Sexual assault attacks one’s dignity, self-worth and right to control one’s own body. Sadly, it is a part of nearly all women’s lives and some men’s.
A much-needed tsunami of truth and outrage is flowing across the nation right now. Many women and men are speaking out about being sexually assaulted. These courageous people deserve to be lauded and supported.
Those who have come forward also speak for others who cannot disclose their experiences for many valid reasons. Still, as victims, we stand together, drawing strength and feeling validated by others’ words. There is no weakness or shame in not speaking up. It’s a matter of being ready to share one’s story. That moment is different for every victim and should be respected. When we are ready, we speak our truth to those who have earned the right to hear it.
One of my own experiences was with a doctor who was supposed to give me a check up to assure I was healthy enough to work in a concession stand at my son’s baseball games. At the appointment there were many clues that things were not right, starting with the doctor staying in the room while I undressed behind a curtain to when he suddenly started doing a breast exam unlike any I’d had before. The whole exam was creepy and shocking. I felt violated and embarrassed. During that era, we didn’t question doctors—after all they vowed to do no harm.
As I left, I wondered if I should say something to the receptionist. Why would she or anyone believe me? Maybe they knew he did that kind of thing? Was I misunderstanding what had occurred? Did I want to admit to myself what happened and how violated I felt?
Every day, women somewhere go thorough the decision whether to trade their dignity for not making trouble, to save their career or to survive just one more day. They are left feeling used like a paper towel crumpled and tossed away without a second thought.
I hadn’t planned to write about this when I sat down today. I hadn’t thought about this incident in many years. I know there are women who have more horrific stories than mine and some who identify with what happened to me. Funny how our thoughts immediately go to ‘what happened to me wasn’t as bad as others’ experiences’ in an attempt to minimize what we went through or rewrite it so we don’t feel the full spectrum of the horror.
Assault is assault. There are no qualifiers for which is more acceptable and bearable because it wasn’t as bad as someone else’s situation. It is time to put the guilt and shame where it belongs, on the perpetrator.
You can bet that a lot of high profile men are quaking in their boots right now. I hope that abusers who are not high profile are also feeling the pressure. For too long society has accepted bad behavior with statements like:
- What’s wrong with women?
- Why are they so oversensitive?
- They should feel flattered.
- They make a big deal out of nothing.
- Can’t they take a joke?
- It was playful banter or shenanigans.
- If it were so bad, why didn’t they say so at the time?
- They’re trying to destroy men’s careers.
- They want to take over—i.e. the war on men.
- Why do they dress or behave like that and expect us to not act on the invitation?
- They sleep their way to the top all the time.
- Boys will be boys.
To those who say, “I can’t even give a woman a compliment because she may cry sexual assault,” I say, “baloney.” Don’t attempt to make abusers the victims. It will not work anymore. Neither will claims of being drunk or high on drugs be an accepted excuse for bad behavior.
Do I really need to spell this all out? Isn’t it common sense?
Telling a woman that she looks terrific in that dress is acceptable. Telling her you’d like to rip it off her or putting your arms around her and grabbing her breasts while saying it, is not. Neither is leering at her body.
Playful banter or shenanigans slither over the line into sexual assault when you’ve been told to knock it off and you don’t.
No means no. If she can’t say, “yes” it’s a “no.” If she’s forced or coerced to say “yes” it is a “no.” If during sex, she says, “stop” and you don’t, it is rape. The same rules apply when males are victimized.
I could go on with a list of inappropriate behaviors, but instead let me tell you what is acceptable.
- Treating others like you would like to be treated.
- Respecting others’ personal space.
- Engaging in a sexual encounter where both parties come willingly and choose the act without being coerced, drugged or their career threatened if they say “no.”
There is no turning back. Victims have found their voices. It is time to believe them. Let’s rip away the stigma for both female and male victims so more feel free to come forward.
I’d like to believe that as the current predators are prosecuted, legally and socially, sexual assault will end. This is a place to start. Unfortunately, there is a deeper and pervasive sexual assault on children in this country. I hope that the tsunami of outrage continues and flows over child abusers, too.