This blog sat in my “to be published” box for a few days until I chose today to hit sent, making it public for all to see. I needed time to run this past my editors, my wonderful adult children and spouse. They all agreed that “no potential job would look at you badly for posting” it. Here’s hoping that my youngest was right. What follows are my thoughts on a very personal issue.
Please bear with me as I do my best to keep this brief, but it is time for me to say that I have a perspective on the issue of sexual assault both in and out of the work place. At the age of thirteen, I was a victim of sexual abuse that lasted for several months. When I was a very young adult my supervising manager for a local restaurant where I worked pulled me into a closet and assaulted me at the company Christmas party. Lucky for me, a person looking for supplies opened the closet door and stopped the assault before it rose to a higher degree of violence. I have no hard evidence in the form of letters, cards, or DNA results to validate either of these two accounts. Nor do I know the party affiliations of the offenders. Such details have no bearing on the issue at hand.
I was raised with an understanding that I should be vigilant about my personal safety. In this atmosphere, it was made very clear to me that any girl/woman was a potential target of sexual violence, so much so that I believed that it was not a matter of IF such violence would occur but more a matter of WHEN. This normalized my impressions of sexual violence, especially as it related to women as a collective group. My view of the world was that at some point in time almost every woman would become a victim, and only the luck of the draw determined which women could emerge unscathed. I was not one of the lucky ones.
Sexual assaults were further normalized when friends, co-workers, and others in my close circle shared their own stories of abuse. Consequently, my abuse was indirectly exacerbated by the legions of sexual assaulters that abused those that I loved and cared about. These abstract wrongdoers functioned much like a multi-level web of victimizers that reinforced this message that sexual violence was to be tolerated in silence, simply because these victims unwittingly propagated and modeled the silent suffering of others, including me. When moving into adulthood, I was very careful when choosing whom to reveal any secret piece of the ugly, unsolicited, and illegal encroachments into my childhood and teen years. I did this primarily because I believed that coming out and proclaiming the actions of the abusers would somehow make me a complicit and willing participant to those actions. I also believed it would bring shame on my family because I lacked the strength to bear my burden in silence unlike other women I knew who seemed to possess superhuman abilities that otherwise failed to develop in me. I saw no advantage in coming forward to report my abuses, since every path available seemed to offer more pain and shame.
Until today I have never publicly made any issue about this very private pain. I do not seek any acknowledgment for outliving these experiences. I come forward with a strong belief that it is time, given the current culture that seems ripe for correction, to answer anyone who might question why women currently bringing accusations of sexual misconduct from years, long past, did not come forward the moments after the sexual violence occurred. I am a middle-aged woman, yet my maturity does not minimize the fear in coming forward when admitting that I was a victim of sexual violence; the consequences of which still resonate within me. Thankfully, the discomfort is lessened since I have come to recognize that only in coming forward will the damage caused by the normalization of sexual violence be addressed and disarmed, whether in the workplace or beyond. Each person must answer for himself or herself where to draw their own line in the sand.
For me, it is today. I choose today, to admit that I was a victim of sexual violence. I will hold my public officials accountable and will thoughtfully weigh and consider all claims of sexual impropriety brought against any publicly elected official who is charged to protect, enforce, or establish local, state, or federal policy, regardless of party affiliations and will consider the evidence when I vote. I will always promote an environment of safety in the workplace and I will report all workplace sexual misconduct for further investigation. I realize that not all people are victims, nor are all claims authentic. But I know the critical role that advocates play in arriving at the truth for those lives have been marked by sexual violence. I consider myself an advocate. I know that when I am silent I am no longer an advocate for the truth that seeks to address sexual violence. I realize that in the past my silence could be misunderstood as blindness to sexual violence. I refuse to be a willing participant in the normalization of sexual violence ever again. My silence ends today.