Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault.
Last week, right after that now-infamous hot-mic video of Donald Trump was leaked – the one in which he brags about kissing women against their will and grabbing them “by the pussy” – writer Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet at her with their experiences of being sexually assaulted.
My fingers hovered over my phone as I thought about my response. There were so many stories to choose from. But which one was my first? And what counts as an ‘assault’?
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first:
Old man on city bus grabs my “pussy” and smiles at me, I’m 12.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 7, 2016
Was it the old man who used to hug me too hard, kiss me on the lips and put his tongue in my mouth after church? I must have been seven or eight when that started.
Was it the boy in sixth grade who used to call me “bubble butt”? The one who came up and grabbed me in the art room one day when I was wearing my favorite red jeans? (To those who have laughed at what Trump said in that video, wondering how it’s possible to grab a woman in the way he described – believe me, it’s possible. I never wore those red jeans again.) Or was it the time when a grownup who was supposed to be taking care of me unzipped my pants and someone walked in on us?
But I’m not supposed to talk about that. Besides, my memory is too hazy to say what exactly happened. I just remember feeling ashamed, like I’d done something wrong. I think I was in kindergarten.
I closed my Twitter app and put my phone down. ‘I’m tired of talking about this,’ I thought. Haven’t I done my part? I’ve already written about being raped – why I didn’t report it, and how it changed me forever. I’ve written about how I cut myself off from my friends when I was in a relationship with a man who used to call me names and force himself on me. I’ve written enough. Let other women take up the cross this time.
My family has already heard more than they want to, my friends know everything anyway, and how many times am I going to force my boyfriend to think about all these terrible things that have happened to the woman he loves? I can’t help feeling they’d all be relieved if I kept this stuff to myself once in a while.
The next day, I opened up Twitter again to see that although I hadn’t been willing to dredge up my sexual assault experiences again, plenty of other women had been brave enough to speak up. More than a million of them, in fact.
women have tweeted me sexual assault stories for 14 hours straight. Minimum 50 per minute. harrowing. do not ignore. #notokay
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 8, 2016
And that wasn’t all. Actress Amber Tamblyn posted her own painful story of sexual assault on Instagram, telling how an abusive ex-boyfriend grabbed her and carried her out of a club where she was listening to music with friends, ‘like a piece of trash’.
I need to tell you a story. With the love and support of my husband, I’ve decided to share it publicly. A very long time ago I ended a long emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a man I had been with for some time. One night I was at a show with a couple girlfriends in Hollywood, listening to a DJ we all loved. I knew there was a chance my ex could show up, but I felt protected with my girls around me. Without going into all the of the details, I will tell you that my ex did show up, and came up to me in the crowd. He’s a big guy, taller than me. The minute he saw me, he picked me up with one hand by my hair and with his other hand, he grabbed me under my skirt by my vagina— my pussy?— and lifted me up off the floor, literally, and carried me, like something he owned, like a piece of trash, out of the club. His fingers were practically inside of me, his other hand wrapped tightly around my hair. I screamed and kicked and cried. He carried me this way, suspended by his hands, all the way across the room, pushing past people until he got to the front door. My friends ran after him, trying to stop him. We got to the front door and I thank God his brothers were also there and intervened. In the scuffle he grabbed at my clothes, trying to hold onto me, screaming at me, and inadvertently ripped off my grandmother’s necklace, which I was wearing. The rest of this night is a blur I do not remember. How I got out to the car. How I got away from him that night. I never returned for my necklace either. That part of my body, which the current Presidential Nominee of the United States Donald Trump recently described as something he’d like to grab a woman by, was bruised from my ex-boyfriend’s violence for at least the next week. I had a hard time wearing jeans. I couldn’t sleep without a pillow between my legs to create space. To this day I remember that moment. I remember the shame. I am afraid my mom will read this post. I’m even more afraid that my father could ever know this story. That it would break his heart. I couldn’t take that. But you understand, don’t you? I needed to tell a story. Enjoy the debates tonight.
A photo posted by Amber Tamblyn (@amberrosetamblyn) on
On Facebook, my friends – even friends who don’t usually share anything overly personal – were opening up about their experiences being assaulted, degraded, intimidated and abused. Still, I was reluctant. I desperately wanted to sit this one out.
Then at church on Sunday, my pastor gave a sermon about using whatever power you have, however small it might seem, to make a difference in the world. She asked us to think about what we could do in the face of feeling helpless and afraid. I didn’t have to think too hard. I knew.
‘God damn it,’ I thought. ‘I guess I have to keep talking about being sexually assaulted forever.’
And so I will.
I’ll tell you about the guy who jumped out at me from behind a tree when I was walking home late one night, pants around his ankles, dick in hand, and chased me down the block. I was in college that time. Last year a guy popped out from behind a tree in Prospect Park while I was jogging, aggressively jerking off in my direction.
I’ll tell you about the guy who started talking to me about my body and what he’d like to do to it as I walked home from the train in the middle of the night, not too long ago. I didn’t want him to know where I lived, so I ducked into a friend’s building and frantically pounded on his doorbell, trying not to cry and hoping he’d buzz me in fast enough.
I’ll tell you about the man who shouted at me in the street two weeks ago when I was in my gym clothes – he called me a whore – and the young boy who stood in a doorway and leered at me as I waited at a crosswalk with my child.
“Be careful crossing that street, you hear me, mama?” he sneered.
And I’ll tell you something else.
I’m sick of talking about this stuff – but that’s not the only thing I’m sick of.
I’m pretty fucking sick of hearing that Hillary Clinton is the most hated candidate in history. I’m pretty fucking sick of people trying to justify their dislike of her and claim that it has nothing to do with her gender. I’m pretty fucking sick of being paid less than a man would be to do my job. I’m pretty fucking sick of being looked up and down like my body is public property, and of not being taken seriously because I’m wearing a dress, or my hair is in braids, or my voice is too girly.
I’m pretty fucking sick of having flashbacks to being pinned to the floor and bitten and choked and forcefully penetrated. I’m pretty fucking sick of going to therapy because someone molested me when I was kid and my ex-boyfriend slammed a door on my arm and almost every man I’ve ever dated has done things to my body that made me feel powerless and uncomfortable.
And most of all, I’m pretty fucking sick of feeling like all of this is somehow my fault, and that I ought to just keep my mouth shut about it.
Well, I’ve decided I won’t keep my mouth shut. And maybe that’s the one good thing Donald Trump has done for women.
We’re not keeping our mouths shut anymore.
Author photo via Rebecca Rent.
Comment: When was the first time a man made you feel uncomfortable?