This past weekend, Alyssa Milano started the social media movement #MeToo to shed light on the widespread problem of sexual assault, harassment, and rape.
By Monday morning, my Facebook feed was filled with friends sharing her message that said, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” and many of them also shared their own stories and experiences.
As I looked at my feed throughout the day, I longed desperately for the strength to write “Me too,” but I was paralyzed by fear and still have not been able to bring myself to write those two simple words.
To me, they are not just words; they are my truth. And they have the deepest, most terrifyingly vulnerable meaning. You see, I was raped.
And, yes, I was a college kid on spring break.
And, yes, I drank too much alcohol.
And, yes, I was dressed provocatively.
But, no, I did not ask for it.
And, no, it was not my fault.
So, why then, after fifteen years, an inpatient hospital stay for depression following the assault, and countless therapy sessions, am I feeling paralyzed by those two words today?
Because only those in my close inner circle know. My parents. My husband. And, I have not even spoken with either of them about it in years.
But, what if one of my Facebook friends—those I went to high school or college with, those I have worked with, those I grew up with, those who are related to my spouse, or those who are parents of my sons’ friends— saw those two words and asked me about my experience or criticized the movement?
I have dedicated my life’s work to helping survivors of trauma. I have a keen awareness of how trauma affects the body and changes the brain. I sit often with those who hurt from their experiences. I listen as they share their stories with me; as they take back their power from their abuser by not keeping their secret; by deciding how and with whom they would like to share their story …
… and yet, as I am presented with the opportunity to do the same, it brings me back to the day that changed my life, and I sit, terrified, paralyzed. I wonder, what would those who know me as a professional, as a woman, as a friend, as a mother, as a wife, think of me if they knew my truth?
Would they still love me?
Would they still respect me?
Would they still like me?
Would they think less of me?
Would they think less of those closest to me? Those I love dearly?
Or worse, would they think it was my fault?
I tell myself, “of course not. Many of those people know you. They know you are a good person. They would understand that this is something bad that happened to you. They would be supportive. They would be angry at the person who hurt you in this way.”
But would they?
The honest truth is that I am not sure. In my years of working with trauma survivors, I have heard it all. I have heard the victims get blamed in the court of public opinion more often than I have heard the perpetrator get blamed. And, I cannot help but wonder how much of that is self-protective; how much of that is people wanting to find fault with the victim because then that means that if they just act a certain way, or dress a certain way, or stand a certain way, that it cannot happen to them? But it can. It does. There is a dangerously false sense of security in blaming the victims.
And, I realize now how desperately we need this movement.
Women do not need to live in shame. They do not need to live in fear.
We need to empower one another to speak out.
Because, no, I did not ask for it.
No, it was not my fault.
And, it was not your fault.
You are not alone.