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A Part of My Twenties

When strange men rubbed their erections against me on a crowded subway car, or masturbated themselves in front of me when the car was empty, I just pretended it wasn’t happening. I figured that’s what I got for living in the city. When they grabbed and groped and said belittling things to me while I was working, I figured that’s what I got for serving food and drinks for a living. When an old classmate who hadn’t given me the time of day in school, grabbed me Trump-like by the vagina because I was “looking good these days,” I figured that’s what I got for sharing a cab with a drunk guy. When a male director flattered me and pretended to be interested in my talent, then in front of a group of other men, verbally picked apart my body like a bowl of half-spoiled fruit, then in private exposed himself to me, then when rejected, raped me, I figured that’s what I got for being an actress. When a group of young men surrounded me on the sidewalk and threatened to take me into the park to gang rape and kill me (mercifully, another man came along and scared them off), I figured that’s what I got for being out after dark.

I’ve told almost no one about any of this. These regular humiliations were squelched. Just pushed down so I could move on. I figured that’s just what happens, and I imagined that a lot of my girlfriends were doing the same thing, but we never talked about it. It wasn’t just the catcalls on the street, or men telling us to smile. It was sexual assault. Day in and day out. How I wish I could go back and tell my twenty-something self to call out every offense for what it was: harassment, abuse and assault. And rape. I never used the word rape until recently. It was too horrible to admit, even to myself, that I’d allowed that to happen.

They say that one in four college girls will be victims. I am certain that number is low because I know most of it is never mentioned. Young women are so afraid to be seen as angry or shrill, or to start a lot of trouble. Or they don’t want to be seen as victims. Or worse, to be re-victimized by not being believed, or tried like a Salem witch to determine the ways in which they were personally responsible for their own humiliation. They just don’t want to put themselves through that. So they say nothing. They do nothing. Because rape culture is very real. It infiltrates every part of our lives, and it’s intimidating. This is what people don’t understand when they say “Why didn’t she report it at the time?” If others are like me, they don’t even see that as an option. You just move on. You’re trying to maintain some sense of dignity, so you brush yourself off and move on.

I wish I could go back and prosecute every man who ever belittled or dehumanized me. I am ashamed that I didn’t have the will to do so at the time. But I have a daughter now, and she’s got to know that this is not “just what happens.” It’s not okay. It’s not normal. And the many good men who don’t treat women this way, need to speak up for us against those who do. My friends and I had felt we had no recourse, nowhere to turn. Let’s change things for our daughters.

— Survivor, age 42

2 comments

  • Alissa Ackerman
  • Anonymous

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