The Story Of My Sexual Assault
*in case the title isn’t clear enough, here’s your trigger warning. This story is about sexual assault, abuse and harassment.
I was reading comments online spurred by the current GOP presidential candidate bragging about sexually assaulting women. They ranged from intelligent commentary about why sexual assault is such an under reported crime to complete and total denial that we live in a rape culture in which men are entitled to control, comment on and use womens’ bodies.
One commenter mentioned that the “one out of five” women being a victim of sexual assault number seems low” and wonder if it’s because they “weren’t comfortable reporting it.” Not to quibble, but I’ve read “one out of four” and my personal experience being and talking to women indicates it’s much higher than that.
In concurrent threads there are people who deny these numbers, deny rape culture and say that the women now stepping forward about said candidate are liars who are just looking for attention. It is vital that women step up and speak out. We can no longer be silent and we can not let this stand.
So here’s my story.
1965 – I don’t remember the first time I was sexually assaulted, but it was by my step “father” who conned his way into my mother’s life when I was three years old. I became aware that he “make me feel icky” when he touched me when I was about nine or ten years old (and I felt guilty for not loving a “step” like a “real” “parent” like the Brady Bunch told us we were supposed to. I figured it out when the memories made sense at the age of 16 (when I, for the most part left the home) My mother’s reactions to this ranged from “we don’t talk about things like that” to violently abusing me herself while under the influence of alcohol. I grew up being told never to talk back to or upset him as he had high blood pressure, or he would have a heart attack and die and that it would be my fault. How sad I was to find out that was a lie. As a teenager, after witnessing him hitting my mother so hard in the face that her bridgework flew out of her mouth I pulled my 22 rifle out of the closet and told him all of the horrible things I’d always wanted to say to him as a child and told him that I’d kill him if he ever touched me or my mother again. He didn’t have a heart attack and didn’t die. I was disappointed.
1967 – I was five years old, in first grade. It was after school and I was walking past the bike racks to the car where I was being picked up from school. A 6th grade boy grabbed me, threw me on the ground next to the bike racks while another boy on a bicycle told him, “spread her legs” as he grabbed my ankles, adorned with those little lace trimmed bobbie socks, the boy on the bike tried to run over my genital area with the front tire of his bicycle. No one helped me. I kicked, screamed, raged and got away. Later when I was questioned by the principal about it, they had a suspect that I was to name. This means there were witnesses that did not try to help me, and/or that he had assaulted other little girls and was still allowed to be at school.
1973 – at eleven years old while playing football with the neighborhood kids, one of the boys pinned me down and violently groped my crotch. The response when I told an adult, “Boys will be boys”
1975 – at thirteen years old while walking home from school, a boy commented on how “small” my barely developing breast were and grabbed them. Again, “Boys will be boys”
That same year, another older boy tried to rape me in the projection booth at a local movie theater. I fought him off and never went back to that theater. Big surprise here. It was my fault for going into the projection booth (I was interested in the projector).
1976 – I was 14, a boy followed me home from school and assaulted me. I punched him. He did not get in trouble, but I was pulled aside by one of the fathers in the neighborhood, grabbed by the shoulders and told to “calm down” and that I “was not a normal girl” and was “too aggressive” (because obviously, normal girls just take abuse and don’t fight back)
1977 – I was 15 and thought all of the horse play and wresting stuff with our church youth group leader was just innocent fun, because I was a tomboy, super naive and somehow, still believed the best of people. I discovered after the fact that it was apparently well known (to everyone but me) that this adult male in a position of trust, in a church was hot for me and behaving inappropriately; he quietly disappeared.
1980 – I was barely 18 years old. The “neighborhood rapist” who I found out after the fact had already raped seven women at knife point attacked me while I was out running in the early morning daylight. I was the “lucky one” who fought him off (and broke a few of his fingers, I was so filled with rage, I’d have killed him if he hadn’t run away with his sweat pants hanging down around his knees). I was only the “lucky one” until the questions started, “What were you wearing?” “Why were you wearing shorts instead of baggy sweats?” “Why didn’t you get a better ID on him?” “why didn’t you incapacitate him?” “Why were you out running at all?”
