Women Who Never Told of Sexual Abuse Are Now Breaking the Silence
By Karen B. Hunter
November 17, 2017
Warning! This column is very disturbing. It is a collection of firsthand accounts of women who were victims of sexual harassment, abuse and rape along the lines of the #metoo movement. They are stories of encounters that upended lives, even devastated lives. Be prepared; it is not easy reading.
We asked volunteers to step forward through referrals. Some who stepped forwarded referred others. The victims are anonymous but they are women who live on the Upper Cape.
While the column gives accounts from women only and women are certainly more vulnerable, men are among victims, too. We received a letter not long ago from a man who as a college student was a member of the College Light Opera Company. A director at the time forcefully pressed himself on him for a sexual encounter and denied him a role he wanted when he refused the advances. We did not publish the letter because it names the perpetrator, and newspapers, unlike Facebook, must be concerned with libel laws. Another story involves a young man who was hitchhiking many years ago and was picked up by an older man who was drinking and talked of forcing sex on boys. He was dropped off before the incident escalated, but it had lasting impact nonetheless.
The incidents related on the next page range widely in the age of the victims, in details and in severity. There is no thread that might lead to any sort of solution or resolution. But, with hope, publishing the accounts will help them and others heal, raise awareness, and allow for greater understanding.
Women are posting messages on social media to show how commonplace sexual assault, harassment and exploitation are, using the hashtag #MeToo to express that they, too, have been victims.
In the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct toward women by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano posted an invitation on her Twitter account asking women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to type #MeToo.
Her intention, she said, was to reveal the extent of the problem and to shift the focus from the perpetrators to the victims.
Within weeks, millions of women around the world have said, MeToo—on social media, with friends and families, in articles, and behind microphones.
“I don’t know a single woman who can’t say ‘Me, too,’ ” said Meaghan E. Mort of Marstons Mills, who was among a group of female victims of sexual abuse who confronted Barnstable County Commissioner Ron Beaty at the commissioners’ meeting last week after he dismissed #MeToo as a “bunch of nonsense.”
Ms. Mort’s message, and the confrontation itself, spotlight the fact that stories of sexual harassment and abuse—and some people’s dismissive attitude toward them—are a painful fact of life.
“The most significant thing about this powerful movement is that it is bringing light to the extent of sexual violence, assault, and rape in our culture,” said Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, executive director of Independence House, a Cape Cod-based resource, counseling, and advocacy center that works to address and prevent domestic and sexual violence. “These women have kept their stories to themselves and kept secret. It is a personal, painful thing for most people. But we really need to hear, listen, and believe these stories.”
“The more the issue is out in the open, the more women will come forward,” said Andrea L. Genser, executive director of WE CAN (Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking). “This is a significant issue on the Cape, and everywhere,” she added. “The MeToo movement is helping reduce the stigma.”
To that end, the Enterprise put out a call for MeToo stories from Upper Cape women. Just as on social media, stories flooded in.
The women’s names are not used. Here are their stories:
I was 16 when a huge man tried to sexually assault me in the back of a convenience store. I was able to grab a large bottle of Coke from the stand, hit him over the head, and escape. I consider myself lucky; many women don’t have a handy bottle of Coke.
* * *
I watched a friend groped by a man in an elevator who seemed to know exactly when the doors would open, as though he had done this many times before. He grabbed her breasts, the door opened and he was gone.
* * *
I was a 4-year-old in a snowsuit on a winter day when the 17-year-old boy next door lured me into his garage. When I emerged, my mother noticed that my snowsuit was not on right. I was able to tell her that the boy had taken my clothes off. When my parents confronted his parents, they said he was a “good Catholic boy” who would never think of such a thing. A short time later, he tried it again, but my mother intervened. Both times, his parents blamed me, the 4-year-old. I later heard that he got a position with the Sesame Street TV production in New York, where he worked for many years.
* * *
I was a young new hire at a hospital management position. A month into the job, the vice president of human services joined me as I was talking with a colleague. Out of nowhere, the vice president of human services said, “You look great. You must have had sex last night.”
* * *
During college in the days before cellphones, I once missed the last connecting bus to school on a cold, winter night, and found myself alone at a closed bus station. My one friend in the area wasn’t answering her phone. After a while, a polite young man came over and made conversation. Eventually, when I was truly cold and despondent and my friend was still not answering her phone, he said that his brother lived nearby and could put me up for the night on his sofa. By the time I realize this man had lied, we were in the bare bedroom of a funky boardinghouse and he had locked the door—an old-fashioned box lock required a key from both sides. I objected vociferously, but he was in control and he wanted sex. If I made noise, I wondered, would I be blamed for being so stupid? Was this maybe the price I had to pay for having nowhere to stay in the middle of the night?
