By now perhaps you have seen the #MeToo hashtag trending on social media. Its presence is nearly impossible to escape and heartbreakingly pervasive. Women, feminine-identifying, and gender non-binary folk have been sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and while statistically we’ve known how common the experience is (one in six women have survived an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, 90% of adult rape victims are women, and as many as one in three women report experiencing workplace sexual harassment – the parade of dismal facts goes on and on) it’s another thing completely to see the blizzard of #MeToos raining through your feed. The movement was created 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke in an effort to call attention to underprivileged women of color who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse, and it recently gained huge momentum when actress Alyssa Milano Tweeted about it.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
There are debates, of course, about the efficacy of such a movement. About whether or not survivors owe anyone their stories (they don’t), and about how best to care for yourself if you are suffering from trauma. Do you speak? Do you protect yourself? If so, how? It’s a complex issue affecting millions.
What we know is this: at Sweatpants & Coffee, which is primarily staffed by females, every single one of us has a #MeToo moment. Moments, actually. Some of us can share them, some of us can’t or won’t. All of us stand with you. Here are a few of our stories. These aren’t the only stories we have and they aren’t necessarily the worst ones. But they are what we’re able to share.
Earliest age: 9
Memory: It was at a family party and we were saying goodnight. When you left a party, you hugged and kissed everyone goodbye, even the ones who were basically strangers except for the fact that you shared some DNA. He smelled like liquor and when I went to kiss him on the cheek, he turned his head and stuck his tongue in my mouth. I didn’t understand – I didn’t even know grownups did that to each other, but the feeling of shock was instant. Later, when I told my parents, they scolded me. Why would I say such a thing? He was FAMILY. I was ashamed.
Impact: I think this is where my anger-in-self-defense response was born, though I learned to bury it. Everything in me knew this was wrong, that it was unfair, that *I* was the family who should have been protected. But the people I trusted most told me my perceptions were false. Maybe even sinful. I learned to question myself, internalize shame, and tolerate abuse.
Number of incidents: Ages 9, 10, 12, 16, 19, 21, and after that too many to count.
Most recent: 2 months ago, via Internet
Earliest age: 11
Memory: I was roller skating with my best friend (also 11), and a man older than our fathers slowed his car down to leer at us, leaned out the window, and put his fingers to his mouth like a “V” and waggled his tongue. I didn’t know at the time that it was a gesture meaning oral sex. He cackled and sped off, and shook his penis at us through his clothes. It may not even have been the first time, just the first time that was so overtly sexual that it scared us. I don’t specifically remember whether or not we told, that first time, or not. It wasn’t the only time it happened, that summer or since. Maybe we were at an age to become aware of it. Once we told my friend’s mother, who cringed and asked if we recognized the man as somebody we knew. We did not. She reminded us to stay inside after dark and to never talk to such a man, even to the point where we should knock on a stranger’s door and ask for help if we felt scared of someone on the street.
Impact: We felt dirty and became hyper-aware of our bodies. We were embarrassed to wear tank tops when we went skating after that.
Number of incidents: Over my lifetime so far? Literally countless, including an actual assault in college. I almost don’t notice verbal harassment any more, unless it is particularly egregious. Most women I know roll our eyes and go on with our lives.
Most recent: A man outside the grocery store a couple of weeks ago yelling “hey, pretty, hey pretty, come here, hey girl, smile, pretty, smile for me, hey, pretty blond lady, come give me a hug.” (Harassment slows down quite a bit when you are a large woman who is six months pregnant with twins and rapidly approaching forty.)
Earliest age: 12 or 13 (whatever age the summer between 5th & 6th grade is)
Memory: He was a friend. He lived in the same building as me. We would hang out all the time at his house, watching movies or TV – most of the time, his mom would be in the other room and that is how my mom was okay with me being over at a boy’s house. That, and he was so respectful and polite to her. This time, his mom went to the store and left us on the couch in the living room, watching a movie. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I do remember waking up with my pants to my knees and his fingers poking in and around my vagina. I tried to protest but I was frozen, pushed back into the corner of the couch. The next thing I knew – he was pushing his body on top of my body and his hand that was inside of me was covering my mouth. 1, 2 … 3 thrusts and then he told me I had to go home. I tried to avoid him the rest of the summer, but had to see him the next year because we were both in band. Maybe it was just me being hyper-sensitive, but it felt like he purposefully positioned himself so that I had to see him.
