The first time I was sexually assaulted I was a teenager. And a stripper.
And I still didn’t deserve it.
It was during the 90s, before there was Craigslist or smartphones. I was homeless, had to drop out of college because I couldn’t afford the tuition, and had no idea what to do next. There were only two things I could confidently say about myself at the time. First, I was smart. Second, I had big tits.
My brain didn’t seem to be able to keep me housed and in school, so my next option was to turn to my body — the last thing that I owned — to try and pull my life together. I needed to get back into college and I needed housing. Minimum wage jobs weren’t keeping up with California rent and I didn’t know how much longer I could make it both figuratively and physically.
I grabbed a newspaper, as one did in the 90s, and turned to the Help Wanted page. I found myself a “nude modeling” gig with a “photographer,” and went to work.
When I got to his apartment, the first thing he asked me was if he could sniff my panties. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that, but he told me that if I wanted the job, I’d have to give him my panties. I still remember how sickened I felt watching his face contort as he practically suffocated himself with my underwear. I still gag at the thought of it.
There’s not much more I remember after that, except the few fragments of memory that refuse to stop playing over and over in my mind.
I remember there was a thick dust in the air that I could see floating in sunbeams that pierced through the bent and broken slats of his bedroom blinds as he told me how he wanted me to pose for him. I remember him putting the camera down and walking towards the bedroom door. It was beige. I remember with tunnel vision his short fat fingers turning the lock. And I cannot forget him saying, “If you don’t suck my dick, I’m going to kill you.”
That was the first time.
The last time, I was a PhD student in my 30s. It was 3 days before my final oral exam — which I passed. I was wearing a baggy sweater, loose jeans and was held at gunpoint. I didn’t deserve it then either.
I didn’t deserve the violence inflicted upon me. I didn’t deserve the trauma and mental anguish that resulted. I don’t deserve the fear I often experience for myself and I don’t deserve the absolute anger and horror wrought by having to look at my daughter and know that she is growing up in a nation that gets off on rape and that I don’t know if I can protect her from it or not.
It’s apparently not enough, though, that 99% of accused sexual assaulters walk free. It’s not enough that women are blamed for our own assaults and slandered in the media and the courts. It’s not enough that it is constantly shoved down our throats that this is a nation where a man can do whatever he’d like to a woman’s body and feel entitled to laugh about it with his friends in a locker room. And that still isn’t enough! More needs to be done, apparently, to ensure that not only is sexual assault all but legally permissible in the United States, but that it is a nation that systematically creates victims.
This year alone we’ve seen Trump, Cosby, Ailles, O’Reilly and now Weinstein all become trending media topics specifically for their sexual attacks on women. Survivors come out with their stories. Those stories ignite public outcry and debate. Images and heart wrenching narratives are fed to the public. The hashtag fizzles when another trending topic appears. The media enthusiastically waits for the next sex scandal to break. And nothing else happens.
Well, not nothing. While we are all entrenched in the gory details of accusations and water cooler declarations of moral outrage, the federal government has been openly attacking women’s rights and repealing the few protections we have left. Betsy DeVos, for example, recently rolled back Title IX protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses and Trump revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workspaces Act. The former places the rights of the accused over the rights of the victimized while the latter allows companies to hide previous accusation of discrimination, harassment, and assault in the workplace from the courts and the public. Companies like Weinstein, Co.
And this is why, as putrid as the accusations against Weinstein are, he has a very good chance of walking free, and worse — he will, without a shadow of a doubt, not be the last executive to use his position to force himself on a woman. The only thing we can be guaranteed of is that we must teach our daughters that the workplace is set up to take advantage of women in the most intimate ways possible and that we might not be able to protect ourselves.
And I can’t take that. No one should be able to stomach that truth.
Everyone should be sickened by Harvey Weinstein, Trump, O’Reilly, Ailes and every other man that’s ever inappropriately touched or harassed a woman. But, it’s going to take more than attacking every celebrity abuser in the nation one by one to stop or even curb sexual assault in the United States.
Our laws allow predatory men and organizations to continue to function in society while simultaneously blaming women for our own victimization. If we continue to focus on people instead of policy, we continue to create a nation where women are legally prey. If we continue to foam on social media over story after story of abuse without doing the work to protect women and our rights — we are complicit in feeding that machine.
So yes, get angry at Weinstein. But get angrier at the policies that allow Weinstein and those like him to use his power to force himself onto women and the policies that allow men like him to walk free. Make our stories mean something more than just another gasp and a retweet. Start with this story.
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