Yeah, not mincing words with this one, so buckle up. I’m going to tell you a story, and I hope it will illustrate the answers to a couple of questions that people bring up when trying to absolve sex offenders and rapists of their crimes.
- “Why didn’t s/he tell anyone?”
- “Why did s/he take so long to talk about it?”
Let’s go back to 1987. This is by no means the first time I had an experience with sexual harassment/assault/violence, but it’ll show you precisely the answers to those questions. At the time I had started working on the most popular hometown pizza parlor in my city. Before I was even hired, I was warned about the owner, a guy I’ll just refer to as “B”. I was told “he’ll try to hit on you” and “don’t be alone with him; he’s ‘handsy’ “, and “he has a thing for the girls that work here”. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think too much about it at the time. As a girl growing up back then (and since), we basically were told that we’d have to spend our lives fending off men that wanted to touch/kiss/fondle/fuck us whether we wanted it or not. Even when it came to dating, it was accepted that the dating game basically consisted of guys trying to talk us into sex and us trying to be “good girls” and resist. So I took the job.
It wasn’t a month in that the bullshit with “B” started. It was usually just little comments about how good I looked or what a cutie I was or how if he was “___ years younger”…I’d heard all that bullshit a thousand times before. Not bragging. I wasn’t beautiful by any means, but that’s just what it’s like being a woman. Or he’d try to “accidentally” brush against me when I was working. Then at one point, he comes to me, all serious and tells me he needs to talk to me. He pulls me aside and proceeds to tell me that he’d heard from a guy I went to school with that I frequently danced naked in my bedroom window and gave the guys from school a nightly show. And he proceeded to give me the name of a kid that actually rode my bus at one point. I was furious. Next day at school, I confronted the kid and screamed at him, asking him why the fuck he was spreading rumors like that about me. He was genuinely shocked and said, “Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know where you live.” And by the look on his face, I knew he was telling the truth. That’s when the reality hit me.
See, I actually did have a habit of dancing around my bedroom pretty much anytime I was at home. Not naked, and I had the curtains drawn, but I’m sure if you looked hard enough, you could probably see my shadow flipping and jumping and acting a fool in my room to my latest Prince album. But the only way you’d have known any of that is if you actually at outside my house and watched. So this fucking 40-something pervert had been sitting outside my house watching me, and not only that, made a point of bringing it up that someone had been watching me so that I’d be scared to death. Add to that the thought that it had been spread about the whole town, and it was just every girl’s worst nightmare – having a pedophile stalker and a ruined reputation. And it clearly got him off because every time I saw him after that, he’d have this nasty knowing smirk on his face.
I mentioned it to one of the crew leaders at one point and she just let out an exasperated sigh and said, “Yeah, that’s ‘B’. He’s like that with all the girls” and walked away. I found out that even “B”s wife knew about the shit he pulled there – that he had touched some of the girls and sexually harassed others. And she got several of them fired for slandering her poor defenseless husband. Yeah. I finally quit that job about a year and a half later, but several years later, my brother’s girlfriend started working there. I warned both of them right away what he was like, told her to avoid “B” like the plague, and yet a few months later, found out that “B” had offered to buy her a car “if she was nice to him”. She declined and left for another job.
Fast forward about 25 years. The business closed for a time, then reopened with another owner and a new name. This new owner decided to call on “B” to go into the business with him because he had been in the pizza business at that point for something like 40 years. I found out later that “B” pulled his shit with the owner’s daughter and was threatened over it, and so the partnership split up. The business is still open, and “B” has since passed away, but that’s an awful, nasty, legacy for one man in a town of less than 20,000 people. So many people hurt by this one disgusting predator.
So why didn’t we tell? Well, some of us tried and were either ignored or worse, fired from our jobs. Why didn’t we go to the police? Well, for one, we had no proof and he was well-liked by a lot of powerful people in this little podunk town, including a lot of the police officers. From the start, each and every one of us knew that the deck was stacked against us. We had no power in the situation and no one was standing up for us, even though, like I said, he was known around town for being a pervert.
And why am I talking about it now? Well, first of all, it’s not the first time I’ve talked about it; just the first time I’ve talked to a wider audience about what I endured. And I’m talking about it because I want to illustrate the kind of power one creepy, middle-aged, middle class asshole had over the people in this town. Now multiply that times 1,000 and you’ve got a Harvey Weinstein, a Bill Cosby, a Kevin Spacey, etc. “B” and his wife had the power to get any of us fired from our jobs or ruin our reputation and at 17 years old, that sounded like the end of the world and I felt completely trapped. His actions, and the complacency and even complicity of everyone around us made us think that there was no point in telling because we’d never be believed. If some little no-name pedophile in a small town in Ohio can do that, what kind of power do you think a billionaire producer or a powerful actor or well-respected public figure has over the victims he’s harassed or assaulted or raped?
THAT is why we don’t tell. There’s a system in place that tells victims that they won’t be believed and that system is invisible most of the time. Abusers are able to operate because they make you think you’re powerless and that no one will believe you. Think I’m wrong? Check out the scandals in the Catholic church. We’ve come to accept that there were hundreds and hundreds of priests that abused men, women and children because the proof is irrefutable now. Because a few brave souls were strong enough to take a stand even when the tide was completely against them, and nobody believed them and they probably never thought that it would lead to any type of justice at all. But in the beginning, they were doubted, too.
We also don’t tell because in most cases, there’s no proof except our scarred psyches. It turns into a he said / s/he said situation, and the victim at the very least has to relive everything that’s happened in the hopes that just *maybe* something will be done about it. And if it’s a highly publicized case, they get the added trauma of being vilified in the media and by victim blamers in every corner. For the record, according to the FBI, less than 8% of rape reports are considered “unfounded”, which doesn’t even mean that the complainant was lying. It just means they can’t find proof that it definitely happened. And if someone retracts their statement or decides not to file charges, that doesn’t mean an assault hasn’t occurred.
So why do these cases always seem to bring new accusers out of the woodwork? Simple. Because once someone’s been brave enough to tell, you know that the chances are better that they’ll believe you. You know you aren’t the only one. You’re giving support to someone that’s endured something horrible and the chances are you’ll get support, too.
Trust me when I say that the #metoo is not a bandwagon people want to jump on. The attention that you’ll get for reporting a rape or assault is not the kind of attention people want. No amount of money is worth being treated like you’re less than human. No one wants to be in this club. There are much easier ways to get attention and money, and the statistics just don’t support the idea that all of these people are lying.
So please, if you feel the need to start blaming victims and calling them liars and golddiggers, etc. – kindly STFU. It’s quite likely there’s someone sitting next to you that’s endured the same thing, and your doubt and ridicule will just ensure that they won’t feel safe sharing what’s happened to them.
It costs nothing to be kind.