Tuesday, April 4, 2017

On Sexual Assault and Harassment

Things that are not shocking: I’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed, in real ways, more times than you can imagine.  

I won't even give you the details about the male babysitter that tickled me and then touched me inappropriately when I was 4, cause I didn't even really fully remember that noise until I was in my early 20s.  But there was that.  That not withstanding:

The first time it happened I was in high school, working for a photography studio. The male photographer told me that he wanted to put body paint on my body and photograph me.  I was 16.  He pursued me for weeks until I had to quit the job; no one cared when I reached out to my employers to say that I was scared, that he was terrifying to me.  He was 27.  I was told to get over it.

My high school boyfriend punched me in the eye; it turned black and I lied to my parents about it.  One of my best male college friends threw me up against the wall in my dorm room, twisted my arm, and bruised my back.  I ordered him the fuck out of my room.  Neither of these incidents even makes it into what follows.

The second time it happened, I was in college, and my French professor put his hand on my knee.  The third time it happened, I took a guy to a dance, and he tried to rape me.  I can't say more about this except that he didn't succeed.

Then he told his friends that I was a tease.  Yeah, that kind of nonsense.  It happened, in 1989.

The fourth time, I was still in college, and my English professor, after giving me a shot of whiskey, asked if I wanted to take a shower with him.  I didn’t really, but I did anyway, because I was 19 and he was 37, and I’d thought he was cute.  He stalked me for year afterwards, driving through the apartment complex where I lived while I hid, hyperventilating in the bathroom, in the hope that he couldn’t see me, sitting in the shower, below the window.  He told me that my rejection of him sent him to the hospital with an ulcer.  He called my parents’ house over the summer and hung up whenever one of them answered.

My mother told me that she’d always thought I’d date an older man.  That’s what this meant to her.  Not to me.  To me, it meant that I had played him, that I amazed myself at how easy it was to seduce someone so much older, in such a position of privilege and authority.  It was both shocking and boring, and if you’re a guy reading this at such a long remove, it’s still shockingly boring for the young woman who seduces you without incident or effort (because for us it’s always effortless), who then looks back at the whole thing and finds you repulsive, because we do, you know, find you abhorrent, find you desperate, find you nauseating in your desperation and need.

The fifth time it happened, I was getting an MA at East Carolina University, and the fiction writer, the guy who wrote (of all things) about golf, wrote me a letter – typed it out and gave it to me.  I still have it, by the way, if you’d like to deny it, but I think you died and that now there’s a scholarship or some such named after you.  I’d never had a class with him, never even knew him, and yet he wanted me to go to Boston with him; we could have separate rooms, he said, although he hoped that I wouldn’t want that.

I wrote for the paper at the time, and I outed him in an editorial.  You can see that I’m getting braver with age.  He showed up at the paper and called me out, panicked and afraid.  I said, “you wrote what you wanted in a letter, and I just shared that material.  I don’t know you, and you didn’t know me.  Now you do.”  I was a fucking hero among the women in the English Department who had seen these guys do this shit over and over and over.  But the men, the men turned on me. But that’s hardly surprising.

The sixth time was the worst so far, when I was hired as a lecturer by an assistant Department Head who then proceeded to try to grope me every time that he was around me. I went to see a therapist about it, because, by this point, I thought maybe it was some personality trait that I possessed that drew these reprobates to me, men with whom I worked or studied, who decided that it was ok to turn me into some stupid blow up doll onto or into which they could aim their ridiculous misguided sexually aggression.  My therapist told me that it wasn’t me, that these were predators. And she was right.

He called me when I missed a day from work.  He wanted to bring me soup or ginger ale.  I never answered.  Like third time guy, he would drive past my apartment, slowly, and look in the window.

Have you ever sat, your back pressed up against the wall of your apartment, all the lights off, and not breathing, hoping that he’ll just drive away?  Cause I have.  And more than once.

The sixth time guy contacted me over the years, after I was gone, to tell me what he missed me.  To tell me about his son’s suicide.  To try to guilt me into writing back. Think I’m a heartless bitch for not responding?  Well, he lured me out on numerous occasions, telling me that his family would be there, only for me to discover that I’d been trapped by him, alone with him, his hands on my body, me too afraid to tell him to stop. 

In 2012, I contacted a friend who knew #6 and asked for her advice about whether I should confront him.  She never wrote back, and there is a special place in hell for women who do not have the backs of other women.  I am still without resolve, still without closure. 

More tomorrow; I’m too upset to keep writing.  And yet, there is more.