It’s Time We Started Reporting

The confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh has blown the lid off of the issue of widespread sexual abuse/assault in our society. It’s like an ugly underbelly that is so uncomfortable and complicated that no one wants to look at it. It’s the open secret that many people know about, but refuse to address. I’ve been tossing around different ideas for solutions in my mind all week. I’m asking myself the same questions over and over without a solid solution. What is the #metoo movement actually doing for us? How do you change the expectation of silence that victims feel? How do you educate a public that wants to portray victims/survivors as liars? I have felt very demoralized by the state of our society and government that it almost doesn’t feel worth going through the fight. What makes the fight worth it? When I ask myself that question the answer is always clear. My kids deserve to live in a better world, a better society. It’s not about how I feel at this point. It’s about what I’m going to do to ensure they have better experiences than I did.

I posted my experience with assaults last week. It was liberating to do it. I was prepared for the feelings that would come with writing it all down. Feelings like shame, embarrassment, anxiety and nausea were all things I knew were coming with such a post. There were two particular feelings I was prepared for that did not come though. Isolation and the sinking feeling of being alone, carrying a burden all by myself. These were notably absent. Why? After posting I was flooded with harrowing stories from women and men that have experienced many of the same things I did. Comments and messages flowing in all day about how my story resonated with so many people. I was far from alone. I was far from isolated.

The following week I scrolled through my various feeds finding post after post of people sharing the abuse, assaults and harassment they have suffered in silence until now. I read countless reasons why people don’t report these experiences, every reason as valid as the last. Look at all these people. There are so many that decided that in order to survive they must bury the hurt, carry it with them as they navigate through life. We have to watch people debate the question, ‘how can a person remember this kind of thing 36 years later?’ I hate to answer a question with another question, but how can a person forget?

Everytime I see a certain vehicle, I think about it. Everytime my kids come to my room in the night because they are scared, I think about it. Just last night my husband was watching John Mellencamp speak and I thought about it. ‘Triggers,’ right? We hear that word tossed around, but what does it really mean? It means the countless things that happen in everyday life that should have no meaning, but do for you. That’s why I don’t like beef jerky, that’s why I don’t like camping, hiking or being outdoors. I hate sharks, Jurassic Park and Charlie Brown.

But of course, like all other survivors, I am forced to reconcile these irrational feelings with the life I have today. I have an autistic son that is obsessed with sharks and dinosaurs. Is this a sick joke or the reality of life post trauma? So I ask again, how does a person forget? This very same phenomenon is the reason why I believe that survivors of sexual assault/abuse are some of the strongest people walking among us. Because each person is forced to face their demons on a daily basis for years upon years. They learn to act normal, happy and unaffected. It may sound dramatic, but I think for many it’s happening. So, how do we address this convoluted problem that impacts so many people?

One of the solutions I believe is to start reporting to the police. It sounds so harsh. I can tell you from reporting to the police and going through a full jury trial myself that it is very harsh. It took four years of hearings and a three day trial to feel like justice might be served only to lose the case in the end. For a long time I felt like it was all for nothing. I felt like the only thing I got out of it was the fact that I would be able to tell my kids that often the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. After watching what happened to Dr. Ford it feels like there is no point or incentive to go to authorities with a complaint. I totally get that. I just can’t help but think that the only way to improve the system is to let the system know what they’re dealing with. I wasn’t sure if urging people to call the police was even a feasible solution.

So I decided to call the prosecutor that worked on my case. We talked for about 45 minutes about everything from Kavanaugh to my own case to the repercussions this will have on society. She said the #metoo movement has been helpful in educating the general public more about the subject which is a step in the right direction. I asked her, ‘What if everyone just started calling police with their stories? Whether it happened 50 years ago or yesterday. What would happen?’ Every case must be investigated. Every one. If a case doesn’t have enough corroboration it still gets documented. She said the good thing about that is that if other calls come in about the same person they can establish a pattern of behavior which makes a case stronger. She went on about how many very valid reasons people have for being silent, which are all very understandable. When she’s arguing a case she always spends time educating the jury about why this person waited and why it makes sense. It seems like such a big obstacle. But what if people did start reporting? What if we just inundate the people charged with protecting us with all of these stories that I’ve seen over the last week? Would that help anything? She seemed to think it might.

