I remember the exact date. I remember his name and his angular face. I remember his smell. To this day, it still turns my stomach if I catch a whiff of Polo cologne.
With the explosion of the #MeToo social media “hand-raising” movement that is attempting to bring to light how prevalent sexual harassment and assault are, I’ve heard some people suggest that it’s just emotional bandwagoning because so many women (and men) are saying it.
But the reality is that both sexual harassment and sexual assault are sadly, madly, ridiculously pervasive in our society.
It took two explosive pieces of investigative journalism to put an end to the “open secret” tolerance of the predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein—so powerful that he had been doing whatever the hell he wanted to for decades.
With the support of these reports, women have courageously spoken up and called for more to speak their truth. And the amount of “more” is stunning.
I’ve long debated writing about one of my experiences, but I know that now is the time. Because…MeToo.
When I considered writing about it last year, I chose not to because I didn’t want my son to know. But why shouldn’t he? I think he sees me as a strong woman—so maybe if he understands that it happened to me, he’ll understand how “strength” doesn’t mean a woman is safe.
So here we go…
This particular experience of mine is not about being harassed by a powerful man. It’s about a young woman whose “no” was heard as a challenge.
Maybe there are too many details here. Maybe not enough. But this is the way I choose to tell my story.
I was a new college freshman experiencing freedom like never before. I was at a party with a ton of people…drinking, dancing…and he smiled at me from across the room. He came over and started chatting. I was flattered he was interested in me.
He kept my plastic cup filled with beer from the keg as we danced. A few songs in, he kissed me. We danced some more. As the night wore on, though, he decided we “needed more privacy” and took me into a closet where we kissed again.
But then he pushed for more. I said no. He pushed for more. I said no. He wasn’t aggressive as much as insistent. “Come on…” It was all a bit hazy to me. It was dark, we were surrounded by loudness, and my limbs and head felt heavy from drinking. Fun was turning into more than I wanted…but he seemed like a nice guy, and I didn’t want to cause a scene.
His voice was gentle but firm as he unbuttoned my blouse and reassured me that it was okay. I was so confused. I didn’t say it was okay—what I had said was “no.” Did his saying it was okay make it so? When he then started unzipping my jeans, my “no” got even louder, but he kept going.
He said, “It’s okay. It’s only touching.” I don’t know how many times he said that line, but it feels like it was over and over as he kept trying to convince me that he wasn’t crossing a line. But he most definitely was.
I honestly don’t remember how, but I found the strength to push him away and get out of the closet and back to my room, and for that, I am grateful.
Distraught, I remember calling my sister about it the next day. She reassured me over and again that it wasn’t my fault. But I couldn’t let it go. I had been drinking. I should have used more force against him. I was in a haze, and it was my fault.
He lived in the same dorm as I did, and I remember how after the fact, every time he would see me he would look down and away…and the shame would flare up in me. A reminder of my shame right under the same roof with me.
To add insult to injury, he gave me mono, and I was sick for weeks. I figured it was my penance for being so stupid and weak.
I buried the experience deep within, never really acknowledging that it was an assault. The shame escaped burial, though, and stayed with me…hovering below the surface…quietly chipping away at my sense of self.
Shame plays a huge part in why many women keep quiet and it certainly has with me. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I could admit to myself that I was sexually assaulted. Even today I still berate myself for “not being stronger” and “allowing it to happen.”
Until last year, my sister had been the only person I told. But because we were facing an election that included a candidate who was proud of his predatory behavior toward women, I found my voice and shared it out loud with a couple people.
Today that number grows, as I write these words and acknowledge that I—like way too many other women—have been sexually assaulted.
Add to that the absurd number of women who are sexually harassed, and how many #MeToos will it take for us to truly see the problem and care enough to collectively do something about it?
Aren’t there already way more than enough?
The answer is “yes.” The time is now.
So…what will we do?