I want to address the editors around the globe who are currently sifting through the very personal #MeToo and #MeAt14 narratives pouring into your purview. We, the victims sending you our accounts, need you to remember that, while rejection is not unexpected, an editor’s response can heavily impact a survivor’s recovery process.
I base this advice on my own experience this week with an editor’s hollow one-liner rejection response to my first attempt at sharing my story with the op-ed section of a major newspaper.
“Thanks, but we’ll pass on this one,” was all she wrote.
Maybe it was a case of editor fatigue. I admit I’m late to the process that has likely spawned tens of thousands of op-ed submissions. I was delayed by the fact that all my hard-won bravery deserted me in the face of the memory of what happened to me at a Berkshires theater camp in 1979 when I was 14.
I was hunkered down like a surfer diving under a monster wave for safety. But there are just too many stories breaking for me to keep holding my breath and my peace. I found it impossible to resist the force of nature the movement has become.
The newest hashtag #MeAt14 was my tipping point because, as I said, that was the age at which I was assaulted.
However, when I did finally risk sharing my story after 38 years, I found I wasn’t prepared for such a tone-deaf rejection email from a female editor.
Being rejected for publication is a part of every journalist’s life. That’s fine. Perhaps the piece was just lousy. But pieces of this particular nature require a more thoughtful response. Tough as my journalistic hide is after 30 years in the business, I’ll admit to a rare moment of nausea and stinging humiliation as a result of this one.
Yet, as those feelings dissipated they were swiftly replaced with a creeping sensation of dread that other editors might be on the brink of responding in a similar manner to victims who could be more fragile, even breakable.
By that I mean my adopted daughter, age 20, who we brought into the family at age 17. She was sexually assaulted at age nine. My girl’s open about this with friends. I wanted to encourage her to take a step further towards healing by sharing her story publicly.
I went first to show her it would be safe and empowering.
Now I’m imagining that curt editorial reply coming into my daughter’s email, hence this column.
I may have failed utterly to stand up for myself for the past 38 years, but my daughter is a different matter entirely.
While I hope that this was just an isolated case of an editor being insensitive, I can’t risk that it’s not.
In the piece I submitted, I put myself out there, revealing that at age 14, when I tried to stop the camp counselor from undressing and fondling me he shut me down by saying that what he was doing to me wasn’t assault because I wasn’t pretty enough for that.
The man, now 80 and living in Great Barrington, MA, was 42 at the time. He lured me into his cabin on the pretext of helping me improve my acting, seated me on the bed for a “massage” to relax me. It was a back rub that he turned into a front rub under my shirt. He gave me “juice” laced with something pungent and inebriating that made it harder to extricate myself from the assault.
After telling him to stop he shot back, “What? You think I’m coming on to you? Let me tell you, little girl, you’re not my type. I only go for pretty girls and you’re still chubby.”
Between the fear, my naiveté, the drink and his lies the man got me to buy into the insanity that its possible to not be assault-worthy.
As a result of that damage, while reading the editor’s reply I briefly wondered if she would have given the same response to a beautiful famous person.
Maybe the editor was just saturated with stories about 14-year-old victims with news and op-eds filling up with revelations about 14-year-olds being assaulted.
Leigh Corfman, now 53, revealed that GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14.
In addition to Corfman, Actor Anthony Rapp alleged that Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him in 1986, when he was age 14.
Swimming legend Diana Nyad, who swam 110.86 miles from Cuba to Florida at age 64, wrote an op-ed about being repeatedly sexually assaulted by her swim coach. “My particular case mirrors countless others,” Nyad writes. “I was 14. A naive 14, in 1964.”
Last week Pennsylvania authorities charged Omar Harrison, of Cheltenham, 42, with raping a 14-year-old girl while he served as the dean of students at Harrity Elementary School, the Inquirer reported.
What I want editors to grasp is that after an assault, for too many of us, the only power we may truly have left is the telling of our story. While your publication may not have the capacity to publish them all, your staff needs to summon the volume of humanity it takes to say that in a way that doesn’t add to our soul crush.
Writing my story took 38 years, a national movement and two trending hashtags to bring to the surface.
So maybe you could slow your editorial roll long enough to say something that indicates that reading it, that writing it, meant something.
What should she have written? Maybe something as simple as, “Thank you for sharing your story. We appreciate what it must have taken for you to come forward. Unfortunately, we are unable to publish it at this time.”
Until last week, at age 52, the only person I ever told was my mother, a decade after the fact. Until last week I hadn’t told my husband of 29 years.
I didn’t tell because I believed the predator’s lie that nobody assaults girls who aren’t pretty and thin. I couldn’t prove it had happened. I was afraid of being humiliated by someone belittling my experience because it wasn’t rape. It was a 42-year-old man taking the clothes off a 14-year-old girl so he could take inventory in Braille. As time passed I didn’t tell anyone because too much time had passed.
So when someone finally comes up for air in a sea of fear, doubt and self-loathing we don’t need the first person we tell handing us a boulder.
We need editors to stay the course of covering these testimonies because every wave of stories erodes the places sexual predators have to hide.
I’m grateful to every person who’s come forward as well as to every editor who’s accepted a story or declined with grace and style.
Hopefully those considering our stories for publication will take that extra moment’s effort to edit themselves with care so they remain a part of the solution.