How do I begin? That’s a difficult question for me. Initially, I thought I would just reveal what my Facebook friends have sent me in private message and not write about my personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault. After considering that approach for some time, I decided that would be dishonest to just write about “them” as if it had never happened to me.
Then one morning, as I read the Dayton paper, the headlines indicated, “Fourth rape report of the year at UD filed over weekend.” A close reading indicates that this is not the 2016 year, but rather the school year which began this fall. And I always ask myself, “How many women at that university and colleges across the nation never report these assaults?”
The media focus on assault has caused me to reconsider issues that I had dismissed as just “boys will be boys.” That’s what happens when you are female in America. As a girl, I knew that unpleasant things could happen, but my role as a strong female was to hold my head up high and not let ugliness keep me down: unwanted kisses in the mouth, a hand on my buttocks, a man on a city bus thrusting himself up against me, a stranger sitting beside me in a movie theater when I was 11 and putting his hand on my thigh. And I always handled these incidents myself, never reported them, and just put distance between me and the perpetrator.
On two occasions, I was really frightened and both happened in my adulthood. I knew I was in real danger. I was a college professor and was leaving a poetry workshop when I was grabbed in a college parking lot by a man who had attended the same seminar. Much stronger than me, he began pulling me into his car. I screamed, and students came to my rescue. He drove off, and I never saw him again.
The second time, a mechanic who was driving me back to the place where my disabled car was located grabbed at me, going for the place on my body where a recent presidential candidate said he grabbed women. I was trapped in his vehicle on the highway with no escape route. My defense: I began screaming and cursing him. He backed off.
Years later, I still feel guilty that I didn’t go to the police and report the mechanic to save others from the same or a worse fate. I know why I, like so many women, remained silent: I didn’t want my name in newspapers; I didn’t want to have to appear in court; I didn’t want people gossiping about me; I didn’t want to damage my career; I didn’t want to upset the men in my family, and I knew that if I told my husband, he would arm himself and kill the man.
So, you might be asking, Why are you writing about it now? It’s front and center in our news; I’m older; I want others to know they are not alone. Many women don’t report rapes or sexual assaults: the procedures are humiliating, invasive ; retaliation is likely to occur; and there is always self-doubt, the questions: Did I do something to encourage this? Did I drink too much? Was my clothing inappropriate? Was I too friendly?
I’m quick to point out that not all men engage in such behaviors. Neither am I suggesting that I know the answers to the problem. Is it testosterone? Is it video games, movies? Is it pornography? Is it the shifting role of males in American culture that makes some men feel they have lost control? Is it mental illness?
Ask your sister, your mother, your grandmother if they have been sexually assaulted. They will probably get uncomfortable as they tell you, “No.” And, in time, they will bury those memories once again deep in their subconscious. Some will tell themselves that the past is the past, that it wasn’t that bad. And the crimes go on. These women feel less than, guilty, unworthy, not capable.
Let me share some accounts from those who responded to my invitation to share accounts of assault:
• “As a male who was raped as a teen, it is difficult for anyone to come forward. When you’re a guy, there are just different words, ‘You must have wanted it’ is common to both. ‘Why didn’t you fight him off?’ and ‘Why were you even there?’ and ‘Are you gay?’”
• Another wrote, “I know this sounds like the ravings of a mad woman.” She detailed being grabbed by two men in the parking lot of a tavern in Lexington, Ky., being taken to a horse farm, and raped repeated by a jockey. When the jockey offered her to the men, they said, “No.” One told her at dawn to get her clothes on, and he drove her to a restaurant at Salt Lick and dropped her off.
• A third person wrote, “ I was sexually assaulted under the age of five by my grandfather. I never told anyone. I was ashamed, confused, and I rationalized that maybe this was what grandfathers do to their granddaughters, that somehow it was normal, yet I knew it wasn’t. My mom suspected something and questioned me about it point blank. I was scared. I didn’t tell her, but I believe she knew and took some kind of action. He never touched me again after my mom questioned me.”
• And a fourth account: “As a child, I was fondled by my birth father as reported by my sister who says she would offer herself to him so that he would leave me alone. She was 6 and I was 4. My birth mother gave up all of her six children shortly after, and my adopted father began molesting me when I was 15.” She reported that her adopted brothers and their friends molested her as well and when she told her adopted mother, “She slapped me across the face and told me to never lie again.”
In conclusion, one victim of date rape and other abuse told me, “I have come to understand the events were not of my creation, the men were flawed human beings, and I have been fortunate to find loving and caring people who have made me feel whole and worth loving.”
She was fortunate.
Vivian Blevins is a regular contributor to the Piqua Daily Call and Troy Daily News.