“Me too” – the echoes of that statement brim from every corner of every social media feed I have. Both comforting and unsettling, this national conversation has pulled back the rocks and weeds of our society to reveal that there are, indeed, horrors that lie there unaddressed and unspoken.
Last November, I shared in one of my posts about when I was raped in college; the post was born from a desire to have others understand why those of us who have experienced sexual trauma felt the primary elections triggering. It wasn’t because we were snowflakes – no, just the opposite. We had looked at true evil in the face, were inexplicably hurt, and still rose from the ashes of our existence to create meaningful, healthy lives.
Sadly, that instance wasn’t the only unwanted sexual advance in my life. The first came when I was 19.
I was out at a bar in Nashville called the Boundry with a friend who was several years older than me. Anxious to make use of my fake ID, we got dolled up and met one of her friends there who was accompanied by her date – a local doctor in his late twenties. Being a summer Monday night, I was tired and wanted to go home, but the other two girls wanted to stay out much later. The doctor asked where I lived, and he offered to give me a ride home since he said he only lived a few miles from my parents’ house. Because these two girls seemed to know and trust him, I accepted his offer, and I was pleased to see that he drove a brand-new silver Corvette.
I slid into onto the cool leather in the passenger seat, and as we drove away, he turned to me and said, “You know I’m not taking you home, right?” My heart dropped. Being entirely young, naive, and thoroughly intimidated, I stammered out how tired I was, maybe another night, and pretty much every other excuse under the sun to not have to go with him. I was trapped.
Despite my objections, he continued to drive me back to his home, touching my leg the entire way home in an attempt to feel under my skirt. He looked at me and said something that has haunted me all these years: “I picked you out of all those women tonight.”
He proceeded to give me a tour of his house, and I politely walked from room to room, remarked how nice it was, and asked again for him to take me home. Instead, he pulled the straps down from my dress, pushed me to the floor, and forced himself onto me. As he shifted positions, I was able to wiggle out just enough to scramble my way up, grab my dress, walk out the door, and demand he take me home right that second. He threw on some boxers and said, “Fine, bitch.” He kicked me to the curb once we got in front of my house, I remember feeling very thankful that he had not “fully” raped me then (meaning intercourse). This man still practices in Nashville, is married, and has children.
It was only a few years later that my worst fears came true, and I was raped. A forty-something married man came to UT’s Homecoming game with my best friend’s father. We all went out to dinner after the game and listened to live music. I thought I was safe. This man was easily twice my age, and his friend was like my own dad. Still, I excused myself to the bathroom, and the last thing I remember is holding myself up against a wall while someone tried to find my group. It was obvious that I was losing consciousness. It happened quickly, in a matter of only a few minutes.
I woke up to a pain that I honestly cannot describe; I saw him on top of me, but I couldn’t move. I tried to speak, and nothing came out. I tried to move, but my limbs felt like lead. He was pinning my legs apart so forcefully that I had bruises in the shape of his fingerprints for weeks afterward. Our eyes met for a moment, and the next thing I knew, my body was being turned over. All I saw was the carpet, and I thankfully passed back out.
The part of this story that is equally as hurtful happened the next day in the emergency room. My parents happened to be in town that day, and I had to make the phone call that no parent wants to receive – that they needed to come to the ER. Once I explained what happened when they arrived, my dad said something that will haunt me the rest of my life: “The best thing you can do is to forget this ever happened to you.”
My dad was a wonderful man – kind, strong, and generous. But even he was conditioned to believe that we “just didn’t talk about these things.” To face inexplicable horror and then have the strongest man in your life tell you to dismiss it…well, it does something to you. It does something to your trust in both yourself and men in general.
I’m proud to say that after 15 years, I have found my voice. It is strong, brave, and honest. Those experiences – while awful – made me stop being the people-pleaser that I had always been. I didn’t understand the power of “No” and I wish the woman I am now could show that young girl how strong she really was. Instead, for years, I blamed myself – what I wore, what I drank, and my deeply-bred politeness that could have prevented me from unwanted sexual advances.
I know them now when they happen. When I was a teacher, I had a male student joke to everyone in his class that he was going to be coming over to my house later to “fuck.” I felt violated, even if it was just the words. I reported him, and I demanded that he be moved from my class. As professional as I was, that relationship had been compromised with his choice, and what I remember most about that situation was his friend’s reaction. His friend, Cameron, stood up to him, explained how twisted and messed up he was for saying that, and defended me as a woman and as an authority figure. The world needs more Cameron’s, and they need more men like Cameron’s dad who taught him the value of women.
This past May, I went to Ascend Amphitheater to see my favorite band play. As I started up the grassy hill in the general admission section with my boyfriend right in front of me, I felt a smack on my ass – the kind that stings for a while afterwards. I whirled around, ready to confront the offender, but everyone was facing forward. I couldn’t tell where, or who, it came from. For the rest of the show, I was visibly upset. When you’ve had your body violated before, any unwanted sexual contact is triggering.
Research shows that trauma, especially sexual trauma, stays in our DNA. It seeps out in obvious and unexpected ways, and I’m glad to see that more and more women (and men) are stepping out of the shadows of shame and silence to collectively stand together and say, “No more.”
One in four of us women will face experiences like mine in her lifetime. Look around and do the math – there’s not that many serial sexual predators living among us, but you know who are? Men who were never told they weren’t entitled to whatever they want. Men who objectify women as commodities or arm candy. Men who are so entrenched in a pornographic culture that it has skewed their sense of sexuality and consent. Men who dismiss other men’s aggressive sexual behavior as being products of personality quirks or drunken choices. Men, who when confronted with the harm that their gender inflicts, instinctively first ask why we as victims didn’t do more. That is rape culture, my friends. It’s not all just the Harvey Weinstein’s. It’s the guy on campus, or the doctor, or someone’s uncle or husband. It’s a boss. It’s not just the perverted instincts and choices that are acted on; it’s the freedom with which they feel comfortable doing it because they know our society’s complicity about this topic.
I saw a post last night on Twitter that hit me square between the eyes, both as an English major and survivor. It said:
Isn’t that so true? We always use the passive voice when talking about sexual assault. I was raped, not a horrible man raped me. When we use the passive voice, it creates ambiguity as to who is performing the action. It also subconsciously places ownership onto the other subject that is mentioned in the sentence, which in this instance is the victim.
Let’s do better. Men, if you are reading this, don’t leave the women hanging in your life who are bravely speaking, “Me too” onto your feeds. Be uncomfortable with it. Sit with it. And use your voices to start speaking up saying, “I will never be complicit in this.” That means calling your bro out when you see or hear something uncomfortable. It means trusting your gut and intervening when you see something that doesn’t look right. It means advocating for bodily autonomy and respect and not assuming that everyone understands those concepts. It means telling these women in your life, “I see you, and I hurt for you. And I will stand by you as you tell your story.”
Fellow survivors, we are not victims. We are not defined by what has happened to us, and we have a choice to become strong, vocal, and brave because of our wounds. It is scary as hell to speak up. Even as I write this, there is a sliver in the back of my mind that wonders if it will hurt my business or affect the way people look at me. I don’t care, though. And I never should have.
Let’s start creating a world where no one else has to say, “Me, too.”