was…Maybe, I had unknowingly flirted with him or caused him to think it was okay to touch me like that.
I never did say anything. The shame attached to being victimized was too great. as was the guilt from believing I somehow deserved what happened. I couldn’t face being made to feel as if I was the guilty one, again.
These feelings may not be true for all victims, But I know they are common, based on conversations with others who have experienced similar, or worse, circumstances. In fact, I have friends who have reported being raped, only to be interrogated about their motives for going to the police, before being sent out the door without further investigation. And, I have many friends who justify what happened to them, just like I did.
It is unfortunate, but expected. Because, it’s what we are continually told by society. We are told to believe this behavior is excusable in the same way we are told to ignore crude “locker room talk” and laugh at shows with sexual harassment wrapped in a veil of humor. As a result, we scrutinize victims, ignoring the fact that sexual offenses are vastly underreported. For some reason, it’s easier for us to doubt their stories, rather than believe people are capable of the actions they are accused of.
The saddest thing about these allegations to me, is how so many women have reacted. Instead of supporting those who have been victimized, they’ve accused them of lying or justifying actions of the perpetrators because it was “a different time” (Excuse me, but sexual crimes are crimes no matter when they happened). Last week, Roy Moore narrowly missed victory in the Alabama senate, with supporters stating they were willing to vote for that child molester because they considered him to have “higher morals” than a democrat. Yes, I said it. Roy Moore is, in fact, a child molester. This is unbelievable to me, almost as unbelievable that a president would stand by a child molester, just because he didn’t want a democrat to win.
The truth of the matter is that victims don’t disappear from the public eye because the allegations they make are false. They disappear because they are silenced in one way or another. They disappear because we continually accept the actions of perpetrators and they disappear because their voice is often unheard in the long run. They disappear because their lives are put up for public opinion. Those of us who have been victims of sexual crimes know this. We watch it happen, leading many to decide we are better off keeping our secret. Being a victim of a sexual offense is difficult enough, without additional pain experienced because others doubt or blame us for the actions of another.
Women don’t tell for a number of reasons. It could be because we don’t want to revisit the trauma of being victimized, or maybe it’s because we feel, even after many years, we are still to blame for what happened to us. Or, it could even be the fear our perpetrator instilled in us, especially those who are very rich and very powerful.
I think that’s what happened in the case of Roy Moore and Donald Trump and many of the others who were accused.
The movement we are seeing now is an attempt to prevent the same things from happening to the next generation. It’s not some plot to get attention or some sort of backlash because we were rejected by a man. It’s an attempt to be thought of as the capable, smart human beings we are, rather than a “piece of ass”. This is a systemic problem that must be solved, not some sort of hysterical drama to get back at public figures because we want attention.
So, If you don’t like hearing about it on the news, then start doing something to stop it.