I wish there was a clear way to shift from this stage of shining a light on the problem to having real conversations about the solutions. Right now we have people debating about things they don’t know much about. Like why aren’t people reporting at the time of the incident? We all know why people don’t report. If you need more examples just look up #WhyIDidntReport and you will find an endless feed of reasons. I didn’t report my own abuse until I was 26 years old. Self care and survival is at the top of every survivors list, as it should be. There are always valid reasons for not reporting. But when do we move past these reasons and start reporting?

The answer will be different for everyone, but I hope the answer isn’t never. Policemen, investigators, lawmakers, counselors, social workers, child protective service workers, teachers, church leaders, daycare providers, babysitters and anyone else that has a hand in protecting our kids need to know the magnitude of this issue. If we continue the unspoken rule of not reporting then we will never hand these people the tools they need to raise the bar of society. I remember the first time I realized that my life was weird. I was sitting in 8th grade health class. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I remember feeling really confused. What was being taught didn’t match my life experiences thus far. What if in that moment there was a trained adult in the room. Trained to see when a child is confused. Would that have changed things for me or for anyone else?

By reporting, we force the system to look at all these different circumstances and figure out how to come up with solutions. It would force the system to define in clear terms what type of assaults carry what type of punishments. It would force the system to develop consistent guidelines on how to deal with all kinds of situations. Holding people accountable for their actions would hopefully improve the behavior of individuals over time. By getting real statistics, the school system, the foster care system, the healthcare system, the judicial system and various others can make real changes that could help support survivors instead of sweeping them under the rug. These types of changes are only possible if victims of assault start to report at a higher rate. I understand that this is such wishful thinking, but what if it was possible for our kids to live in a world where the basic expectation was to call the police in the event of an assault? I just want to figure out how to get there.

To the survivors that have made it to the other side and are able, I urge you to call the police and report what happened to you. It will be hard now, but in the long run it will help everyone. In order to solve the problem we must clearly define it. We must communicate the size and scope. The only way I can see doing that is to report the issues to the people that are charged with protecting us. Now, I say those who are ‘able’ because there are plenty of people who can’t. The perpetrator may be a family member, a friend or someone you love. You may have no support. Silence is about survival and survival must be remain you’re number one priority. I don’t want any survivor to think that not reporting is the wrong thing to do. There is no handbook for sexual assault survivors and I understand that. I understand if now isn’t the right time. Continue to trust your instincts. I just hope that everyone can at least plant the seed of reporting in your mind as something that might happen someday. Even that is a step in the right direction.

I want to reiterate how inspired I have felt by all the people that have shared their stories. It takes such bravery to do so and I hope that you continue spreading your strength to others. The more people that are willing educate others about this the more likely a much needed cultural shift will happen. I also want the people who don’t share to know that you are strong too. Strength comes in many forms. I’m confident the people in your life are better just for being around you.

I’m Against Kavanaugh. For Me, It’s Not Political.

I’m sick and tired of hearing the same talking points over and over again:

  • Why didn’t she report it at the time?
  • Why did she bring it up now? Isn’t the timing of this suspicious?
  • Look at this coordinated effort to smear his character!
  • If is was as bad as she says, why didn’t she call the police?

This is the same tired playbook that has worked for decades and continues to work today. Where’s the evidence blah, blah, blah. It’s been so hard for me to follow the news this week due to the Kavanaugh situation. It has been equally difficult to articulate why it has been so hard. So, the best thing I can do to communicate my frustration with the situation is to breakdown some of the assaults in my own life.

It started at home.

I was sexually abused repeatedly and continually as a child by my stepdad. From as early as I can remember to the day I moved out at 18 years old. It wasn’t always big things, but it was always there. I was trained to believe that my self worth was tied to how attractive I was to a man. Where did I land on the sex appeal scale? That’s all that mattered.

It wasn’t just him.

At twelve years old I was at a swimming pool with my mom. I was running around, jumping in the water and playing like kids do. My mom called me over to tell me that there was a group of older guys watching me. She then told me that it was important that I move like a woman when guys are watching me. You know, keep your back straight when you bend over, always pop a hip when standing still, bite your lip when they are looking, you know this kind of stuff.

Now, of course at the time I had no idea the advice she was giving me was abuse in itself. I trusted her to lead me down the right path. I began taking her advice right away. I stopped running, I stopped splashing, I stopped acting like an innocent 12 year old without even knowing it.