Earliest age: 7 or 8 – it was in the fall, but I can’t remember if it was before or after my birthday that year
Memory: We were over at a cousin’s house and all the adults were in the dining room playing cards. My sister, our cousin, and I were listening to Steppenwolf and playing cars. Our cousin wanted to show us some new toy he’d gotten and so we went to his room, where he grabbed by butt, spun me around and tried to kiss me and stick his hand down the front of my pants. I didn’t tell anyone. We were all young enough that he was roughly the same size as me, so it was much more feasible and much less dangerous to fight back. I hit him, as did my little sister who had witnessed the whole thing.
Impact: I felt righteously indignant and I was proud of myself for handling shit… until he started crying. He claimed that it was a joke, that he didn’t mean it. At that point, I felt bad and I apologized to him for hitting him. That experience is one of my first, very clear memories of someone gaslighting me, and it taught me to doubt my own instincts and my own anger. Those doubts made it difficult to come forward and tell anyone, let alone fight back, later in life.
Number of incidents: I stopped counting by the time I reached high school
Most recent: Two weeks ago at the convenience store down the road
Earliest Age: 16
Career Memory (adult): I went to help an unstaffed office for a month. The principal had no work that merited my skill level. I was expected to attend long lunches and dinners with his industry cronies, but never legitimate clients. He never acted inappropriately towards me directly, but his buddies did. He liked the attention I drew. I focused on the lack of work, and tip-toed around the other issue when speaking to my boss. My boss gave this unknown partner the benefit of the doubt. I was brought home when I showed two weeks of extremely low billable time. Another female associate, sent to replace me, was more direct. After two days, she told our boss that a sexual harassment suit would be filed if she stayed another day. It took three women in the company to convince me it had been harassment. After a recent divorce, this partner was using female employees as show ponies, to build up his reputation with other men. No one filed complaints, but that guy was forced out of the company. I will never question my intuition again.
Number of Incidents: Countless minor ones
Most Recent: Cat calls towards my daughters
Earliest age: 21
Memory: Being raped in a frat house, but being so intoxicated that when someone walked in by accident, they thought it was consensual because my face didn’t match my fear. I froze. I told because I couldn’t stand the thought of “What number am I out of 6?” (the average number of times a rapist rapes). I went to the police with an advocate. The advocate believed me, but the police did not. My detective wrote on my summary sheet of my case that I had poorly communicated, rough sex. It had left me with a concussion. The case was closed before it even had a chance to begin because of that single sentence on the front page of my case file – it never got picked up by the prosecutor. My friends believed me, but it destroyed my relationships with 3 guys, including one that I was about to date at the time of my assault.
Impact: More than I can possibly say.
Number of incidents: 1
Most recent: Age 21
Earliest age: 10
Memory: A friend of my father’s liked to pull me into what he called “tickle fights.” He would pin me down and “tickle” me, hands going everywhere, laughing when I begged him to stop. I told my dad about how uncomfortable he made me and was told, “Well, if he makes you so uncomfortable why did you wear a nightgown around him?” The nightgown was a Little House on the Prairie style, and I was a little girl, but I still felt as though I caused it by tempting him. The guy ended up buying me a present. Then, I felt I owed him.
Impact: I learned that the perpetrator’s feelings were more important than mine and to feel sorry for him. When I was trapped in a closet and kissed by a supervisor in college, I was told “He could lose his job over this and have no way to support his family.” That just reinforced that he was the one who mattered. Always.
Number of incidents: Many in high school and college, several after that.
Most recent: The most recent physical incident was about five years ago. Verbal incidents are more common.
You don’t have to tell for your experience to be valid. You are not jumping on a bandwagon if you feel safer telling after seeing that others have told. You are not alone. It’s us, too.
If you need help call the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.