Trigger Warning - The following post details a sexual assault.
What I am about to write about is something I have rarely discussed with anyone. It happened more than 20 years ago. To be honest, I thought I had put it out of my mind and moved on.
Why I am going to write about it now? Because I have to. As women around the world are speaking up via the #YesAllWomen movement, as my own friends are sharing their stories, I know I must tell mine. They have inspired me to do so.
When I was in college, I spent a few summers working as a receptionist at a company managed by one of my father's friends. It was an easy job. And I liked the people working there. We had a lot of fun together.
However, there was one particular customer who would ogle me and make lewd comments whenever he came into the office. He was middle aged. Married. A bulky, balding man with a 1970s mustache, even though it was the early 90s.
I was 20. I never spoke up to him. I didn't want to cause trouble. I simply ignored his comments and worked to usher him out of the reception area as quickly as possible. I loathed him, and was uneasy any time I knew he would be in the office.
I had never had a man be so overtly, overwhelmingly, aggressively sexual toward me. Let alone one more than twice my age. He made me very uncomfortable.
Sometimes I would plan my lunch hour around his visits, so I wouldn't have to encounter him. Or ask a co-worker to cover the front desk for me. I wanted nothing to do with him.
One night the company hosted an outing at a baseball game. It was held in a private party room and all the best customers were invited. Employees were welcome, too.
He was there. Without his wife. Drinking heavily. I worked hard all night to avoid having any interaction with him.
The restroom was located outside in the hallway. In order to use it, I had to walk across the room to the exit. At one point, as I returned and was heading back to my seat, he came up behind me, grabbed me by the waist and began to grind into me.
Before my mind was even able to register what was happening he had one hand up my shirt, cupping my breast, and the other down my shorts, his fingers slipping into my underwear.
In the middle of the room. In front of everyone.
I want to be able to tell you I defended myself. That I turned around, slapped him in the face and told him off. Called the police to report a sexual assault. But that isn't what happened.
The truth is, I froze.
I was unable to move. To speak. I was in complete shock. What I remember most is that people were watching what was happening to me and laughing. No one seemed horrified. Or even concerned. Not one person came forward to stop him or try to help me.
It was a brief encounter, although it felt as if time was standing still. And when he had taken what he wanted he sauntered over to his friends. Satisfied. Pleased with himself, even.
I would spend years being ashamed. And grateful it wasn't worse. That I hadn't actually been raped. GRATEFUL.
I like to think we as a society have come a long way since then. But as I read through the #YesAllWomen tweets recently, I realized I was dangerously wrong.
One tweet that really stood out to me was a young woman who said she wears shorts under her skirts when she goes out because in the past men in bars have penetrated her with their fingers.
Suddenly I remembered the times I'd gone out with friends as a young single woman for a few drinks, a lot of laughs, and maybe some dancing. And hands, under the cover of the crowd, would pinch my ass. Grope my breasts. Grab me by the hips and rub up against me.
I could never tell where those hands were coming from. When I would turn to address the perpetrator, I would face a sea of men. A room full of countless potential offenders. Some would make eye contact. Some wouldn't. Some would smile. Some wouldn't.
There was no way to know who had touched me. Any attempt to voice my protest was drowned out by the music, the voices, the crowd. It was a helpless feeling. And it happened regularly. To the point I didn't want to go out with my friends anymore.
I shouldn't even have to say this, but let me be clear. IT WAS NOT OK.
I am sharing my experiences now because I have a daughter. She is young and innocent. At five years old I have already had to explain to her that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission. Because that is the world we live in.
But it shouldn't be. And it is high time we work to address the culture ingrained in our society rather than focus on teaching our children how to navigate it. We shouldn't accept that it is the way it is. Hope we prepare our girls well enough that they come through unscathed. Work to teach our boys to understand what is right and what is wrong. To have enough respect for themselves and for women that they do not even think about engaging in this kind of behavior.
Or as my friend Katie put it, "Girls stand up, Boys stand down."
How can they when the culture that surrounds them goes against what we are trying to impart?
I'm joining the conversation to help spread awareness and facilitate change. Women and men need to work to create a better environment. For ourselves and for our children. We need to create a culture where we are all treated with respect. As human beings and not as objects.