WE MUST TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT SEXUAL ABUSE
In this week’s episodes of AS THE ELECTION TURNS a hugely important issue has entered the conversation. While many say it does not happen that often, the truth is, women are the victims of sexual predators more often than you can possibly imagine.
Sexual predators vary in their violence and levels of sexual abuse, verbal assaults and physical misconduct, call it what you will.
For the purposes of this I’m taking rape off the table as that is an issue with an entirely different set of problems.
This is the stuff the papers and news cycles have been full of. The Trumpian acts of helping yourself to women’s lips, breasts, asses and in some cases vaginas as if the female race where his private buffet.
I’m shocked yet not shocked by much of this. I’m not shocked that Donald Trump did the things he is accused of as he has all the trademark signs of a guy who behaves that way.
I’m shocked that people are shocked. I’m shocked that people have the response they do, as to why women don’t speak up. WHY WOMEN DON’ T SPEAK UP?
And the most ridiculous statement we hear regarding the validity of these acts is, if they didn’t report it at the time, it could not have happened. “Why do women so often speak up so late? Why do they wait until it’s an issue?”
You don’t speak up for a multitude of reasons; shame perhaps being the slightest; fear of retaliation by a predatory animal being the biggest.
And if you gather a group or a country full of women and they were to be totally frank – most women have been subjected to some form of sexual abuse at some point in their lives. And most have never told a soul. We just don’t talk about it.
I – who talk about most every thing have been the recipient of this kind of behavior from men starting when I was 8 years old and have barely ever spoken about it.
As many of the women who have spoken up this week have said, you file it away. Most of the time it does not destroy your life. Though some women are tougher than others, Jessica Leeds, my new hero could compartmentalize and go on with her life. She can talk about it eloquently and without emotion. While Jill Harth appears to be much more shaken up by it, twenty years later. Like most things it depends on who you are, who they were and how you are constituted.
But I will tell you this – it is something you remember forever. You remember where you were. What the room looked like. What make of car you were in. What time it was. You remember the most intricate details.
I’m going to share my stories, not because I want to “out” anyone, or jump on this merry-go round or get attention. But because I feel one of the reasons that this behavior continues all over the world, by all types of men. from presidents of countries to trash pickers in Indian slums, is women continue to be afraid to speak up. And until we all fearlessly tell our stories this abhorrent abuse of women will continue.
The first time I experienced a sexual predator I was eight years old. My mother had taken me to a charity meeting at a friend’s home. Since it was going to be boring for a kid it was decided I should watch TV with the woman’s son in their den. He was older than I was. By how much I am not exactly sure. If I was eight he was at least 16 or 17; perhaps older. He went away to school, so it might have been college. He had sandy hair and was very tall.
Very soon after we started watching TV he started to rough house with me. I was a little kid and he was big goofy guy. People do that I guess. But I somehow ended up in his lap quite quickly. He then very quietly told me we were going to do something really fun, but that I wasn’t allowed to tell a soul. I asked him what it was but he did not want to tell me. It would be a surprise. I didn’t want a surprise so I nagged him until he told me.
He said he wanted to put his fingers inside of me and tickle me there and that would be really cool and I would love it.
I told him I didn’t think so. I remember the way he looked as I told him this. I remember wondering if he would be mad at me if I didn’t do what he wanted. He tried to change my mind. It didn’t work.
He was upset. He turned the TV up and told me if I told anyone he had asked me I would get in big trouble.
This is the meta message one gets – that no matter who the perpetrator is – you will get in trouble for his behavior. Your mom will get mad. You will get fired. You will rock the boat. You will cause problems. SHUT UP.
Though in this situation I did tell my mom. Right away. I remember exactly where she and I were siting when I told her. She was dutifully horrified and believed my story. I was so young this suddenly became the moment she had to explain sex to me.
Now remember this was the 60’s. I watched the Flying Nun, not Premium Cable. The next day she called his mother and told her what had transpired. And I remember the mother, her name was Betty Lou, said this could not be true. The mother of this man/boy said her son would never do that and that I must have been making it up. I was lying.
That was the end of my mother’s friendship with Betty Lou. But for me it was the beginning of decades of being harassed, molested, and taken advantage of by men. And the beginning of my understanding if you tell the truth in these situations, you will not be believed.
The second time it happened it was a family member, sort of. One of my father’s wife’s sons drove me home one Sunday night. He stopped the car at the top of our driveway, odd as one normally went to the bottom. He turned the car lights off and leaned over and started to aggressively make out with me. I was 13 and it was the first time I had ever been kissed. He was old enough to drive and then some. He told me not to tell a soul. It would be our secret. And that time I kept the secret for years. I was afraid to tell. I was afraid to tell my mother as in those days she did not get on with my father and I didn’t want to deal with that. I did not want to tell my father for a host of reasons, one being I figured he and his family wouldn’t believe me and like most women felt I would just get in trouble. Why bother? No harm, no foul, keep your mouth shut, no one knows – nothing changes.
And that is the big deal – keep your mouth shut and nothing changes.
