Amidst all of the sexual harassment and assault allegations flying around, society is letting us down. We like to think that coming forward is progressive and going to bring change, but then we read the comment boards and our hearts sink.
“It would be more believable if they said something ten years ago.”
“She could have stopped all the other abuse if she came forward initially. It’s her fault the others after her suffered.”
When I was in high school, I got pretty drunk while hanging out at a friend’s house with one of our male buddies. He was into me and made it pretty well known. He wrote me love letters which were cheesy but cute, and was always giving me (what I assumed were) compliments in Italian. I wasn’t attracted to him like that, but that night I had a lot to drink and wasn’t thinking clearly. I remember making out with him while watching TV but the feeling of unease that women know all too well came up and so I stopped.
My friend and I went to her room, changed our clothes, and went to sleep – her in the bed and me on the floor. I’m not sure what time it was when I woke up to fingers inside of me. I was laying on my stomach with my sweatpants pulled down, and paralyzed with fear after realizing my male friend wasn’t the only one there on the floor with me. While my girlfriend slept in her bed, her younger (but much larger) brother came in. Together the two young men took turns violating me. I laid there trying not to cry, move, or make a sound. I just couldn’t. To this day I can’t explain why I couldn’t move, but I’ve been told it’s a survival instinct. Play dead.
We women, we’re such teases right? I would accept the praise from this friend and laugh it off because I was afraid to completely ruin a good friendship if I told him I wasn’t interested. I think a lot of women do this. I’m currently doing it with a co-worker who likes to make comments about my breasts. My female friend allows her husband’s male friends to slap her ass when they’ve been drinking. She admits it makes her wince. A student who’s older male professor makes unwarranted comments about what she “probably” does with her evenings instead of studying.
As adults we may worry less about losing friends, but we now worry about the threat of retaliation. With cases of harassment, we have to weigh taking it and being uncomfortable, offended, or scared in the moment, with what could happen should we attempt to stop the behaviour. Most women have experienced this choice and weighed the risks.
I worry if I come forward with names and details, one of my abusers – either current or past — will try and ruin me. I worry that killing a man’s reputation may result in my house burning down in the middle of the night. Because you never know how someone may value their ego, especially after you label them a rapist.
We pray they won’t repeat their actions if we don’t come forward, but statistically they will. And we carry the guilt of putting our family’s safety over the safety of another’s. We justify that the lives of our children are worth more than the innocence of the next woman. And we feel like absolute shit for thinking those thoughts but hope that the other victims would agree. That mentality helps nobody but we feel absolutely trapped by it.
So why don’t women come forward sooner, or at all?
Because when we do come forward, the likelihood of us being believed right from the start is already low.
Because sometimes it takes the courage of a woman who is braver than we are to crack the glass first.
Because we’re already told we’re the weaker sex, and despite all the feminist movements surrounding us, we know we often aren’t physical matches if the man loses it on us.
Because unless many other silent women also come forward, we have little ground to stand on.
Because it’s just #lockerroomtalk, right?
Because they don’t care that we’re uncomfortable, offended, or scared.
Because those women are so conditioned by rape culture they make excuses for harassment when it even happens to them.
Because even with video evidence admitting to assaulting women, Donald Trump is still president, and most of us don’t have any evidence at all.
Because it’s not just about our careers and reputations. We don’t cross the street at night to avoid the lone man because we’re afraid we may lose our source of income or our friends. We’re afraid we may lose everything.