1987 – I was repeatedly harassed and groped by a supervisor when I worked for the US Forest Service. He was not disciplined and I was not believed and was vilified by The Fire Management Officer who had on a separate occasion told me, “A pretty girl does not belong on the fire line, she is a distraction to the men.”
1988 – I had men (who I was physically stronger than and was a better medic than) who refused to have me as a paramedic partner because women didn’t have any business doing that job. They were allowed to do this.
1989 – I had a helicopter pilot refuse to fly with me as flight crew/medic because I was a woman. He was allowed to do this so my work schedule had to be manipulated to placate his misogyny.
1996 – The National Historic Site I worked at on a temporary detail, told me (the only law enforcement officer on site) that I was never to handle a confrontation, that I was supposed to let the maintenance guys handle it. When I balked at that, as well as being told to leave the site during an emergency (flood) while the men stayed, when I was the person charged with public safety, I was brought up on insubordination charges and was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. I couldn’t get out of St Louis and back to Colorado and a real park fast enough after that.
1997 – The National Monument I worked for used a convict labor crew to do work in a very busy monument with small cities at each entrance (this was not a remote area) They were very poorly supervised and were allowed to wander freely around the maintenance area which was adjacent to the house area. When I wasn’t wearing my uniform and duty weapon they would yell and catcall me when I was in my back yard or at the mailbox. One of these criminals, got away from the crew and got inside a maintenance garage alone with me. After I complained and they were forced to stay in the van while fueling and the Park Service was forced to supervise them properly, I was literally “set up” by one of them and was brought up on charges. When I filed a formal complaint for this, the first investigation was “lost” and I had to go through the entire process again; this time with an interviewer from OPM who was very much into victim blaming. Everything that was said about me in that report was terrible and degrading. My “running shorts were too short”, I was “too aggressive for a woman”, even the french braid I wore my hair in was “too tight and made me look like a bitch.” I felt terrible for my Chief Ranger who was a stand up guy. This all came down from the Superintendent who was a sexist, misogynist bastard who constantly degraded women and a system in which sexual harassment and disrespect of women was deeply ingrained.
2002 – I was running in the park at lunch time, training for the Seattle Marathon. I was attacked by a guy in the park who jumped out of the bushes and tried to tackle me, once again, I fought him off (and threatened to kick his ass) and of course the questions were, “What were you wearing” Because apparently running shorts and a sports bra in 90 degree weather is an open invitation to be assaulted
2016 – At nearly 54 years old, I can’t walk two blocks to the grocery store without being catcalled and harassed. My recent “favorite” was the guy (young enough to be my son) who drove by me twice, turned around, pulled over at a stop light and yelled, “HEY! Little Girl, Come Here!” Let’s just say that encounter didn’t end well for him as he ran the red light to get away from the crazy lady.
These are just a few “highlights” of my life experience with a culture that allows men to see women as objects and vilifies women for their own assault and harassment. If I tried to recall even 10%, I’d be here for weeks writing a book about it.
Sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination happen every single day.
These acts happen to a hell of a lot more women than “1 in 5”, “1 in 4” or whatever ridiculously under reported number gets thrown out there.
So when someone says, “Rape culture doesn’t exist” or “They’re just words; get over it” you’re discounting the very real experiences of 50% of the population because while not every woman will report being sexually assaulted (even if she has) we have all been harassed or discriminated against.
Do you know why women come out en masse after being raped or assaulted by a famous and/or powerful man decades after the fact? It is because it’s taken that long for them to feel that they “might” actually be believed.
Rape culture is real and the current GOP candidate is turning back the clock and giving his misguided followers implicit permission and encouragement to be misogynist, racist, homophobic, bigoted and violent towards anyone who challenges their narrow, ignorant and selfish world view.
Not only do women need to tell their stories, but men, good men (the vast majority of men are good men) need to stand with us, to stand up and say that this behavior does not represent their gender.