This wasn’t the only time I received coaching like this. In fact, this was probably as consistent as my stepdad’s abuse. I really didn’t figure out my life was weird until I was sitting in my 8th grade health class. I got a little older and one day I exploded at my mom telling her I needed him to stay away from me. I’m done with him! She said I was being silly and I needed to deal with it, he’s just a touchy guy.

People always criticize victims for not telling anybody.

Victims just need to tell somebody, right? Everything would be solved if they would just tell somebody when it happens. Well, I told somebody. I learned at a very young age that telling somebody, or complaining about it, was a reflection of my own weakness. This stuff is no big deal. You’re just being silly.

After this, I did just learn to deal with it. I started to believe that the only thing of worth I possessed was my sexuality. I learned to use it to manipulate people. I learned to use it to get what I want. I don’t think people realize how big of an impact these things have on a child’s brain. Not only did it permanently alter the way I thought about sexual things, but it impacted my entire world view. Nothing seemed trustworthy. I constantly questioned the motives of others. I didn’t trust my own instincts. I believed I was a terribly weak person that would never amount to anything. Those were the days, huh?

It’s not about rape or no rape.

Ok, what’s next? I was working at a small start up clothing company in California. I was sitting at my desk when a sales guy came down and whispered in my ear. And I quote,

‘Don’t worry, I have an 8 inch tongue and can breathe through my ears.’

Charming. It’s important to point out that by this time in my life I was very desensitized to things of this nature. My upbringing taught me to deal with this stuff. I felt sick, but this is what happens, right? This small, but growing company had just hired an HR person. They were doing interviews with all the employees. When it was my turn I told them about the comment this sales guy made to me. I didn’t really have an idea about what I wanted to happen, but I was asked if I had any concerns and I just blurted in out. I went home thinking I had done the right thing for the first time in my life.

Well, I got fired the next week. I asked why. The reason given was and I quote,

‘You just don’t fit in around here.’

Wow, that was quite a change of heart. Victims just need to tell somebody when it happens though right? ‘Tell the proper authorities and they will handle it’ is the mantra we always hear. Well, I told somebody and they handled it.

Sexual abuse causes long term impacts on everything.

By this time in my life I was angry, particularly at men. I worked retail and was disgusted by the lewd comments, the ‘accidental’ brush ups against my butt or boobs, the whole ‘I need a different size routine’ in the fitting rooms. I gave into the ugliness of this world. I was drinking every night and having frequent one night stands. I felt some kind of satisfaction treating sex like it meant nothing. I felt an odd sense of control. Until the day I lost control.

I was raped at a house party. It was a surreal experience. I’d heard stories of women getting raped and now here I was. I fled the house with my roommate trailing behind. I got into my car and started to drive. I quickly realized I didn’t know where I was and called a friend to figure it out. (this was before navigation was widely available) I got pulled over because I wasn’t using a handless phone. The cop came to the window and asked why I was pulled over. I told him I was using the phone because I didn’t know where I was and was trying to get home. He asked me why I was so frazzled. I said I was leaving a situation that was unsafe for me. “Have you been drinking?” he asked. I answered honestly, yes. At this point he raised his walkie talkie and said,

“Hey, we’ve got a girl over here walking the line. You should come over.”

I stepped out of the car and I didn’t have my shoes on. He looked inside and saw my shoes and said, “you better put those heels back on.” I put them back on obediently and did all the drunk driving tests while him, his partner and two other cops stood by chatting away about the night.

Now, I wasn’t a danger to anyone at that point, I had no weapon, I was being compliant. Why was it necessary to have four cops here? They just wanted a show. I was arrested and put in the back seat of the car. Only at this point did he ask me, “Do you want to tell me what happened tonight?” I looked down at my jeans and noticed the button and zipper were ripped. I replied no.

Part of the punishment for a DUI in California is completing a course about alcohol and drug use and mandatory counseling. I arrived at my first counseling appointment eager to get the process started. My assigned counselor was a male which I thought was interesting. I had only had female counselors in my life. He closed the door and started talking to me about how he had recently been divorced. He explained that he was really struggling and lonely. I told him I was so sorry, I know how he feels seeing as how I had just been through a divorce recently myself. He then offered up a deal. He would sign off on all my hours in exchange for oral sex. I was shocked. I played it off in the moment telling him I would think about it. I went home mortified and didn’t return to another class or counseling session.

