Friday, December 1, 2017

#metoo

By now we have all seen the #metoo statuses on Facebook, the heart wrenching hashtag that may be accompanied by a simple statement, anecdote or possibly nothing at all.  But we all know that it means that person has been sexually harassed or assaulted.  The first day I saw this circulating, I simply posted #metoo.  No anecdote included.  This wasn’t because I didn’t want to go into detail; but simply because it has happened so many times that I couldn’t pick just one incident to speak about.  I know a long list of women who feel this way.  I had just accepted this to be our story as women.  Our truth.  Our collective experience.
I felt hardened to it.  What I mean is that when I reminisced on the infractions, large or relatively small, the pain just didn’t come.  I am a master of deflecting pain with humor.  I knew I was a victim, I just didn’t feel like one. That was until I saw an online news source post an article calling for women to fight back physically against their attackers.  I suddenly became nauseated and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I fell apart.  Anger and pain began to surface that I had never acknowledged before.

Within my first few weeks of college, my teammates and I went to a school sponsored dance on school property.  Many of the other sports teams were going and the older girls on the team thought this would be a fun way for us to meet people in a social setting and not have to be involved in the “party scene”.  I was dancing with a football player when one of his teammates came up to me, grabbed my waist and pulled me into him.  I did not appreciate what had happened, so I pulled away and walked off.  I then felt a slap across the back of my head.  He had hit me.  I turned, looked him in the face and pushed him.  I told him not to ever do that to me again.  He then closed-fist- full-grown-man-strength, punched me in the mouth.  My head snapped back and I tasted blood.  I took a few seconds to register what had happened to me and then we were brawling on the floor.  Not a ladylike reaction. But I wasn’t interested in being ladylike.  I was interested in letting him know that he couldn’t get away with treating me that way.  The police were called and he took off running.  Some male students subdued him until the police got there.  He was arrested (I assume) and I was taken to the emergency room. 

This incident is not what I cried about.  The fact that a man was so angry that I wouldn’t let him control my body that he felt the need to hit me is not what made me fall apart.  The scar on my lip that is permanently tender is not what I push down inside and ignore.  It’s what happened next that still breaks my heart.  It’s that when my coach took me to the assistant district attorney to discuss the case, my coach pressured me to drop the charges because “If something like this gets in the paper, it could be bad for the program”.  What I still feel to this day is betrayal in that even though the ADA told me not to feel intimidated and pressured because he would stand by my side as I pursued the case without my coaches’ support…I never heard from him again after our initial conversation.  What sickens me is the way the police kept trying to find a way to turn the attack into a domestic violence incident with their line of questioning because they wanted to sweep it under the rug as a personal issue and not a crime.   I recall the hollowness I felt when the head football coach came to me and said that this was a kid from a troubled home that needed extra support and that he felt he could help change his life if he kept him on the team and out of jail.  The only visible punishment given to my attacker was a forced apology to me in front of my teammates and he made the apology to another girl because he didn’t remember me.  He didn’t even know which one of us he had hit. 

What I remember to this day is the way my attacker’s teammates harassed me for the following year.  A rumor circulated that I hit him and attacked him and that he had done nothing to me.  I remember the helplessness I felt when I confronted one of the guys who witnessed the assault and he told me he would never tell the truth because the football program is “family” and they close ranks.   I was told I was responsible for the punch I received because I pushed him away from me after he hit me the first time. I was the victim of character assassination that followed me my entire college career.

My anger stems from the fact that nobody seemed to understand that this man’s initial grabbing, pulling and grinding on me was sexual assault in its own right.  I as a person, as a woman, mattered less than a football team.  I mattered less than a basketball team.  My well-being, safety and future mattered less than a troubled kid with a bad home life with multiple infractions.  I mattered less because he was a boy.  A boy that could play football.  I fought back as people are now suggesting, and it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter because nobody else fought for me.  No one fought alongside me.

Why are we calling on victims to physically fight back?  Why is the responsibility falling on us? Why aren’t we teaching boys what is and isn’t acceptable and appropriate behavior? And why aren’t we demanding that they are forced to deal with consequences when they cross the line?  Rather than asking victims to fight back once the wrong has been committed, can we all agree to fight back now, together, by teaching our children that this is not just a women’s issue, but a human one. #wetoo


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