I have been following the Steubenville rape case and verdicts, and the aftermath–how the media has covered it all, how other teens have threatened Jane Doe, how other brave rape survivors have spoken out, how parents have discussed raising kind and respectful children so that other women are not victimized. I try to follow all the news reports when a woman is raped or sexually assaulted. I was a journalism major in college and wrote a research paper about how the media consistently reports in such a way that blames the victim. This topic has been important to me for a very long time.
Ever since one snowy winter night when I thought it was my fault.
There have been countless women much braver than I could ever be who have helped me find my strength. They’ve done this by courageously sharing their stories. Two of these women have written beautiful and moving essays and blog posts that have really struck a chord.
Kim Simon had written My Son & Steubenville that quickly went viral. Her recent letter to Jane Doe is just as important and moving. You must read the letter to Jane Doe now before reading the rest of this post. I can only write this story and continue forward in my life after being touched by her beauty and courage. And you can only understand this post after reading hers. Please, please read it now.
As is usually the case when I read these acts of courage, my heart tugged a bit, there was a small pit in my stomach, and my eyes teared up when I read the letter to Jane Doe. As each year goes by, as each injustice is publicized, as each woman is disrespected and violated, and society allows it or permits it, as each woman becomes a statistic, I get ever so slightly closer to saying publicly Me Too. I have said Me Too to trusted individuals in private. I have done this more and more through the years, as less and less shame consumed me. I worked through it in therapy. When I read these posts, I thought, “Me too. I am brave.”
But see, I have always wished I was braver. Because I firmly believe one vital and critical way we change the culture that allows these assaults to occur is if people know how many Me Too’s there are. And what we look like. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, friends, teachers. Us Too.
As I am now a parent to a girl and a boy, I want to be braver. For them. For the world they will navigate. For me. Yet I understand the need for discretion of what one discloses publicly and forever on these interwebs. I also realize that my reluctance and fear of not declaring Me Too publicly, in solidarity, is about shame. But see, it wasn’t my fault. And that’s the point of the letter to Jane Doe–public solidarity to reinforce this is not the victim’s fault. To link arms publicly, to show strength and support in numbers. If I truly believe this wasn’t my fault and it says nothing about the character of my being, then what is the issue with disclosing Me Too?
So here I am to say I am a Me Too. I am telling you now because we can only begin to raise kind and respectful children by understanding the magnitude of this problem–that there are more Me Too’s than you can possibly imagine. I am telling you this now to show thousands of other women that there is no shame, that there is nothing so inherently horrific about us that we deserved this. I am telling you this now to show thousands of women that we can survive and thrive. I am telling you this now because you know many Me Too’s, and just didn’t realize it.
I was a wild one, a fun one. My freshman year, a particular fraternity boy wanted me. So much so that he followed me everywhere and noted who I talked to, and when, and where. He had his friends follow me as well. He stalked me. But I didn’t know it then. He walked up to me at a bar. He bought shots and beer. I was 18. I was wild. I was fun. He was cute. Of course I drank with him. We walked back to his place. I was very, very drunk. This was not unusual. I kissed him. And passed out. I woke up in time to say no. Please, no. He ignored me. I waited until I was sure he was asleep before creeping out of his apartment. It was a very long night, staring at the ceiling, not daring to move, praying he was a deep sleeper. I was so sure it was my fault and that I asked for this to happen, that I left my phone number in a note apologizing for leaving in the middle of the night. I apologized for leaving after he raped me. I ran back to my dorm and woke up my best friend and cried. She thought I was crying because I left the earrings I borrowed from her at his place. I will never forget those dainty gold hoop earrings. He stalked me for the remainder of that school year, but he kept those earrings.
I thought it was my fault. Because I liked kissing boys. I liked to drink. I liked to have fun. I went home with him. I drank the drinks he bought me. It took me a very long time to understand it was not my fault. It took even longer to believe that I did not deserve that.
I so inherently believed it was my fault that I didn’t even know what had happened—I thought I was just a drunk slut. Three years after the rape and after he graduated, I happened to be in his old apartment–the first time I had been in there since the assault. I suddenly became consumed by panic. I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating. I couldn’t see. My heart was pounding. I ran down three flights of stairs and knelt down outside. When I was outside and saw the sunlight, it hit me. I had been raped. Up to that moment I had no idea. For years I kept it a dark, humiliating secret. Then for many more years, only a handful of people knew.
I thought I had gotten to the point of truly believing it was not my fault. When I read these essays however, I realized I was afraid of standing arm in arm, in public solidarity as a Me Too because I still held some shame close to my heart.
I have learned we can be scared and brave. So I am feeling scared and brave sharing my story right now because I don’t want to feel the sadness every time I read about a sexual assault. I want to do something about it so we don’t have to read about this anymore because we have learned to respect each other. I want to do something to change the world we live in so that we don’t feel ashamed for something that was not our fault. I want to do something to teach my children that an event does not define us, but how we choose to respond to it does. This is the first step to doing these things. Me Too. I am putting down the shame so my hands are free to link to other women. Me Too. I am linking arms and saying Me Too.