We’ve all heard this question…”Why don’t women tell?” It’s a common one, especially in the wake of allegations against our president-elect. I’ve seen, and partaken in, many highly charged discussions about whether or not those women were making the story up. “Why would a woman wait 30 years, just before an election, to tell her story? Seems fishy.” Sure, it’s possible they aren’t telling the truth. We all know that some women do make up stories, which is unfortunate. However, it makes perfect sense to me as to why they would tell their stories now. I know because, well… I waited 31 years to tell mine. Well, one of mine. Yeah, I’ve got more than one…which I think might be pretty typical, unfortunately.
See, these women all came out right before the election because that just so happens to be when the audio tape came out. You know, that “grab em by the pussy” tape. That’s when they were validated. I can hear their inner voices now, “That’s exactly what happened to me”. I’ll bet they’ve spent all these years thinking badly about themselves…ashamed, guilty, second-guessing…”am I over-reacting? Did I lead him on?” They often end up feeling disgusted with themselves, “how could I let that happen?”, and the last thing they want is for other people to know about it. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but those emotions are really what a lot of women feel after sexual assault. It’s the brain’s bizarre way of making the event easier on you. If you minimize it, or blame yourself, it makes what happened to you a bit more palatable. That is, until something happens and you realize the truth.
One of my less traumatic stories only took 3 years to tell. I had received a gift certificate for a massage as a birthday gift from my sister. Turns out, the massage therapist was a former co-worker of mine, someone who I’d heard was let go for sexual harassment. I never really knew all the facts to the story, so even though a red flag appeared when I saw it was him, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I was already harboring my almost 30-year-old, much bigger story, so I was in no position to stand up for myself. Anyway, the massage starts out normal enough. Half way through, I roll over, under the sheet, for him to work on the front. You know, they rub the front of your legs, your arms, face, shoulders, breasts…oh wait, that’s right. Breasts are not normally part of a therapeutic massage. Unfortunately, lying naked in a corner office on the second floor of an isolated building while harboring 30-year-old secrets of sexual abuse does not make one feel very strong. I hightailed it out of there as soon as it was over, just wanting to put it out of my mind.
I kept this story to myself for 3 years. Do you know what made me decide to tell, after all that time? A news story. I read a news story about him being charged with inappropriately touching a woman during a massage. The police were asking anyone with more information to contact them. Should I contact them? It’s not like he raped me. That’s right, I seriously believed “groping” was not sexual assault. While working at the hospital, I remember telling another nurse the story I read in the paper, and describing my massage event with her. As I was saying, “what if I say something and I’m making a mistake…what if it was just part of the massage?” , one of the doctors overheard, and interrupted me. “Are you kidding? A man touched your breasts and you’re wondering if it was just part of the massage? Have you ever seen me touch a woman’s breasts during an examination? No, you haven’t. That’s because I’m not a gynecologist”. Wow. I felt dumb, yet validated. I ended up calling the police station and giving my statement. I never did hear what happened to him. I’m sure he got off on some technicality, or some lenient judge, or any of the other reasons men get to keep doing these things to us.
Like I said, that’s just one of my stories. That’s the least damaging one. Just groping. Compared to the other things that have happened to me, it seemed silly to even talk about it, except really, I know it’s not silly. It’s serious. Damn serious. It’s too bad that all my previous sexual trauma normalized this experience, and made it seem silly. It’s too bad that groping, sexual comments, inappropriate touching…all the “minor” unwanted sexual assaults are so common in society that it really is no big deal for people to hear about it. It’s accepted as something that men do. Women who complain about it are often brushed off, not believed or thought of as drama queens or prudes. Who wants to go through that, after having gone through the damn assault? No one. And the thing about telling is… no one will ever look at you the same again. Even if they don’t believe your story, you won’t be just you anymore. You’ll be “the woman who lied about being groped”. I’ve just started telling my story. No, not the massage story. The bigger, dirtier, more traumatic story from my childhood. The hardest part about telling was wondering what people…what my friends… were going to think of me. 30 years of shame led me to assume everyone was going to think of me as dirty, as disgusting…as shameful. They didn’t. But they do look at me differently. I’m not just Jami anymore. Now I’m Jami, the childhood sexual abuse survivor. People can’t help but associate that with me now. I don’t blame them. If you’d heard the story, you would too. I spent 30 years telling myself a different story. I spent 30 years trying to create a new person…”Fake Jami”…someone who was not dirty, not insecure, not weak. Once I shared my story, the jig was up. People were going to know I was a fraud. It was really,and I mean REALLY hard to share my story. It took months of intense therapy to get me to the point where I could say it. I can try to explain it here as much as I want, but honestly, if it hasn’t happened to you, you probably won’t get it. And that’s the problem right now…people don’t get it. Half the country doesn’t get it. They don’t get what it’s like to go on Facebook and see a meme making fun of the accusers. They don’t get what it’s like to have your sexual assault compared to 50 Shades of Grey. It’s a fine line between standing up for yourself and being the “annoying feminist friend”. So, I can shut up, stay out of it and let things stay the way they are, or I can speak up and try to change even a tiny bit of this rape culture that our society has normalized. Guess which one I choose?