Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Alyssa Milano’s tweet prompting her followers to reply with a simple “me too” if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. The response was overwhelming and set off a movement across the country and the world, with the intent of raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Many women – and men – came forward to share their stories and they were from all walks of life, not just celebrities but everyday people, willing to speak up and have their voices heard.
I posted “me too” on my Facebook page that day and I will share my story today, publicly, for the first time. For most of the past year, I have watched the #MeToo movement from the sidelines, admiring the women and men who found the courage to share their stories even if it meant painfully reliving experiences they would rather forget. I think for many of these individuals it was a relief to know that they were not alone, that sexual harassment and sexual assault are far more common than most of us ever imagined. We can quote statistics all day long but until you start putting human faces and real-life stories to the numbers, it is easy to deny or ignore the enormity of the problem. I know I personally was surprised and saddened by how many women I know that also posted “me too” a year ago. Given the events that have unfolded in the last year, I think more of us, myself included, are finally ready to come out of the shadows and share our experiences. Breaking the silence and the stigma around sexual harassment and sexual assault is a first step to changing the culture.
My #MeToo moment happened about 27 years ago. So why am I choosing to come forward now, decades later, to share my story? Because I’ve had enough of the victim-blaming and the lack of support for victims who are willing to speak up and share their stories. It was bad enough when the President mocked Christine Blasey Ford after her gut-wrenching testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (after initially calling her a “very credible witness”). But the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the recent interview with First Lady Melania Trump, in which she stated that women who come forth with accusations of sexual harassment or sexual assault need “…to have really hard evidence…show the evidence.” News flash, my dear First Lady, but most sexual harassment, sexual assault and attempted sexual assault doesn’t happen out in public. There are usually no witnesses to such events, and no physical specimens to collect if the victim is not actually assaulted. So exactly what evidence can a victim put forth when it’s two people alone in a room and one person’s word against another? It is exactly this kind of mentality – that no one will believe you if there is no proof – that prevents most victims from reporting the event…including me.
I was a freshman in college, excited about my new-found independence, living away from home for the first time. I lived in a freshman women’s suite in a high-rise dorm that housed upperclassmen as well. Within the first few weeks on campus, I met “J”, a sophomore who lived on the floor above mine. We hit it off pretty quickly and started hanging out regularly. We had a little flirtation thing going on – there was definitely some physical chemistry between the two of us. I was pretty naïve when it came to the whole dating scene – I didn’t date much in high school and the one relationship I had was mostly long distance and had ended mutually that summer before my freshman year. So needless to say, I was kind of excited that an older student seemed “into” me.
Up until that fateful night, “J” never exhibited any behavior that would have led me to feel uncomfortable being alone with him. Sure, he was in a fraternity and seemed a little full of himself at times, but he was also pre-med and serious about academics and his future career as a physician. I trusted him as he seemed like a good guy and there were no red flags or gut feelings like I’d experienced with some other guys I’d met around campus. So, I thought nothing of going up to his room one Friday night to hang out after a party. I believe he had been drinking. I had not as I did not drink in college. It got late, and as is common in college dorms around the country, I decided to crash there for the night. Not surprisingly, we found ourselves on his bed, making out. That was as far as we had ever gone before on a few occasions and there had never been any kind of talk about actually sleeping together. I was still a virgin and intended to stay that way.
Apparently, “J” had other ideas as next thing I know, he’s on top of me, trying to pull down my shorts and underwear. I remember feeling scared as he was clearly stronger than me. I said no multiple times and made it clear that I was not willing to have sex with him. I fought as hard as I could and am relieved to this day that he finally relented and rolled off of me. I don’t know what made him stop – I like to think that deep down he was a good guy and his conscious kicked in. Or maybe he was too drunk to keep fighting. Whatever the reason, I am grateful that it ended the way it did – that I can say I was a victim of a failed attempt at sexual assault. I have no idea what turn my life would have taken if he had succeeded.
I remember he was pissed, as was I, and so I left and returned to my room. The next day though, I went back to his room to confront him. I called him out on the fact that he almost raped me and yes, he had the nerve to call me a tease. He questioned why I stayed in his room if I didn’t want to sleep with him, accused me of leading him on. Needless to say, whatever friendship or relationship might have been developing ended right there. We saw each other in passing but never hung out again. I warned the women in my dorm to stay away from him.
Did I report this attempted assault to campus police? Sadly, I did not, as I feared the response would be much like his – that I would somehow be blamed or admonished for putting myself in the position to be attacked. I also rationalized my decision not to report based on the fact that he did not succeed – I considered myself “lucky” that I had escaped. I already felt traumatized by the event and honestly, I just wanted to forget it and move on. Can you imagine though if the tables were turned and I was the one that had tried to force him into having sex and he refused? No one would try to blame him for putting himself in a “precarious” position. If anything, he probably would have been mocked mercilessly by his fraternity brothers for NOT sleeping with me.
Hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony has made me think a great deal about my own experience as they were so similar. We were both able to resist our attacker and escape without physical harm. For her, and me, the experience is a memory seared into our brains. Brett Kavanaugh denies it ever happened, perhaps because he was too drunk to remember. I often wonder if “J” remembers that night – or me, for that matter – particularly because he did not think he did anything wrong. Going back to the First Lady’s comments, neither Dr. Ford nor I can produce “hard evidence” of what happened that night. In the end, it’s our word against his. It seems impossible to me for anyone in this type of situation to prove it happened.
I believe Dr. Ford because her story is essentially my story. She had nothing to gain from coming forward and subjecting herself to the public scrutiny of her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world, really. If she were out for publicity or monetary gain, she would have gone straight to the media from the start. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the prevalence of false reporting on sexual assault is between 2% and 10%, and those numbers are believed to be inflated due to inconsistent definitions and protocols. Thus, in the majority of cases, the odds weighs heavily in favor of the victim. So next time someone shares their story with you, believe her or him and thank them for having the courage to speak up.