If you’re a woman, and likely some of you are, there’s one question, repeated nearly hourly these past few weeks in the media, that is making your head spin.
“Why didn’t she report it?”
Indeed. Such a simple question. Why didn’t they report it? Surely - if it actually happened - they would have, right?
I decided to put this theory to the test. Recently, I posted this simple request on my Facebook page. ‘Women - comment here if you've ever been groped without your consent and failed to report it.’ I thought it would be a good way to begin a conversation about why women don’t always report. I had no idea what I was in for.
Within minutes, responses started pouring in. Most of the women said the first time it happened to them they were in middle school. So, ten to twelve years old. One woman reported repeated incidents, beginning when she was six. A close friend said her first encounter, a daily one with a camp counselor, was when she was only five years old.
Just a sampling of the responses -
“Camp- a guy took my hand and put it in his crotch and held it there tightly enough that it took me a few seconds to get free.”
“8th grade. Back of the science lab before homeroom by 2 boys in my class.”
“On a subway in 1986. A guy stalked me for a week and then stuck his hand up my shirt.”
“In the movie theater by the man sitting next to me. I had gone to see a matinee on my own. When I realized what was happening, he got up and ran. I was frozen in the dark theatre. Couldn't move or speak until it was too late.”
“Rockaway Beach. A man put his hand down my bikini bottom. I was in junior high.”
“Yes. More than once. I was full on sexually assaulted in my college dorm room and never reported it. I was drunk and he was a star football player. I was concerned with how he'd be treated. So backwards.”
“I was groped by a guy at the bus stop in Jerusalem, late at night. I was 19. He had a gun.”
That last one was me.
Lots of the stories repeated themselves. There were numerous accounts of girls and women being groped on the subway, the bus or the train. Of girls being assaulted in school. Of women being grabbed at their jobs.
The women who responded were not shrinking violets. I didn’t know all of them, but among the ones I do know, a quick count revealed 10 teachers, 7 Ph.D.s and 7 rabbis. There were at least 3 attorneys, and the same number of M.D.s and professional writers. The list included an architect and a school principal.
All these woman are successful advocates for themselves and others on a daily basis. So why, in the face of such vile behavior, have they remained silent all these years? Why did they neglect to speak out?
As children they were likely confused and embarrassed, their silence a piece of their willful forgetting. As adults, as professionals, they were aware that any such accusations invariably devolve into the type of he-said she-said that leaves them looking whiny and weak. Better to firmly reject and hope, even in the face of ample evidence to the contrary, that it doesn’t happen again.
Maybe we should consider sending Donald Trump a thank-you note. For being the grope that broke the camel’s back. For forcing so many women to finally speak out, so that they could drown out his nonsense.
Most poignant to me, was a message I received past midnight from an old friend who had posted about a particularly upsetting incident, then deleted it, deciding that she didn’t want to be so public. She wrote that, 20 years later, she was at home shaking with anger, at herself, that she had never reported it. Because even though none of it was her fault, she was the one feeling guilty.
And that’s how it goes, men. Women, nearly all of us, walk around every day weighed down by these accumulated injustices. feeling angry, and guilty, and angry at ourselves for feeling guilty. And the men who violated us are so free of shame that the denials flow like water, so smooth that we almost believe them. But only almost.