One week during the last campaign I thought maybe we were finally getting somewhere. A series of stories were printed about women who had been sexually harassed, abused, and raped by Donald Trump. These women had found the courage to come forward. Next to those stories were ones of fathers, husbands, uncles, and sons who had begun to understand the burden their daughter, wife, niece, or mother had been suffering under for so many years. I saw a glimmer of hope that the rest of us could speak up, and maybe as a country we could come together on this issue, and men who sexually assault women would finally be recognized as the monsters that they are.
It was about 15 years ago when I was on a quiet beach, close to home, sunbathing on a beautiful late spring day when suddenly a man was sitting on my back, with one hand on my left shoulder holding me down, the other hand on his penis as he masturbated When he was done, he walked away over the dunes, leaving me lying there in disbelief at what just happened, shaking with terror that he might come back.
I was taken to the hospital which led to professional counseling. I had a gifted counselor who helped me understand that I did not cause this. That I had chosen to go to the beach on a quiet day was not a bad decision, that I was not asking for this to happen. I understood clearly that this was not my fault. This was not about me but about the man and the problem he has. This was an enormous comfort, and after three months of counselling, I started to feel like the woman I was before this happened to me. However, the counselor helped me to also understand that sexual assault leaves the victim with a trigger – most probably for the rest of her life.
Whenever anyone approaches me from behind, putting a hand on my shoulder, I am more than startled; I am frightened. I have several strategies that I have learned to use to calm myself, depending on how seriously the circumstances of the incident cause me to panic. These circumstances may recall the incident on the beach, or they may bring forward other incidents in my life when men have harmed me. For example, if I am walking along a quiet street and a car pulls up with a man asking for directions, I am liable to panic. This scenario happened when I was twelve years old walking to a friend’s house. When I bent down to give him directions, I saw that the male driver was masturbating while laughing at my shocked face. Being only twelve, I did not know what I was looking at, but I knew it was wrong, as I ran back to my house terrified, crying. Men have injured me like this in deserted hotel hallways, on empty subway platforms or crowded subways, in isolated supply rooms, on dates, and within both short and long term boyfriends. Each has left me with a trigger, each one has left me scarred, liable to panic, cry, to want to crawl into a dark room and hide.
Many who read this do not fully comprehend how this permanently changes the life of a woman. But dare I think that we are finally getting somewhere as woman after woman through #MeToo has come forward with their stories of the torment men have caused them? Not to nay their families, but society at large have begun to understand from these stories the anguish of their daughter, wife, niece, or mother. But I also know that’s other news stories may surface, and sexually assaulted women may be dismissed again. After all, I live in a country where Donald Trump became President.
But every time I see Trump’s face, I see the faces of the men who hurt me. Every time I see his face, I am twelve again, recoiling as I imagine his laughter at my shocked face. However, I think it safe to say, every time we, the women who have suffered this horror, see his face, we see the faces of all the men who, like him, got away with it. I think we are all going to vote in 2018. Every damn one of us.