If you’ve spent any time on Facebook over the last few days, you’ve probably seen a shocking number of these “Me Too” status updates:
I consider myself a lucky woman to have made it 43 years as unscathed by sexual violence as I am. Until the Me Too social media phenomenon, I might not have even thought to mention the times I was not so lucky, because they pale in comparison to those who have suffered horrific crimes at the hands of sexual predators. I also would have assumed that everyone already understood the sickening “magnitude of the problem.”
Just about everyone I know posted Me Too, or I believe You, yesterday. A few of my beloved friends even posted their stories of sexual harassment and assault, and the sum of it all was ironically unifying and encouraging.
Me Too: My Story of Sexual Assault
I was once personally assaulted – when I felt violated sexually without my consent, and so ashamed that I chose silence rather than tear apart my friends. That is still a story I am unwilling to recount publicly. That lesson is mine alone, and I owe its telling to no one until I’m ready, but it did happened, and it was someone I considered to be a close friend. He was the “good guy,” when I thought I was safe, so I let my guard down. I’ve never spoken of it to anyone – not even my closest girlfriends who were nearby when it happened. Looking back on it, I’m not proud of my silence and letting him get away with that violation…I certainly didn’t help anyone else avoid a repeat of his crime. But that harsh lesson taught me very young what I needed to know to keep a friend of mine from being raped later down the road.
That is a story I can tell today.
I went to high school in Taylors, South Carolina. You could say that I was something of a party girl. I was radically independent and hard-headed, and working overtime to disqualify myself from my mother’s evangelical view of the afterlife. If she said it was a sin, I said “Where do I sign up?” For the record, she said everything was a sin, so my To-Do list was long and kept me busy. Thankfully, I was also ambitious and intelligent, with a decent self-preservation instinct, despite being seventeen. However, this also meant that I could not be honest with my parents about anything, nor could I ask for their help when I needed it. This was a problem.
At some point during our Senior year, 1991-1992, my friend Tia and I were invited to a party at the off-campus apartment of a few Clemson football players, just under an hour drive away from home. Boy, did we think we were hot shit getting invited to a college party. I drove us there in my car, so I was the DD. Despite my many fool-hardy vices, dying in a fiery drunken car crash was not on my agenda. I had a few beers over the course of the night, but since I knew I was responsible for getting us both home alive, I kept my wits about me.
We -MAYBE- weighed 105 pounds each, and Tia quickly got trashed playing a drinking game called “chandeliers.” Most of the people at this party were guys who could easily bench-press both of us at the same time. The whole apartment full of Clemson students got really drunk – not one of them cared that we were in high school or under 18 – which was not a secret to anyone there.
Fast forward into the wee hours of the morning when most folks have left, and Tia is now passed out beside me on the couch. I was giving my last drink an hour to clear out, and Tia some time to sleep it off. I was watching 3-4 of them play video games. What happened next is etched in my memory as the recurring nightmare it became. One of the guys who lived there, who had barely spoken to us all night, walks over and scoops Tia up without saying a word. He throws her limp body over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, turns and heads out of the room.
What? I just sat there in confusion for a second – that is how naive I was. I asked what he was doing and he completely ignored me. No one else in the room reacted in any way – like some freaky twilight zone. In my minds eye, I remember him like a giant line-backer. I’m 5′-10″ and I had to crane my neck to look up at him. I’d say he was easily 6’5″ blonde and fair, had the “jock” clean-cut look, and built like a tank, all muscles, and a thick neck. He might have been handsome except for the dull expression.
I jump up and catch up to them as he rounds a corner down the hallway toward his bedroom. I’m shouting at him now, demanding to know where he is taking my friend, and again he completely ignores me. I feel like a fly attacking an elephant. I’m beating on his back and pulling on Tia’s arms, as we get to his room and he flops her unceremoniously onto his bed. Only now does she groggily open her eyes and start mumbling. I’m trying so hard to get her up and out of there, but she’s dead-weight heavy and confused, slurring angrily for me to leave her alone so she can sleep.
He then turns his attention to me: “Shut the fuck up, bitch. Leave us alone. This has nothing to do with you.” Hardly straining a muscle, he easily picks me up, throws ME over his shoulder and hauls me back out to the living room. I remember the terror, the panic, the feeling of helplessness as a tiny, weak woman in the clutches of a big, strong man who could break me in half, and it pissed me off. I was screaming, struggling with everything I had, clawing at the door frame and down the walls. Then he threw me hard back onto the couch among the others, and went back to finish what he started.
This is the nightmare part that still kills me, where time moves slowly, and no matter how loudly I scream, no one helps me. Do you ever have that dream? This is when I first saw Rape Culture up close.
I’m frantically pleading with the moronic assholes who are ignoring the attempted rape and physical assault of two 17 year old girls that is happening right in front of them. They keep playing their video games as I beg them to help me, to help my friend. I’m in their faces screaming- HE IS TRYING TO RAPE HER – PLEASE HELP ME STOP HIM – and not a soul cares. They shooed me from blocking the screen and insulted me, but did not move an inch.
I grab our stuff, my keys, and run back down the hallway. I’m beating on his locked bedroom door, kicking and screaming, I’ve gone full psycho-fury, for those who know me well, you will recognize this as my patented, fully-ignited “Gandalf-You-Shall-Not-Pass” mode; I was in What-fuckery-is-this, righteous-indignation tirade mode. After the longest few minutes of my young life, he tired of all my noise, unlocked the door and told us to both get the fuck out, because we weren’t worth it. Slut-shamey excuses were made, as I rushed in, gathered up my now partially undressed, mostly unconscious friend, and hauled her out of there before he changed his sociopathic mind.
The details are fuzzy from this point, but I somehow got us both out to my car, and drove the hour home. My friend was so out of it, she dismissed the whole crime as being “no big deal” and that I was “over reacting.” If you asked her about this night, I doubt she’d tell you the same tale, as she was black-out drunk for the whole thing. But I remember, I don’t think I reacted enough. To this day, I’m still angry with myself that I allowed that creep to get away with it.,
I never even considered calling the police, because then we’d have to admit to our parents where we were, and that we were drinking. Perhaps my mother’s shame-ridden speeches about the perils of “sinful women” had me twisted around. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but he played football for Clemson University the 1991-1992 school year, and I still have PTSD-like dreams of helplessly, voicelessly being man-handled with no care at all for my consent. It damaged my ability to fully trust people – especially very strong men.
Through the processing of this dark memory, and seeing of my entire Facebook feed flooded with ME TOO statuses from men, women and everyone in-between – gay, straight and otherwise – I see the scope of the problem – and I certainly believe all of you. I also realize what died for me that night, and its a crying shame: In my naivety, I assumed everyone was trustworthy, decent and law-abiding until proven guilty. After the assaults from both close “friends” and “strangers,” earning my trust was much harder to do. There is a part of me always guarded – always planning her escape route from the room, should things go sideways. To this day, I can’t sleep unless I’m the side of the bed closest to the door.
That is the kind of fear that poisons a society and has got to stop. If the Me Too phenomenon was intended to show us all how big a problem we face, I’d say it was wildly successful. Now that we know, and are finally talking about the problem, we can chart a course to the solution, Yes?
So, what do we do next? I’m listening.
Lilith Dorsey at VooDoo Universe also wrote about the #MeToo movement, and provided some useful background information, suggestions and links to resources.