I received a call from the director of the program a couple months later. He explained to me if I didn’t complete the hours I was going to jail. Could I explain why I wasn’t coming in? Was it a transportation issue? No it wasn’t. I told the director about the incident with the counselor citing it as the reason I wasn’t completing the program. He told me he was sorry to hear that. He then told me that he had received a similar complaint about this counselor a couple months earlier. The counselor was on his last chance, but he would have to be let go now. On his last chance?!, I bitterly thought to myself. Somebody said something and he got another chance. How many chances did he get and how many women didn’t say anything? Unbelievable.

Rape isn’t always strangers.

During this same time I found myself to be in a very abusive relationship. I was pushed around and raped on a pretty regular basis. When it would happen I would think to myself, I deserve this. This is the punishment I get for becoming the monster that I am today. Did I ever think to report him? Ha! Of course not! Everything in my life had proven to me that when you say something it just brings more pain. After a few months I decided I needed to do better for myself. I moved home to be with my dad, the one person in the world that I could trust.

And again, I told somebody.

The first time I ever told someone about the childhood abuse was when I moved home from California. I told my dad everything from the beginning, all the way to what lead me to sitting on this porch with him. It was emotional. It was hard for me and for him. He brought up going to the police about my stepdad. At first I said absolutely not. I have no proof, I have no desire to relive it, I’m ashamed, the police wouldn’t believe me. But it’s the right thing to do he said. He was right.

He drove me to the police station the next day. I sat in a room writing my statement. I was questioned about the allegations and why I was coming forward now so many years later. I answered all the questions and left the station feeling closure. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I felt good about doing the right thing.

Long story short, the state took my case. We went through a painful 4 year process that ended in a jury trial where we, me and my sisters, testified in open court. The defense strategy was to call me a liar, cite things in my past that made me look bad, painted me as not credible. Maybe we were coordinating this between the three of us to get some sort of revenge? There’s no proof. How come this report didn’t come sooner? Can you really ruin a guys life over a ‘he said she said’ situation? The whole nine yards. Sounds eerily familiar to the news right? And guess what? It worked. We lost the case. But hey, I told somebody. That’s all victims need to do, right?

Sexual assault/abuse is a real cultural problem.

Basically, I have figured out that if you’re on the receiving end of some kind of sexual abuse, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t when it comes to ‘reporting’ it. The impacts are the same whether you report or not also. There are still hardships I deal with to this day because of the things I’ve experienced making them extremely hard to forget. Trust me, I’ve tried.

The sad part about it all is that my life isn’t particularly unique in any way. This stuff is much more common than anyone wants to admit. I think when someone hears the word rape they think about some guy in the bushes jumping out to get an unsuspecting jogger. Surely the police are called in that situation, but that scenario is rare. The ones listed above happen to normal everyday people all the time. It’s an unfortunate reality for far too many.

People are shouting for a fair process when it comes to the Dr.Ford/Kavanaugh situation when, in reality, there is no fair process for stuff like this. What does a fair process even look like? It seems to me that a great starting point to a fair process is including law enforcement. If we don’t get more cases in the system there will be no reason for anything to change. Nothing is going to change until society views sexual assault as the crime that it is. We need to get to a point where the police are called in an assault situation as readily as when a burglary happens. But how does a child know to tell someone about their parents? Therein lies the problem. Ok, so I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is America needs to take a good look in the mirror and figure out how to change the culture surrounding sexual abuse because what we have going on right now isn’t working.

Here’s my last two cents. If I saw that one of these people I talk about here was going to be nominated to become a United States Supreme Court Justice, best believe I would send a letter to the Committee on Capitol Hill about it. So, do I think the timing of these allegations are suspicious? I’ll answer with a resounding no. It makes perfect sense to me.

I’m a Survivor of Victim Shaming. My #MeToo Moment

Victim shaming courses through the veins of our society. It comes out in different ways depending on the subject matter, but we’ve all heard it. It’s something I have personal experience with so I notice it particularly often. As I’ve learned to navigate Twitter it’s so apparent how widespread victim shaming has become.

Some of it is borne out of ignorance, some of it just seems cruel hearted and some seems like a genuine lack of empathy. Remember when a crocodile leapt out of a lake at Disney World and killed a two year old? I’ll never forget how I felt when I was reading comment after comment from people berating the parents for not watching, for being irresponsible, for not reading the signs posted. My heart went out to the couple. Their child was just killed in front of their eyes without a thing they could do about it. I felt awful because that could have easily been me.

