Three months ago, I finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. About halfway through the book, renowned psychologist David Lisak gave testimony for one of the rape cases on which the book focused. Lisak’s specialty is the psychology of rapists and rape victims. Krakauer’s prose read like a crime drama as he detailed the transcripts of the case. My eyes sped along the pages until I came to this passage:
“If a victim made an equivocal statement such as ‘I think I was just raped,’ would that strike you as unusual?” Thompson [the prosecutor] asked.
“No,” Lisak answered. “It’s quite common….If somebody is experiencing something very traumatic, it’s scary but it’s enormously confusing. It’s overwhelming.”… Lisak explained, it’s common in the aftermath of a rape to see the victim have “quite extensive interaction with the person who’s alleged to have committed the assault” as an “attempt to try to undo it…. then I can tell myself that…what I feared just happened to me didn’t really happen.”
“But in the immediate aftermath,” Thompson suggested, “couldn’t we at least say that no rape victim in her right mind would give her perpetrator a ride home afterward?”
“No,” Lisak answered.
My throat closed up. Though I knew about the obvious themes of the book, it took until reading those exact words to bring up 6-year-old scars that hadn’t surfaced in ages. The scars recalled memories of the night I had drunken sex with a stranger and halfway through decided I wanted to stop. But when I told him no and pushed his hands away, he told me everything would be okay as he clumsily tried to finish what we started. I laid there silently until he stopped. I laid there silently all through the night as he fell asleep, until the next day when the sun rose and I asked him to drive me the three miles to my apartment. I stayed silent all through the 10-minute car ride. I stayed silent as he leaned over to kiss me before I got out of the car. I stayed silent until I went into my apartment, locked the door, locked myself in my room, and cried.
Not since my three months of therapy after that night had those memories come to the top of my mind. But now they swam before my eyes in full technicolor. I remembered using those exact words the first time I met my therapist: “I think I was sexually assaulted.” I remembered thinking, Who would believe that what happened was unconsensual when I started it willingly, then stayed the night, then got in a car with him? It wasn’t even his fault. I was the one who changed my mind.
When the scars of sexual assault resurface, it’s like living the memories again for the first time. In the age where sexual assault scandals from the likes of Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Dr. Luke are headline news seemingly every week, statistics of victims get thrown around as if the sheer magnitude of the numbers will make viewers understand the issue clearly.
As a survivor, you will do anything to not see yourself as one of the individuals in that statistic.
And then, #MeToo happened. My Facebook feed was filled with people: friends, colleagues, family members, and mentors who had all experienced unwanted sexual interactions with another person who thought he had a right to do what he wanted with another individual’s body.
Twenty-four women and four men I know posted a #MeToo status. Three of the men said men need to be better. One of the men said he personally experienced sexual assault. Four of the women told their story about their experiences with sexual assault:
- “I downplay my harassment experiences because they aren’t as alarming or frequent as the experiences of my friends. “
- “This quote I saw on Twitter puts it best: ‘If you wouldn’t want a dude doing it to you in prison, don’t do it to a woman.'”
- “For everyone posting ‘me too,’ I see you and I ache with you. Thank you. For everyone NOT posting ‘me too,’ I know you’re there, and I ache with you, too. Remember, you don’t owe your pain to anyone. Ever.”
- “I thought I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT.”
These women, my friends, echoed every emotion and doubt I had about my own experience: At least it wasn’t rape; How could he not have known; Why do I bury these memories; My body doesn’t belong to me. And there are scores more, who like me, have been unable to say #MeToo aloud.
That’s why it’s hard to explain that news headlines detailing the firing of Harvey Weinstein or Taylor Swift’s sexual assault case as victories for sexual harassment victims don’t feel like victories. For every Taylor Swift win, there’s a Kesha loss. For every dollar Harvey Weinstein loses (which probably won’t be much), there are still five dozen women whose lives were forever altered by one man’s decisions. For every woman who details her traumatizing memory of her rape on social media, there are thousands more who stay silent after they are groped, catcalled, and made to feel lesser than by a few simple words, all because our society tells us to grin and bear it.
Perhaps one day, we won’t need an army of women amplifying each other’s words to be believed in court or put a corrupt man in his place. But for now, the accumulation of a million voices will be a source of safety, strength, and inspiration.
To those of you brave enough to be one of the millions, thank you. To those of you unable to speak, we’re here for you. And to everyone else, we’re all getting way too old for this shit.