It’s been a difficult week. Hell, it’s been not even a week. Four days. My sleep has been interrupted by night terrors. I look at others as I fight my way through a crowded grocery store, wondering who is an ally and who an enemy – who would like to rip my guts out if they knew what I believe, how I think, what I feel. I am blocking total strangers and unfriending former friends on Facebook because they side with Brett Kavanaugh and the powerful, the privileged, the pugilistic against the oppressed, the truth-tellers, the light-bearers.
I know I’m not the only one, not by more than three thousand miles. I don’t know whether that makes it better or worse.
I believe that 95 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence and almost as many occurrences of sexual violence are never uttered.
During the hearings this past Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein read the tally sheet of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. I don’t believe that statistic: 66 percent of sexual violence goes unreported. I believe that 95 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence and almost as many occurrences of sexual violence are never uttered.
I’m someone who, like many American women, has been “out there” my entire adult life. For more than thirty years, I’ve worked full-time since graduating college; I’ve dated and been in many relationships, some long-term, some short; I’ve had many friends and joined many groups: writers, readers, political activists, business networkers, blues-lovers, arts-lovers, to name a few. I’ve been an independent, social, gregarious, life-loving woman. I’ve also been a woman who has experienced more acts of sexual violence than I can remember in any one sitting unless I really put my mind to it.
I rarely do that. I really don’t want to do that. But I will tell you that the violence has ranged from “simple” acts of workplace harassment to rape to stalking to abuse from the age of 15 (and maybe younger – my slippery, protective mind turns vague memories into fog like a dry ice machine). The worst part of any of these was not any specific act but the multitude of times I wasn’t believed, of times I was blamed, of times that the so-called justice and mental health systems turned against me, further isolating and terrorizing me – and the many more times I said nothing because I knew the consequences.
Abuse at 15
I remember being groomed and frightened and confused and sexually abused by an older teenager when I was 15 on a school trip to Europe. After I stumbled out of his hotel room, not at all inebriated but dazed by whatever happened there – cue the mind fog machine – I ran to the stairs that led to my floor, my room, safety and solitude. When I entered the stairwell, a group of his friends sat and stood on the first landing. They might have been waiting for me there. They blocked my exit. They derided me with disgusting taunts and cacophonous laughter. Enraged and frightened like a trapped animal, I screamed at them, telling them from a depth I didn’t know existed what animals they were. This Thursday, when Christine Blasey Ford testified that one of the strongest memories she had of the attack by Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge was their laughter, I physically recoiled and felt the room swim around me. I knew exactly what she was experiencing. Like she, I was 15 years old again, feeling trapped by young men who treated me like dirt after their friend had taken what he wanted from this object – not a girl, not a person, just a thing.
Harassment of an Intern
I remember earning the first news internship at an NPR station through the hard work I had done as a print stringer and first-year graduate student in journalism. I was older than most interns because I discovered public radio reporting as my calling in my later 30s. The news director was only a couple of years older than I but obviously had much more journalism experience than I just starting out in public radio. Attracted to each other, we saw each other sexually a couple of months at most, agreeing to keep it hidden for appearance’s sake and agreeing we could separate it from the news room. I was so naïve.
A rabid drug addict, he soon projected his lack of integrity onto me, accusing me of wanting to “out” us, accusing me of speaking badly of him around town – even though this is the first time I am doing so publicly and still not naming him specifically and almost twenty years later. From his absolute power position, he played horrible psychological tricks on me, confusing me until the ground I stood on passed from shaky to earthquaked to finally gone. He “fired” me (even though I was working 10-20 hours a week for free), banning me from the station. Because I knew that whistleblowers – especially women who accuse sexual harassment – are almost always the ones punished and because then I wanted so much to build a career in public radio, I kept silent. Over the years I told only a few close friends and my therapist. (Since then, I abandoned my amazing public radio career because I couldn’t continue subjecting myself to the many toxic people in charge. As many wonderful people who hold power in public radio – and I personally know a few and hold one as a dear, dear friend – there are many who use and abuse underlings. See stories about Michael Oreskes and Juan Williams, for example.) This is the first time I speak publicly about this horrible news director.