At that time, my autistic son wandered away from me constantly. I would take him to open parks and he would wander for days. I could picture myself on that shallow lake letting him wade in because I had to choose my battles daily. Of course there was outpouring of love too, but why do we have both?

I can find countless, COUNTLESS examples of victim shaming within the #metoo movement. Although, the best example I can think of is my own. A few years back I went to the police to make an accusation of childhood sexual abuse against my stepfather. By 26 years old I had finally found enough courage, while suppressing extreme embarrassment and shame, to turn him in. I didn’t go into it hoping for a certain outcome or any expectations. I just did it because it was the right thing to do for me. After nine months the state took up the case. I made two recorded phone calls from the police station to confront him. Both calls included my mother accusing me of lying, trying to ruin her life and belittling me.

Long story short, I went through 4 years of hearings and testified for hours in a jury trial. As a sat on the stand being asked incredibly explicit questions, I saw his side of the court filled with supporters. So many they were overflowing into the standing area in the back. All of them familiar faces. My side had a few, but nowhere near his amount. My own family, my own mother, were hoping for my demise.

During trial, his lawyer made me out to be a liar, told the jury I had false memories and suggested that me and the other victims planned this out to seek revenge on him. She’s ‘just angry’, ‘not in her right mind’, ‘just because you were making poor decisions doesn’t mean that this happened to you’. These were all things my own mother testified against us.

Throughout different periods of time family members would say, ‘sweep it under the rug’, if I talked about this, ‘it would cause more problems’. His lawyer was smart. He even presented a letter to the court that was authored by the other victim when she was very young. This letter was written to my mother and said how much she loved her. The lawyer then ask the question, ‘if she was getting abused, why would she still feel love?’

He purposefully lead the jury of our peers away from challenging themselves to understand more. He knew the jury would fall into the comfortable place of not making a judgement, we are taught ‘not to judge’ after all. He knew they would ask themselves all the common questions that come up with victim shaming. Where’s the proof? How do we know she’s not lying? Why did she wait so long to say something? She must be getting something out of this. Although we had ample evidence, two recorded calls and two credible victims with very similar stories, we lost the case. The easy way out is to assume we are lying. It’s easy to belittle us so you can tell yourself we don’t need to be believed.

For people that believe that victims accuse others for attention or money you’re wrong. I’ve been through the entire painstaking process and I got nothing from it but shame and abandonment. Luckily, I’m not a public figure so I didn’t have to endure public scrutiny like the women of the #metoo movement have to endure. I cringe every time they are accused of having nefarious motives or just want money. I’ve been through the process and, trust me, no one wants to go through it. The one thing that I can walk away with is the confidence that I am strong enough to do the right thing regardless of how hard it might be. I applaud women that come forward and I hope that the #metoo movement can be the catalyst to a more empathetic society.

Non-consensual Immorality

Wow, it is absurd to use these two words together. I was reading an article about the Mormon churches conference this past weekend wondering if they were going to address the recent allegations against a former MTC president. This is where I ran into the phrase ‘non-consensual immorality.’ This phrase was used in a talk by Quentin L. Cook, one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This was one of the only references to sexual misconduct in the whole conference.

Using that phrase implies that the victim, you know the one that isn’t consenting to said act, in that moment is not being moral. So, to put it in more frank terms, the woman that gets raped committed a non-consensual immorality implying that she is no longer moral. Non-consensual immorality was condemned, yet he reminded the crowd that consensual immorality must also be condemned. In doing this, he lumped all participants, rapist/victim and consensual sexual partners, into the same sinful pile. This makes no sense.

I’m flabbergasted that a leader of such an influential institution would say something like that. It is the obligation of a moral leader to explicitly state that sexual assault has no moral bearing on the victim and that perpetrators must suffer the consequences of their actions through the legal system. They should encourage victims to come forward. They should make clear that the church is committed to investigating any and all accusations in order to keep their members safe from sexual assault. Instead, they made an unclear statement that is open to interpretation. They should have chosen to clear it up that following Sunday through a church wide statement read aloud by the bishop. But they chose to continue to muddy the water.

It seems incredibly tone deaf for the moment right now. It seems like saying this further ingrains the cultural impulse to blame the victim in assault cases. What does a woman have to do to have a credible allegation in the eyes of the public? How do we make a shift away from this when moral leaders are preaching to do the opposite?