Why women don’t tell

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?

 

speak-your-truth

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Why women don’t tell”

  1. Friends may view you in a different light, one with new appreciation of just how special, strong and indomitable you are. They are most likely in awe that you survived such things yet courageously power through. They might also wonder if they would have the guts to do so if it had happened to them.
    The shame and dirtiness is not yours to own and always on the attacker. You will chip away those feelings hardened on from time holding in the secret shame of another, like chipping away barnacles to the beauty underneath.

    1. I know. That’s what most of them say to me. I feel guilty when they say it, because I don’t feel like I deserve to be called special and strong. I know, I know… I shouldn’t feel that way. I’m working hard on not feeling that way, but it’s easier said than done. My intellect understands, but my emotions…my superego…those are a different story. It’s really hard to get your emotions and mind in synch. I think chipping away at the barnacles is going to be lifelong work…

  2. This is so well written–thank you for sharing your story! I’m so sorry to hear what you went through (and to think that it was just one of more examples of sexual assault in your life?!) All the emotions you described are exactly right. There IS this tendency to shift blame inwards—even when I tell the story of what happened to me when I was on my bicycle, I have this weird habit of guiltily explaining that, yes, I was alone and, yes, the sun was starting to set. The reality is–being alone and the sun setting is NO excuse and does not make me culpable for behaviour like that! So, what you’re describing rings true. I also think that not very many women are going to feel like it’s possible to go after a billionaire businessman, a celebrity. Something like that would go public and FAST and we’ve all heard about the death threats the women that went after Trump during the election have faced. But–when something as important as the presidency comes along, I’m sure these women felt like they HAD to speak out. I just don’t understand how the majority of the country was MORE willing to believe in a conspiracy among twelve women to go against Trump than they were to believe the man just has a problem with touching women….

    1. Honestly, this is the reason I’m only sharing this particular story. It’s so mild, I don’t really care if people don’t believe me or think I should have done something. I’m not ready to share my “big” story on here, because I’m fearful for the reaction of some of my family. It’s going to be messy, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. How can I ever truly be ready? I probably won’t ever be…but I know I’m going to tell it. Once you open that box, those stories just don’t fit back in anymore. So…it’s coming….

  3. I love that quote- “Speak even if your voice shakes” and I applaud your courage on speaking out on this. I was also abused as a child and didn’t tell anyone my story for several years. The lies shame tells us can be so strong- that it was our fault, that we won’t be believed… but I’ve found that bringing it into the light does a lot to destroy their power. Healing is certainly usually a long, slow process but this is an important step, and I appreciate how you explain why sharing our stories can be so difficult. I’m sure it will help others to understand.

    1. Thank you for such an understanding and validating response. I’m trying to find my way in all of this…wanting to tell my story, but not to the point of it hurting others (family is having a hard time dealing with emotions brought on by “me”). I know I just need to have faith that I am on the right path, even when it feels as though I’m walking it alone. I know I’m not, but it sure can feel that way, at times.

      1. …and you were correct, your reply was in my spam queue. Happens at least once a week and I can’t figure it out. I tried to respond to your comment on it on your page, and it was denied. Quirky tech things I need to learn on here!

  4. Happened to me as an adult, still can’t even type the word. And yet I tell myself it wasn’t a big deal. I was asleep for most of it. I thank you for sharing this, Jami.
    Your story would be a great benefit to many, but you have to be ready. I wouldn’t want to see it make your life worse. I understand how heavy the guilt can be, even when we’ve done nothing to deserve it.
    I’m studying to be an editor. When and if you’re ready to put your story together, please contact me. I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.
    bacamjoly at gmail dot com.

    1. First off, I’m sorry it happened. And I’m sorry you are telling yourself it wasn’t a big deal. I get it, but I’m still sorry. It’s amazing, (yet pretty sucky) how many women I’m finding on here that can relate to me. I came across you because of a post on publishing, yet here we are, talking about “it”. My tribe is growing, for sure.

      Second, thank you for your offer. I’ll be sure to let you know if I ever figure my life out enough to do this. There’s still a lot of pain…not just me, but people close to me. I don’t want to make anyone suffer just for me…I’ve got enough guilt as it is. Peace:)

  5. I attended a number of masterclasses on non-fiction at a writer’s conference about six weeks ago. Almost all they talked about was exactly that: how will writing about my experience affect my family. How will my friends take it. No matter what the topic, from memoirs to sports, and this was because a lot of what is written in non-fiction comes down to opinion.
    If you ever find an opportunity to attend such a thing, even if you’re still not sure you can or will write about your life, I encourage you to go. It will give you a new perspective from which to move forward.
    In case my email address gets lost in the shuffle, you can always find it on my “about” page on my blog. Please feel free to contact me any time. 🙂

    1. I can’t believe this comment ended up in my spam folder…as I just had chills reading the link. When she talks about the harassment coming from the CEO and “who do you report it to?”, that rings true with so many women. CEO or not, I think a lot of us have felt there was no one we could report it to. Abusers are powerful, no matter what they do for a living. The dialogue our country is having right now is painful, heavy and uncomfortable, but I’m so glad it’s happening. Thanks for posting…

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