My second week of high school, a boy forcibly shoved his hand down my shirt and grabbed my breast. It was first period health class. I was going through my notes before the teacher arrived in preparation for our first quiz. I was wearing blue jeans and a beautiful new crocheted peasant top. I picked it out for the first day of high school, but decided to save its debut for another day.
I remember discretely sucking the remainders of breakfast from my braces, covering my mouth so no one would see. The chatter amongst the room was light. The announcements were still blaring through the speakers. A popular boy in my class caught my eye from across the room. I smiled meekly and returned to my notes. I could feel the blush invading my cheeks. A moment later, I felt an arm pressing down on my shoulders violently and a hand ripping down my shirt, wiggling its way under my bra. My arms flailed, trying to grab at any piece of my attacker.
Once his hand found its intended target, he squeezed as hard as he could. “Got ‘em!” he shouted victoriously, raising his arms above his head. I shuffled to straighten my new shirt, the neck now stretched out wide. I used my long blonde hair as a shield to hide my face. The teacher arrived moments later. I choked down the sting that spread from my face to my chest. I lifted my eyes to the chalkboard and allowed them to wander over the faces of my classmates. No one would meet my gaze. They looked through me like I wasn’t there. Like I invited it. Like I should be ashamed of myself. And I was.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” my husband asked in almost a whisper as I regaled this story to him after the release of the infamous Trump tape.
“I never thought to. I was ashamed,” I responded. Even the words tasted bad as they came out of my mouth. Today, I would be screaming from the rooftops until someone listened, but back then I was terrified into staying silent. The thought of having to tell my mother what had happened seemed more terrifying than the act itself not because she would punish me or blame me, but for the irrational fear she would look at me the way the rest of the class did that day.
Many assault victims have this fear. I grew up with a supportive family who taught me to be strong and vocal, but in that moment I was not. There is no rational explanation I can assign to this, as to why I didn’t tell anyone. I think I was just ashamed of myself. I felt like it was my fault, like I brought it on with the way I was dressed or how I acted. Had I told someone, these feelings would have been dispelled immediately, but I was paralyzed with a fear that far too many women have experienced. I was new to the school and knew almost no one, certainly no one well enough to confide in. This boy was popular. Should I have told, I would have been a pariah. I was scared into silence.
When I got home that evening, I decided to forget it. When I undressed that night to put on my pajamas, tiny bruises formed around my breast from where his fingers had been. I took my new shirt and threw it in my pile for Goodwill along with my bra. I slid into bed and cocooned myself in the covers with my trusty babydoll wrapped in my arms. I made myself as small as I felt. The painted clouds dancing on my ceiling lulled me to sleep. I promised myself never to think about it again.
Donald Trump has been in the media since I was young. He was, and still is, a powerful man. I remember him saying things to women about the way they look, calling them “fat,” “slobs,” “bimbos,” and much worse. This is the rhetoric I grew up hearing on television. It influenced the way I thought of myself. I struggle daily with complexes about my body and the way I look because of men like him. I have been talked over by men like him who think less of me. I have been forced to give “locker room talk” a pass because of men like him. Now that man is the President Elect of the United States.
Some of my closest confidants took part in voting this man into office, claiming they “voted for me and my future”. I have been called a “sore loser” and a “liberal elitist” for voicing my opinions about Donald Trump. I have been told I “vote with my vagina” because I support Hillary Clinton. I have been told to “get over it” more times than I can count.
What I am is scared. I’m scared that Donald Trump’s comments are the crack in the dam. I’m scared that the man who cat calls me on the corner every morning finally feels emboldened enough to reach out and grab me. If the president can do it, why can’t he? I am not alone in my fear. I can only speak from the perspective of a woman, but I imagine other minority groups Donald Trump has insulted are feeling this crack spreading as we near his inauguration.
I am not writing this story for a symphony of mournful “I’m sorrys” or salutes of bravery. I am writing this for the little girl sitting at her desk on the second week of high school. I want her to know it’s okay to fight back, it’s okay to be loud. It’s okay to defy societal norms.
Being “ladylike” is a term forced on women to keep them in their place. Cross your legs. Smile. Don’t curse. Lose some weight. Put on some heels. You look too frumpy, wear something more fitted. You look to slutty, cover up. Give him a hug. Give him a kiss. Be polite.
As women, we have heard all these phrases before. I want that little girl to shatter them. In a world where we put rapists in jail for three months to protect their future and elect sexist men to the office of president, this needs to be shouted. It’s heartbreaking that this needs to be said, but that little girl needs to hear it over, and over, and over until we finally birth a generation of women that believe it.
The war on women didn’t start with Donald Trump, but his public comments do little to discourage it. As the leader of the free world, he needs to take responsibility for his actions and his words. His job is bigger than just his own empire now. He is charged to protect us against forces foreign and domestic.
I’m disappointed that this great country could look past these comments and gift Donald Trump the highest office in the United States. I’m disappointed that my family and friends dismissed his rhetoric as “boys being boys.”
I saw that same popular boy a week prior to my wedding. I was driving from my home in New York to Richmond where my now husband and I were getting married. It was around 9 p.m. when I pulled into the rental car pavilion. I asked the attendant if I could wait in the car until my mother came to pick me up, to which he thankfully agreed. While waiting, I opened my computer to work. The light from my screen must have illuminated my face in the dark car, because I saw a figure pop its head out of the shop’s door three separate times. I received a text from my mom that she was down the street, so I opened the door and began to ready my things.
“I thought I recognized that silhouette,” said a voice from the darkness. My childhood attacker came into view. We exchanged pleasantries and within moments my mother had pulled up beside me, as if on cue. My attacker scurried away with a limp wave as my mother came to help me with my luggage.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Just a friend from high school,” I answered. Thirteen years later and I still couldn’t admit what had happened.
Donald Trump’s presidency will not last forever, but it’s effect on this country could. We are a nation divided by fear. It’s time we take a stand and arm ourselves with a voice. I was scared to speak out against injustice once. I won’t make that mistake again.
In advance of the Women’s March on Washington, I hope you will join me in person, at a march near by, or simply support us online, in helping to ensure the safety of women not just during the next four years, but for every generation going forward.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.