Today I learned that a high ranking state official where I live resigned in the wake of sexual harassment and forcible touching allegations. Even more egregious is the discovery that in this particular agency allegations of sexual harassment were regularly covered up, and there was a culture where female employees may have felt pressured into intimate relationships in order to gain promotions.
When I read this news piece this morning I caught my breath, and had to tell myself that these were different circumstances, not my own.
In 2008, at a different agency less than a mile away from today’s news making agency, I reported sexual harassment, which included a sexual assault, from my own director. Today that experience is nothing and everything all at once. I call it nothing because I hardly recognize the person I was then. My life is now completely different, and thankfully there are times when I recall that period of time and realize that the assault is no longer part of my every day thoughts. I thought then that there would never be a time when it was not somewhere in the crevices of my mind. I feared that the assault would become and be everything in my life, and at that time it was. There was rarely a moment free of the memory of the experience.
I’ve never forgotten the fact that I was so damn lucky in the simple serendipity that I drew a special investigator who was only interested in figuring out what happened. He had no political motivations, and was, by all measures, objective.
I want women similarly situated to know that reporting it is the best thing
you can do I did for yourself myself, even in the face of awful hatred from colleagues you once thought were your friends, and the hell of a long investigation. Soon after it happened I went to see my doctor. I told her what happened, but I made it clear that I had no intention of reporting it. She said to me, “This will stay with you for the rest of your life if you don’t report it.” She was right and wrong all at once with that statement. By reporting it I’ve experienced a certain freedom from it that would not have happened if I never took action. However, it will always be with me in some way, but reporting it lessened it’s long term impact on my life.
I don’t regret reporting it, but I hope there comes a day when reading similar stories doesn’t shut my brain down to the point of wanting to jump out of my skin.
And with that I have to sign off for tonight. I have a small capacity for writing about this experience in that I can only do it in short spurts.
You’ve actually helped to address a long term question I’ve never heard an answer to. I was raped as a young adult and did not report it. Initially, I didn’t know that was an option, and later, I didn’t think I could face what I assumed would be a questioning and a trial. This was in the ’80’s, and I think women who reported rape were treated very differently then. I’ve often wondered what the long term outcome is for those that make a report vs. those who do not. And what still needs to be improved upon? I know this is a hard subject, but I’d appreciate your thoughts if you’re up to it.
I think you’ve raised an excellent point, and you got me thinking about this issue in a different way. Please see my new post on this. I have you to thank for reflecting on this. Thank you.
I used to dream of a day when these headlines as well as child sexual abuse never happened. It breaks my heart that we are not there yet. It will take more courageous women who will step up and take back their power by reporting the assault. It will take more courageous women who are willing to talk about their experiences with people like those co-workers who “hate” the woman who reported the assault on her. It takes more discussion in society about how sexual assault is not something women want, what women somehow deserve, or what women somehow asked for. Women need to take back their power. Even as I type that, I know how difficult and painful it can be — and incredibly terrifying — to stand up and speak. That’s the reason I have so much respect and admiration for this blog, Beatriz. You are a courageous woman to write it all down.
While it’s important to speak our truths, I actually don’t believe we can change things in the court or Congress these days, or even in the public mind (already too burdened by too many other problems, collective and personal) because nearly everyone in those positions of power is controlled, often by blackmail involving child sex.
I feel that the problem goes much deeper – and I tend to focus on Capitalism – which I often say “we’ll one day be embarrassed that we ever said that word with a straight face.” Capitalism – Money-ism – rewards those who give more money to those who already have more money. Even the cherished “separation of church and state” (which has a good justification) requires that we all, collectively, split our minds and pretend while in business or politics that spiritual truths exist. Is this programmed collective mind-splitting?
Capitalism and separating beliefs into different worlds is the weirdest philosophy to me! I do not believe that child sexual assault, child porn, and child snuff films would ever exist except under money systems.
(I sometimes think I must have come from a world in which money just wasn’t needed and certainly didn’t separate people and make them compete to be able to eat.)
I worry that we can report, sue, speak out, start movements, and and lobby all we want, but as long as our entire society is based on getting as much money as one possibly can, with no limits, then there’ll always be a motive for those horrors, and there’ll always be a cop and a judge to shield them. I believe our world needs a MAJOR overhaul, the kind that can only come from total collapse. Sorry for my pessimism.
Meanwhile, let’s report! It helps us all know the extent of the problem, so we can vision something better.
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Has anyone seen a long term study about the long term effects or reporting a rape vs. not? In hindsight, it’s easy to say that of course I should have reported it, but honestly, I was not in a frame of mind to make a rational decision then, even if I had understood this to be an option. I would love to be able to say to someone going through this now, ” Stiudies have proven that reporting a rape will benefit your mental health in the long run.” But is it true? And please understand, I don’t intend this to come across as challenging anyone’s decision in any way, only that it’s a point that should be paid due scrutiny for the sake of all of us.
As for change in the way rape is handled….It is occurring, but it is slow. I’ve worked in healthcare for nearly 25 years, and have seen much of this change first hand. It is PAINFULLY slow, but it is there. I would love to see more women making a difference in for each other, from healthcare, to politics, to the legal profession. Many men over, many, MANY years have demonstrated that these are not issues they will place on the front burner. But women? We have a very different vantage point. We need to shove this type of violence into the mainstream where there is no choice but to pay attention. It begins with open conversation, I think. We need to nurture each other, listen to each other, and applaud each other’s efforts. Lose the stigma and the silence.
Beatriz, I’ve followed your blog for awhile, though these are the first comments I’ve made. I’m guessing that I’m considerably older than you (I’m 46). But I want you to know that your writing is important. I hope you will continue for a very long time. When I was raped, I was 20 years old. It was something women did not discuss then, particularly not with each other. That code of silence did a lot of damage, and gave rapists a place to hide. By shining the light on what you’ve gone through, you empower those who have gone through what you have. You tell them it’s okay to talk about it. The more we do, the more we bring about the change we need to see. Don’t stop. Monsters can’t hide in the light.
Well done on reporting it. That took courage. I’m glad it helped you and your recovering more each passing day. It sickens me that people in the workplace would use their power like that. I’m so sorry you got hurt. XX