Stalking, Like Imprisoning Someone in Slavery
Perhaps one of the worst sexual and violent crimes committed against me happened when I had the audacity to break up a four-year relationship that had grown increasingly more toxic as the boyfriend had continued to trap me in a cycle of emotional and psychological abuse. The day after I called it off, he showed up at my apartment to reclaim some of his items left there and loaned to me over the years – two or three shirts, a couple of dining room chairs. He shoved past me into my apartment that summer Saturday morning and wouldn’t leave despite my yelling at him constantly to do so and screaming for help into the quaint neighborhood with many open windows. No one came. No one helped.
Somehow I struggled free, only then to cower on all fours in the corner of the farthest end of my apartment. I was an animal protecting my physical body. I am still ashamed and frightened as I remember that moment.
When he started physically menacing me, for the first time in my life I realized I needed to call 9-1-1. He ripped the phone out of my hands – but the land line phone had connected long enough to trigger the cops’ drive to my apartment. He held me tight by my shoulders. I think he threw me onto the bed. He may have wrestled me to the ground. He may have just stood there, gripping my shoulders with all his male strength. I was sure he was going to rape me. My mind and body went numb. Yet somehow I struggled free, only then to cower on all fours in the corner of the farthest end of my apartment. I was an animal protecting my physical body. I am still ashamed and frightened as I remember that moment.
When the cops arrived in what seemed an eternity later, they didn’t believe me. The male cops took him outside and joked and laughed with him on the sidewalk. The female cop was harsh and judgmental with me as she forced me to find his shirts jumbled in with my pile of clothes on the floor. They finally left, along with him.
After that, I remembered feeling like a slave as he continued to stalk me for months. I wasn’t free to decide for myself. He continued to threaten me unless I agreed to our getting back together. One day he sabotaged my car by wrenching a garden spade into the engine. That cost thousands of dollars. Another time he broke into my storage to steal audio of my therapy sessions. (I had recorded them so I could listen again between sessions to let my therapist’s wisdom sink in.) Another time he broke into my home to steal my airline tickets to fly home to what I thought would be the safety of my family, me on the west coast, they on the east. Later, until I deplaned from that four-hour flight, I was terrorized that he might have sneaked onto the plane. (I didn’t have the money to buy an entirely new trip.)
Worse than all this, though, were the people who didn’t believe me and the system that turned against me. Our “friends” told me outright that there must be two sides to the story, that after four years of our being together, he couldn’t be that bad, that I must have done something bad, too. A cop told me that he would rather be dead than not fight back and suggested I get a temporary protective order against him. So I did. My psychiatrist yelled at me that I shouldn’t fight him through the legal system, that I was only baiting him by doing so. Even though a trained witness (a security officer who ran his business from across the street) saw the ex breaking into my home through a window and filed a police report, this counted for nothing, no proof against him, as I faced the ex in court alone without any legal representation because I didn’t have enough time and money to get help. When I asked for a continuance, his attorney said I would have to pay his extra legal fees – which I had no idea how I could afford.
It was the loneliest moment of my life. As I write this experience, I am crying again. I can’t describe how extremely alone, terrorized, frightened, and small I felt. This was a Rubicon I must cross, however.
It was the loneliest moment of my life. As I write this experience, I am crying again. I can’t describe how extremely alone, terrorized, frightened, and small I felt. This was a Rubicon I must cross, however, and so I did. I held fast to my demand for a continuance.
I think his attorney must have understood the horrible nature of what had happened, because he never sent me a bill. As for myself, I ended up letting the matter drop because the months of violence had exhausted me and because the ex had found a new target, a new girlfriend, so he left me alone. Not the best ending for anyone involved, but such often is life.
The Characters and Their Character, The Same Now as Then
I saw in Christine Blasey Ford the same fear, the same strength, the same shaking and PTSD of reliving such a horrible memory as I have had anytime I remember any of the many sexual violence situations I have faced. I saw in Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Ted Cruz, et al., – the legal, police, and medical system that betrayed me, turned on me in anger, and did the opposite of protect me. I saw in Brett Kavanaugh as he derided and disrespected female senators – the males who raped, abused, harassed, and stalked me. I see in the people who won’t take a stand against an obviously misogynistic and frighteningly and abusively privileged Kavanaugh – the friends who wouldn’t stand with me when I was physically attacked, stalked, and terrorized for months. And I see in those multitudes of people – women and men – who understand by direct experience or by well-conscienced empathy – the friends who have believed me, the allies who have supported me, and the hope I still retain for a system to protect the unpowerful. May God bless and protect us all.