Trigger warning: this post talks about sexual assault.
There are weeks when just about the whole internet needs a trigger warning.
Like when the Trump tape came out. I had a brief moment of thinking, Okay, he’ll lose now. Thank God for that at least.
But there wasn’t much exhilaration, and almost immediately afterwards, a heavy, weary kind of pain.
Because there were all these high-ranking Republicans suddenly removing their endorsement from Trump, acting all shocked and surprised. This is appalling, they said. We never knew he was like this. How could we have possibly known?
Hmmm. Well, there was that woman who accused Trump of raping her at the Epstein party when she was just 13. And Trump’s ex-wife Ivana had already accused him of sexual assault and other forms of domestic violence during their marriage. And that was on top of the ample, public evidence of Trump’s contemptuous lack of respect for women.
Why had no one taken these accusations seriously? Why did people have to hear it from Trump himself before they would believe it?
Why is it no one believes women when they talk about sexual assault?
Over the days that followed I couldn’t shake the feeling growing in me. I felt small, shaky, vulnerable and – most of all – worthless. I didn’t want to go out, or be with other people. I didn’t want be around my (kind, loving) husband. I just wanted to hide and lick my wounds.
I felt ashamed of this reaction. Why was I being so over-sensitive, so silly, so emotional? Why was I taking all this so personally? It didn’t have anything to do with me.
I mean, I’m one of those women who’s lucky enough to never have been raped.
(And yes, I know what’s wrong with this statement).
Several of my friends weren’t that lucky (and, just as an aside, not one of them has ever seen their attackers brought to justice). My experiences are nothing in comparison. What do I have to complain about?
But this week, these moments in my life keep coming back to me. Experiences I don’t talk about much, and when I do, it’s usually to make light of them.
Like the random bloke who jumped out the bushes to wave his cock at me when I was a first year student. Or the man on the Tube who rubbed himself up against my backside during the rush hour and I was too shocked and embarrassed to know how to stop him.
Or the boss who made me squirm with his icky flirting and the tales of his wife ‘not understanding him’ until I couldn’t bear it anymore and had to leave the job. Or the masseur who grabbed me hard between my legs and I didn’t say anything because I was scared that ‘maybe I imagined it.’
Or those other experiences I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.
Not to mention all the times I’ve been scared of sexual assault, even when nothing actually happened. Like, you know, when I walk home on my own at night, or go running by myself. Or that time I got mugged outside my flat by a group of men who roughly pulled off my coat (to get at my bag, as it happened) but I didn’t know which way it was going to go and was shaken for days afterwards.
The thing is, I know enough about the world, and about the truly horrible things that happen to women all the time, to know that these things that happened to me are nothing.
Nothing. Just normal life. The stuff women have to put up with.
But if they are nothing, why do I feel so ashamed to write them down and share them with the world? If they are nothing, why can’t shake the idea that they reflect badly – somehow – on me?
And if they are nothing, why does reading the comments feed on an article about Ched Evan’s acquittal make me want to throw up?
Somehow it doesn’t feel like nothing.
Those experiences made me feel like I was nothing.
Then on Friday night I watched Michelle Obama’s speech. And I could see that she was upset, and she’s awesome, right? And somehow that gave me permission to be upset too.
So, thanks Michelle. And thanks to all the other brave women who’ve been talking about their own experiences this week, and all the brave men who’ve been putting their heads above the parapet to support them.
It’s time to change this.
I mean, it’s actually long overdue, but I don’t think I can handle it if we don’t take this opportunity to change this NOW.
Let’s start believing women when they talk about sexual assault. Let’s start standing up for victims, and standing up against the bullies.
Let’s change this now.