Trapped by fear—my Me Too story
It happened at work. It was another late night since I typically worked until 11:00 p.m. He grabbed my ponytail—an act he had never done before, as his sexual advances were typically spoken, and not a brute display of physical force.
“Does your boyfriend play with you like this?” he said, hoisting my head back.
He—let’s call him, John—had been badgering me to leave my then-boyfriend for months. “I could do more for you,” he would say to me. Even worse was when I would catch him staring at me; I could feel his eyes stripping away my clothes, a stare all too familiar to many women.
I thought it would die out after a few weeks of rejection. Instead, it got worse.
When he snatched my ponytail, he pulled me towards him, and placed my head right by his mouth. He held me there, and I froze up.
I was 19 years old, and had dealt with catcalling and suggestive remarks before, but I could always walk away.
I couldn’t with John; he had my hair wrapped around his fingers.
After he forced me to answer his question, he released me and went back to working. I was shaken, but the thought of my shift ending soon pushed me onward. I told myself I’d talk to my manager about what had happened; surely, he would listen and fire John. Except, my manager had left to fetch supplies. The only other co-worker went to the back of the store to clean dishes, leaving me alone with John.
And so, John saw an opportunity and took it.
It’s all a blur now. Much of the time, it feels more like a half-remembered dream than reality.
At first, he cornered me against the fryer. He further pressed me against the machine, securing me between him and the metal with the full weight of his body. His strength, as well as his smug persistence, wouldn’t allow me to wriggle out of his grasp.
I went wholly numb, but I could feel his eyes on me, as I had many times before; they never left my face, even when he leaned in closer to my lips.
I don’t remember the exact moments after that. I locked away most of that memory. Either he got off of me, or I somehow squirmed away; but, I do recall how violated and ashamed I felt—at myself.
That night, I walked home alone, sobbing. I had to work with him again that week.
Unfortunately, my story is not uncommon.
In America, one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Young women are especially at risk for sexual assault, with female college students being three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Men are also affected by sexual violence, with one out of every 10 rape victims being male.
Sadly, it’s not a surprise that there’s an average of 321,500 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
And so, the Me Too campaign was born—but not recently. In fact, it was started over a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke. The genesis of the movement was to help young women, particularly women of color, who had survived sexual violence. In the wake of sexual assault allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, the Me Too movement resurfaced, bringing awareness to a societal epidemic that has continued to fester in our nation. Now, the Me Too movement has spread to other countries, including Italy and France, and continues to help victims.
The sad part about this, though, is that sexual assault victims still have to speak up to raise awareness of this issue. In truth, it shouldn’t be on the victims to share their personal accounts to convince their relatives, friends, and representatives that this is a festering societal infection.
For decades, much of the narrative has centered on how women should protect themselves from predators through attire, behavior, and weapons. We’ve been told to not dress provocatively in public. We’ve been told to carry pocket knives and whistles to fend for ourselves. We’ve been told to monitor our kindness as to not “lead on” other men.
Those suggestions are naive and outrageous.
On the night of my assault, I was wearing black slacks and a frumpy polo shirt that reeked of french fries—and it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was wearing baggy pajamas or a skin-tight dress. Sexual assault is largely about exerting dominance over someone, and that’s what John, and many other predators like him, get a high off of: overpowering their victim.
Instead, the narrative should focus on how to educate young people, particularly men, to treat others with respect and to not look the other way.
We need men to stop protecting their predatory friends, relatives, co-workers, and peers, and speak up when they see troubling behavior.
Many sexual assault and rape survivors don’t talk about their personal experiences, and that’s absolutely okay. I talk of mine since it helps me come to terms with what happened. I believe it’s also important to let other victims know that they aren’t alone in their struggles—as I felt I was alone for a long time. Since I told others of my experience, I have heard shocking accounts from many relatives and friends who have dealt with sexual assault and the lack of action taken against the perpetrator.
The day after my assault, I told my general manager what had happened. She didn’t fire him. Instead, she said she’d make sure we don’t work on the same shift anymore.
Except, she lied. A short time later, I walked into work, and there he was. That night, I had to work alongside him. Later, he got caught stealing less than $100 from the safe, and she immediately fired him—no questions asked.
Sadly, this lack of accountability is all too common. Sexual assault perpetrators are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. Even if a rapist receives a sentence, it’s too lenient sometimes, as was the case with Brock Turner, a criminal who served a three-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman. Why such a short sentence? Well, the judge was concerned about the effect the conviction would have on Turner’s life.
Victims have told the world their stories. They’ve shared the intimate details of their traumatizing experiences. They’ve relived those nights time and time again.
Now, it’s time for men to also step up and be outspoken allies.
If you’re a sexual assault victim who needs assistance, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline.