As stories have continued to emerge over the past two weeks shedding new light on the rampant experience women have with harassment and sexual assault, many of us have had to grapple with the issue of speaking up about painful episodes from our past or staying silent and quietly battling those ghosts that have now be resurrected by the media and haunt our daily thoughts. While neither choice is really appealing, if speaking out helps highlight the pervasive nature of this problem in our society and possibly allows more people to implement measures to curb future abuse, then you have to admit that is the better option versus being a complicit member of a society that has routinely turned a blind eye to degrading and indecent conduct exerted by those in a power position against those that are too young, naïve or vulnerable to defend themselves.
Among my peers, we all have stories dating back to our high school days about incidents of being groped on a train, or flashed, cat-called, etc. But the stories we normally don’t discuss are actually far worse– I personally knew of one friend that was raped in high school, and another that was set up by her date to be viewed by others (without her knowledge or consent) while they shared an intimate moment. These incidents, however, were quietly swept under the rug at our posh boarding school, and the men were never prosecuted. My senior year there, I discovered that a young teaching fellow was dating a senior student– technically I think that would have been statutory, but no one said a thing. The only real scandal that ever came to light was years later when it was discovered that one of our teachers (my advisor actually) had been collecting pornographic pictures of students, and I wondered then what would have happened if I had not turned down his offers to give me a ride home.
In college, with all the weekly parties and easy access to alcohol, many more incidents occurred again with little or no consequences to those that either took advantage of a person’s weakened state or spiked someone’s drink to purposefully render that person incapacitated. Trying to escape this scene by venturing overseas for a junior year abroad proved useless, as all of the women in my group fought off advances and inappropriate remarks from foreigners that repeatedly assumed all American girls were sex-crazed and “easy.” One of these idiots actually followed me home after a club one night in Madrid and grabbed my purse while I had my keys in my hand. Luckily for me, that key chain had a rape whistle that I started blowing, and he ran off never to be seen again.
I wish I could say the last 20 years have been incident-free, but that would be a lie. The reality is that many of us have just survived by focusing on moving forward while trying our best to laugh stuff off, but it really isn’t funny. Now as parents, many of us worry about our kids, and perhaps is that more than anything that is pushing us to speak up to try and put an end to this madness. Every single one of us has a right to our personal space and desire to enjoy our daily lives free of any degrading remarks or unwanted sexual advances, not just at work but everywhere.
They say you need to be the change you want to see. Especially if you have little eyes watching, you really need to model the behavior you want to see in the next generation. So now I too am done being silent, and that means I’m sorry to have to say #me too.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.