* * *
I was an extremely shy, well-endowed, teenager, sought after in the neighborhood as a babysitter because I had experience with younger siblings. I have lost count of how many “fathers” laid their hands upon me against my will.
* * *
As an 11-year-old, two neighborhood boys, my playmates and buddies, suggested we go into a closet at one of their houses. They closed the door, jumped on me and attempted sexual assault. Luckily, they didn’t really know what to do and we awkwardly separated—me, traumatized; our friendship ruined.
* * *
While visiting with family at age 14, a same-age cousin tried to rape me at his friend’s house. I ran back to my aunt and uncle terrified and shaking. My uncle saw me trembling and hugged me, his hands exploring all the places he should never have touched.
* * *
At my first appointment with a gynecologist, while on the table with my legs wide open, the male doctor made sexually explicit comments and asked if I “needed any assistance.”
* * *
I was cat-called so often by men describing what they would like to do to me sexually, that I walked by groups of men with my hands over my ears.
* * *
At the bowling alley, my father’s co-workers would stalk me and isolate me against a wall to tell me how attractive I was.
* * *
I got a civil service job at a research laboratory center where members of all the armed forces worked. I was asked out on a date. We went to his house and he cooked me dinner. Then, he raped me anally.
* * *
I was 6 years old when my friend’s older brother and his friend dragged me into a garage. I pretended to think it was a game, but I knew instinctively that something was very wrong. My bravado lasted 30 seconds until I burst into hysterical sobs and begged them to let me go, which they did. I doubt they remember those 30 seconds; I have never forgotten the terror.
* * *
I was in Europe at an international gathering. While alone in the stairway of the building, two middle-aged men who were part of the event came over, pinned my arms behind my back, and covered my face with kisses. It was mild as such things go, but I couldn’t move my arms or get away. I was disgusted by their sense of proprietary ownership of my body and wanted to tell their wives and friends, but I thought it might have been seen as normal, or me asking for it. We are trained to think that way.
* * *
I escaped from the car of a would-be attacker in an area where no one else was around, ran to a closed car lot and lay terrified underneath a car, watching the man drive up and down the lot looking for me.
* * *
As a 10-year-old standing in a crowd during a school trip to an aquarium, I felt an adult hand insert itself firmly between my legs from behind. Shaking and red-faced with shame I turned around quickly, but the hand—and the adult attached to it—were gone.
* * *
I bought a Doberman pinscher with my rent money at age 26 after I woke up one night and found a stranger next to my bed putting his hand on me.
* * *
I was a legal secretary in our community and my employer declared that he was in love with me and literally chased me around his desk one day to catch me.
* * *
On a quiet weekend at my rural college when most students had gone home, three men tried to kick in my dorm room door late at night. If not for that sturdy metal door, I can’t imagine what could have happened. This was before cellphones and I was too terrified to leave my room to find help. It is hard to think about these experiences and realize how they skewed my life and changed how I viewed my safety in the world. I never assume a man can be trusted. Forty years later, my best friend’s sister was murdered in her own home by her own husband. It is just a matter of degree.
“I learned at an early age not to trust the illusion that men are here to protect us,” one woman said after relating her story.
“I never felt safe walking alone as a kid. Even as an adult, I have been on guard,” another woman said, echoing the feelings of so many women. “No strange man should ever engage a little girl in conversation alone, or put his hands on her. Ever. Ever,” she said after telling her story.
“I sat in the cold and wondered why I was so stupid, and why did it have to happen, and what else I could have done, and should I have gone to the police,” another women remembered thinking in the aftermath of a sexual assault.
Almost to a person, their final words were: “I never told.”
Instead, these women said they carried the shame, confusion, fear, and rage associated with sexual assault and the burden of keeping silent for fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or would be blamed, or that the telling would cause more upset within their families, communities, and professions than they were willing to cause.
“There is so much stigma,” Ms. Genser said. “The MeToo movement will allow more women to break the silence, and not to feel alone.”
“The first step in addressing any crisis is acknowledging that the problem exists,” said Jarita A. Davis, co-founder of Engage Falmouth. “Sexual assault and harassment are widespread in our society, and we must recognize how pervasive this behavior is in order to begin the work of preventing these patterns from continuing.”