One day when I was 15 one of the most popular guys in school started flirting with me in the library. I was so pleased. The cool guy was paying attention to me. So this was a case where I responded in some way. But I thought he liked me. I thought I had suddenly become popular. And that is sometimes a part of this, we misread signs. What we take for affection turns out to be aggression.
I was not popular. I was not too good looking back then. This guy was the star athlete; he might have been a scholarship student in a private school, but he was very much the center of the in crowd. He had a killer smile. He motioned for me to join him in the corner where he proceeded to dry hump me until he came. Then he snarled, don’t you dare tell anyone or you will regret it. Then he vanished into the stacks and didn’t speak to me or acknowledge me for two years. Again, I never told a soul. Besides who would have believed that? And I would have been humiliated for insinuating it. He had a gorgeous girlfriend why would he bother with me? People would think it was wishful thinking on my part.
There was the French teacher I had the crush on. He was he was known for hitting on students. He knew I was a confused girl without a father in the house. Had he not been a predator he would have taken me aside and explained that I was 15 and he was 39 and this was not a good idea. But he led me on. I followed. I some how convinced my mother to invite he and his wife to dinner one night. They came. He held my hand under the table. He moved it up his leg a bit, not all the way, but way too far. I was still wearing braces. This time for obvious reasons I kept it all to myself.
It never got to sex but it went far enough that I was deeply shaken when the whole thing came to a screeching halt. I was like number four in a list of girls he had done this with. He was eventually fired and his wife left him. He then married someone half his age
So that was a lot before I had even turned 16.
I too once woke up on an airplane with a strange guy’s head on my shoulder and his hand on my crotch. I chalked it up to time travel.
But I was not yet the type of woman who could say, “what are you doing asshole?”
One of the worst offenses happened in Hong Kong. I was 20. I was there for – it’s too complicated – three months. I was playing at modeling. There I could model, being a size eight/ten did not bother the Hong Kong Chinese then as long as you were blonde.
The agency sent me on a go-see. It was up some creaky staircase in a dilapidated building in Kowloon.
There were two guys there. They were real photographers Cameras, photo equipment, prints on the walls. The guy I met with was Australian. He took his camera and started taking photos of me. He instantly got really sexual and filthy and started telling me how much I wanted it and him and all the ways that was going to happen and it was really ugly. He backed me into a corner. He got visibly excited and rammed himself into me. His friend watching from the corner was bemused. This must have been how they entertained each other as well as themselves.
I let him finish his rolls of film, then I ran out of the studio and onto the crazy streets of Hong Kong. And again, I told no one. I don’t think I’ve ever told the story until now.
But who would I tell? The modeling agency? “Guess what this guy who pays you sexually harassed me.” I knew that that would lead to nothing but the end of them sending me on go-sees. And by shutting up I booked a blouse ad the next week.
So you shut up. And it keeps on happening. How many young girls over how many decades did he do that to? And how many did not take it well? How many were truly traumatized? How many gave up careers, boyfriends, dreams? How many stopped trusting men in general? Or how many like me, just remember every detail decades later?
The incident I was truly traumatized by occurred in my early twenties when I was living in LA and the guy who parked cars in my building assaulted me.
He had always been so nice to me, and me to him. Nice tips at XMAS, cheery exchanges. One day something was up with my car or so he said. He thought I should go down to where the car was as opposed to him bringing it up. So I went down to basement where they kept the cars. We got in the car and he jumped on me and rammed his tongue down my throat. I was alone down there with him and really scared. I had to push him off. It was horrific on so many levels. I could never really look at him again. And why did I not go to the manager of the building and tell him what had happened? Was I protecting myself? The guy who did it? Was I so humiliated I just wanted to file it away under never to be looked at again?
To this day when I think of it, and I rarely do, I cringe and shudder.
There were other incidents throughout my 20’s and 30’s. But by then I learned to expect and deflect.
But there is a residual damage even if you are a bit jaded and steely. One takes the callous attitude “men will be men, they are all pricks at heart.”
Men do do this and women keep their mouths shut. Not all men. But far too many. And that has to change. We cannot be afraid of the fallout from our honesty.
I will get fallout from this piece – trust me.
I thought of not writing it for that reason – then I thought, keep quiet and you are a perpetrator of the problem. Your silence allows it to continue. You have been silent far too long.
Now thanks to Cosby and Trump the conversation is very loud and very public.
And it’s our duty to speak up. There will always be the first brave one. Then slowly others emerge and the secret is out. And while one might be able to refute one, it’s much harder to stand up against, 8, 9, 10 or 20.
If we are the first or the 50th it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we keep the conversation alive and we expose those who abuse us and others.
We must teach the younger generation that it’s imperative that you speak up when it happens, not forty years after the fact. And if you speak up hopefully it will happen less and less.
So any of you who have stories to tell, unless your life is endangered then speak up.
Roger Ailes took advantage of women for decades. Famous women, beautiful women, women who could get other jobs. But who would go up against Roger Ailes? Then someone did. Then more. And then he was fired.
The culture can change.
We can change it.
We just have to do the brave thing, the hard thing.
It’s taken me fifty years to share these stories. And I’m now past the age where sexual harassment is much of an issue.
But if I can give others the courage to speak up – then it was not for naught.