When I opened my Facebook and saw the “me too,” hashtag I didn’t know what to make of it. Honestly, at first, I thought a couple of my friends were accidentally drunk posting responses to conversations they were having.
But, when I looked it up, I saw it was in response to sexual harassment and people speaking out because of Harvey Weinstein. One in five women will experience sexual assault or harassment in their lifetimes — this means that the number of “me too” posts that I see while scrolling down my page is probably far too low.
My first instinct when I saw this hashtag, was to just keep scrolling. Then, I thought about adding my voice to the crowd. And then, I thought that I shouldn’t because it is an embarrassing and shameful thing to talk about — and then knew that, that was part of the problem.
When we don’t talk about sexual harassment and assault, we buy in to the culture of suppressing and silencing victims. And, while speaking up is a 100% personal decision and victims should never be shamed for choosing to not speak up; they should never fear to speak up for fear of being shamed.
As such, those of us who can give voice, should give voice.
So, while I don’t think adding my voice to the fray really helps anything, maybe if it helps one person, then that matters.
When I was 17 I went on a date with a guy who was a couple of years older than me. We had gone out a few times and he was always pushing for me than I wanted to give. But, I didn’t want to be called a prude and when he would ask me out I didn’t want to be rude — because we are all taught to be nice. I even cancelled on him a few times, but could never flat out say, “No, I don’t want to see you anymore.”
One evening, in September of my junior year of high school, we went on a date to the drive-in movie theater and he sexually assaulted me in his car. That evening was a nightmare. I kept trying to “nicely” leave and get away, because I’m from Utah and I’m a “nice girl.” But he kept pulling me, literally, back in.
After, he dropped me off in a Target parking lot and drove away.
I told a few friends what happened and eventually, my family. If you have ever wondered what it is like to throw a grenade at the people you love and then watch the chaos unfold — I think this is the closest you could get.
My best friend and I had a falling out because she didn’t know how to process the emotion. I gave my mom the burden of telling my older brother — she waited until he was safely back at college, hundreds of miles away.
I told my younger brother — no means no, no matter what.
We were all unprepared to deal with what had happened; and the places we turned to for help didn’t offer any support. When we eventually went to the police, the questions all revolved around — “She’s only 17, why was she on a date alone?” “This is Utah, if you had called louder for help, someone would have helped you.”
I’m from Utah where many people go on “group dates” until after high school. So, me, a non-Mormon, going out on dates alone was clearly the problem. In Utah, like much of broader America, the culture supports males not being held accountable for their actions. It is the woman’s job to make sure things don’t go to far. It is the woman’s role to make sure that neither one of you is in a situation that could be dangerous. If things go too far — there is only one person to blame.
After talking to the first police officer, we went to the department of child and family services. I was interviewed on camera and had to give a written statement. When I left, I was given a soft pink and white blanket that was made by a kind volunteer. I still have it and sleep with it. A reminder that there are good things and good people, even during the worst of times.
Nothing ever went further than that. I think at one point an officer talked to him. After the slut shaming from the cops and the internal trauma my family faced, we kind of … just shut down.
It was so much easier to just go back to normal, to stop talking about things and eventually to stop thinking about things. I stopped bringing it up. Years and years went by and I never talked about it. I never told anyone else what happened and, after awhile I stopped believing that it mattered. I was fine, everything was fine.
But it keeps happening. And it will keep happening. I hope that speaking up changes a few minds. We need to build a culture that punishes the rapist and doesn’t silence the victims.
We need to do better.