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Why We Kept Quiet Then and Why We're Giving It Back Now

September 25, 2018

I am going to tell you my story. And I don’t want to tell you my story anymore than Christine Ford wants to tell hers. If it were up to me, I would go to my grave with these secrets. But these secrets were never mine to torment, to haunt, to keep. So today, I’m giving them back.

           

A few days ago, Donald Trump tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authority by either her or her loving parents.” President Trump has all the answers. President Trump, who brags about “grabbing women by the pussy.” President Trump, who has called women names such as fat pig, slob, and disgusting animal. President Trump, who has joked that he’d date his own daughter. President Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women. And let’s remember, that most of us keep quiet.

           

I recently posted a meme that read: “Don’t teach your daughter that if a boy is mean or rude to her, it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.” One of my dear friends from Germany replied underneath, “Is this for real? I’ve only ever seen this in the movies.” I answered, along with several of my friends, that we have all grown up hearing this. We’re told that if a boy bullies us in school, it’s because he has a crush on us. How twisted is it that starting from childhood, we equate abuse by men with love and accept that when we are ridiculed, it is nothing more than a playful form of endearment? We stay quiet because we have learned in both subtle and overt ways that we should expect to be mistreated.

 

I come from the same place as Dr. Ford. I have experienced several major sexual assaults. This does not include unwanted groping or advances by men who feel entitled to grab and objectify me. Statistically, three out of every four women have experienced a form of sexual assault. But if you include crude comments or unwanted advances, it is all of us.

           

My first sexual assault was by a family member. I kept quiet because it inconvenienced everyone for me to speak up. I wanted to shrink. I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want to demand separate Thanksgivings or Christmases. I pretended my way through it all, suffering year after year behind a forced smile. I stayed quiet because I didn’t want him humiliated. I stayed quiet because I loved him. Years later, I finally worked up the courage to say, “I can’t see him anymore.” Holidays are separate now but I stand instead of shrink. I feel guilty. But that guilt was never mine. So today, I’m giving it back.

           

My second sexual assault occurred abroad in Honduras. The professor who accompanied us from Calvin College was old fashioned and abrasive. She warned us from the first day, “Don’t ever look a man in the eye. That’s an invitation. Dress modestly or that’s an invitation.” I was already emerging into my feminist badass of a self and called bullshit on her words of warning. I wore whatever the hell I wanted to wear. It was hot and I didn’t give a fuck if my spaghetti strapped tank top led a man to look at me sexually. That was his problem—not mine. I looked men in the eye every chance I got. I rebelled in whatever ways I could against the archaic bullshit nonsense that was being pounded into our vulnerable minds.

 

But I didn’t ask to be raped. I kept quiet because I was drunk. I kept quiet because I had flirted. I kept quiet because I remembered all of the professor’s warnings on the first day. After the fact, she was eager to tell me how I had put myself in an ugly situation. She fully blamed me. I have always fully blamed me, too. But that blame was never mine. So today, I’m giving it back.

           

My third sexual assault happened just a few hours after my rape. I have never talked about it because who would believe it? My third sexual assault happened in a hospital by the doctor who was supposed to perform a rape kit. After he called me into the exam room, I clenched my knees to my chest, shaking. He told me to put my legs down and show some respect. He told me that he had already talked to the man who did this to me and that it was my fault. He didn’t perform a rape kit. Instead he jammed his fingers into my already broken self and asked if it felt good. Who would believe that a doctor had done that to me? I kept quiet because if I came forward, I was certain that whether or not I had really been raped would be questioned. I kept quiet because he was a doctor. I kept quiet and grew more and more disgusted with myself. But that disgust was never mine. So today, I’m giving it back.

           

There are other sexual assaults that I’m not comfortable sharing. (Yes, I’ve spent a lot of money on therapy). It is okay that there are things I cannot say. I want to acknowledge all of you courageous women who have experienced sexual assault but continue to keep quiet. I see you. When the #metoo movement went viral, I was too ashamed to even post a #metoo Facebook status. Whether you whisper, shout, or say nothing at all—I hope that you can still give back the shame, the disgust, the blame. Even if I don’t speak out, I can still give it back.

           

Trending on Twitter is a beautiful movement of women who have formed a sisterhood of sharing why they didn’t report. Story after story with the hashtag #whyididntreport appear boldly, bravely, holding hands with the #metoo movement. We understand why the other has kept quiet for so long—be it days, weeks, years, or decades. We were afraid to speak. Those of us who feel able to speak out are speaking out now. We are breaking the silence because we want something better for our daughters. We are embarrassed, yet we speak. But that embarrassment was never ours. So today, let’s give it back.

           

I have spent the past day asking brave women to tell me why they kept quiet. Here are some of their courageous answers: “I kept quiet because he was popular and I didn’t think anyone would believe me.” “I kept quiet because it wasn’t rape so I figured people would tell me, ‘At least he didn’t rape you.’” “I kept quiet because I had flirted with him before and thought that others wouldn’t believe that I didn’t want him to do what he did.” “I kept quiet because I’ve been told that he does so much good now that it shouldn’t matter what he did in the past.” “I kept quiet because I thought the behavior was normal. That it was how teenage boys were.” “I kept quiet because I had already lost my virginity to him.” “I kept quiet because he was my father.” “I kept quiet because he was a doctor. The police didn’t take me seriously so why would others?” “I kept quiet for 28 years. He was one of my dad’s best friends and I didn’t want to ruin their friendship.” “I never pressed charges against my attacker. It’s been over 10 years.” “I never reported anything for fear of retaliation.” “I kept quiet because he was my husband.” “I kept quiet because I was embarrassed.” You beautiful, brave women, I am so sorry. It was not your fault.

           

I didn’t want to share the most vulnerable places I have come from. But neither did Dr. Ford. Her allegations about Kavanaugh began with a confidential letter to a senior lawmaker. This story then became public as an anonymous report and without her consent. It was at this point that Dr. Ford decided that if the story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it. And in response to Trump’s condescending question, “Why didn’t her loving parents file a report?” If you had taken a moment to read up on her story, Mr. President, you would have learned that she didn’t even tell her parents. They didn’t know. She spoke of the assault for the first time in 2012, even though it had occurred in the 1980’s. It is my hope that an understanding of why we all kept quiet will emerge. It is my hope that through this understanding, we will begin to experience a shift in this despicable rape culture we call home.  

           

I feel uncomfortable and exposed putting this all out here. But I’m doing it for Dr. Ford, because I stand with her. I understand why she kept quiet because I kept quiet too. I am doing it for Dr. Ford, because I am her. I feel ashamed sharing the places I have come from. But this shame was never mine. So today, I’m giving it back. Give your shame back, Dr. Ford. Give your shame back, all of you beautiful brave women. It is time for all of us to give it the fuck back.

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