For 20 years, I was an advocate for women and children subjected to rape and domestic assault. I trained other advocates. I gave speeches. I lobbied the legislature and helped change laws that made a woman’s reputation evidence of consent to sexual assault. I wrote articles, gave presentations to legal colleagues, served on boards and committees, taught college and law school classes. I explained, as did other advocates, that sexual assault was not the victim’s fault, not because of what she wore, where she was, who she was with, or what she was doing. Silence did not equal consent.
Since Donald Trump’s locker room talk was made public and numerous women came forward to tell of his groping and sexual assaults, tens of thousands of women have tweeted about their own experiences with “alpha” males. Experiences they kept silent about or only shared with one or two trusted friends – because they were ashamed and felt it was their fault, because it is considered normal, something women just have to put up with.
All of this brought back my own shameful memory of sexual assault when I was a young Congressional aide. In the backseat of a car driven by my boyfriend, I sat next to the Congressman’s campaign director. When he put his hand up my skirt and touched me under my panties, I said nothing. I didn’t scream or tell him to stop. I didn’t announce it to my boyfriend. I endured it. And I felt ashamed because it happened and because I didn’t stop it. Until a few days ago, I never told anyone. Until a few days ago, I never thought of it as sexual assault. I felt complicit. I never looked back on that incident through the lens of rape victim advocate. I never told myself what I told victims. “It’s not your fault.” Even as I write this, I still feel ashamed. Almost 40 years later. I wonder if the campaign director ever felt shame or remorse?
I’m telling about it now to support what other women have bravely revealed. We live in a rape culture, where men with power have license to use women for their sexual pleasure and as an expression of their dominance. It needs to stop.