The Thing About Assault

Here’s the thing about assault. It doesn’t go away. You feel it, years later. You feel it when you think about what happened to you. Close to the anniversary of the occasion. Or when you visit the place where it happened. When you have nightmares. When you tell your story. Stories.

You think about it when you hear the leaked tape of a presidential candidate casually boasting about assaulting women. About grabbing them by their genitals. About kissing them without asking. You think about it when he dismisses it as “locker room talk,” when many citizens of your country agree with him, even some women.

If you can’t handle the way men talk about women then you need to grow up, says some washed up TV actor, a former heartthrob turned misogynist.

Thankfully there are men in your life who call bullshit on this behavior. Who are pissed off to be included in a gender that normalizes this kind of conversation, that helps perpetuate our rape culture. Who remind you with their love and kindness that not all men talk like this, not all men think like this. That this is NOT OK. Thankfully there are also men not in your life who feel the same way. Professional athletes who say, this isn’t how I talk about women. Actors and writers and even some Republicans say it too.

Here’s the thing about assault. When you think about it, write about it, you feel it in your body. No matter how much time has passed. No matter what kind of assault you endured. You feel the adrenaline racing. You feel your heart rate rising. You return to your animal self, running through the woods, across a savanna, down a city block, hoping to outrun the predator who is chasing you. Maybe the predator never touches you. Maybe he just makes you run. Scares you because he can. Maybe he pushes you out of a job, a home, a school, a family.

Every woman I know has an assault story. Some men, too. Most women have more than one. I have several, and yet I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I was never raped, though when I was twenty years old I was grabbed the way presidential candidate Donald Trump brags about grabbing women, the way several women have accused him of grabbing them.

I have more stories that I won’t detail here, but let me be clear when I say this:

Every single one of them has risen up in the past few weeks.

Ever since the news of that leaked tape, ever since I watched the first and second presidential debates, especially the second. All those old stories, those old scars, they are still there and they came to find me. In my waking moments, and in my dreams.

Assault does not disappear. It stays with you forever. And we are about to hold a presidential election in our country with a man on the ticket who brags about such things, who has been accused about such things, and who frankly, I believe has done such things.

I didn’t intend to write about this today. After the second debate I wrote several essays and blog posts in my head, and threw them all away. I felt unable to capture my disgust and fear and horror. I still feel unable, but here I am, after having read many other accounts over these past weeks, by brave women, and horrified men, so many of us triggered and enraged and sickened.

But I’m not going to throw this one out. This one gets to stay.

women

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30 thoughts on “The Thing About Assault

  1. Oh Dana, I hear you. I really do. And I’m one of the lucky ones with many wonderful men in my life who show me everyday that this is not what all men are like. And I’ve never been raped or anything close. But since that leaked tape, these issues and feelings have been going round and round in my head. The US election feels relevant to all of us, regardless of nationality, because it says so much about society. Sadly, there’s been an awful court case in the UK this week that has made clear how far we are still embedded in a culture of misogyny. It sickens me. Michelle Obama’s speech captured so much of how I feel so well. It gave me hope. I’ve struggled to find the words online these past few weeks but this post expresses how I feel. Lots of love to you. Xxx

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    • Maddy, thank YOU so much for your kindness and compassion. I can feel your love and support from across the ocean, truly. What was the court case in the UK? I have been offline for a bit. It saddens but doesn’t surprise me that the world is so far behind in women’s rights (and the rights of many others of course). Michelle Obama’s speech still lifts me up. I may actually watch it again just for a boost 🙂

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      • Google Ched Evans – footballer whose rape conviction has been overturned because his victim’s sexual hisotry was allowed to be submitted as evidence. Twitter has been a vile place to be on that subject. I might watch Michelle Obama again too! xxx

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  2. It’s distressing to see so many women being triggered by a presidential candidate. Even more distressing to think he has a chance. My only hope is that all of this is bringing rape culture to the forefront of our collective conscience, so we can begin to change.

    It’s good to hear from you in this space, but I’m sorry it’s this that brought you back. xo

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  3. I too am being triggered by Trump’s words and the way he demeans women in defense of his bad behavior. Only a few more weeks and hopefully he’ll stop showing up on the news 24/7.

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  4. I’ve been feeling the same way…and it’s incredibly upsetting how prevalent it (still) is. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, but the very hardest was my young adult daughter who had stories of her own. Impossibly hard to hear. Sending love and holding hands *together*. It’s the only way.

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    • Julia, I’m so sorry about learning of your daughter’s stories. My heart aches. And yet the conversation is open now, and she knows she can go to you for help. But still. Not one of us mothers wants that for our children.

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    • Rachel, yes, I was sickened by the tapes, and it felt like a slow poisoning, which was topped off by the second debate. Everything from my past started to rise up, and I felt so shaken. I’m glad my words here have offered you some help, since yours have done the same for me many times. Take care as you sift through the past. xoxo

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  5. I am a survivor of a gang rape of me and my lesbian partner, decades ago. At the time the police officer said “well, what did you expect?” Those words still ring in my ears.

    While I don’t think the culture has changed much, I do believe that each time a person tells their story, each time there is a public outcry (no matter how short lived), the arc of justice extends a little bit more. It is my hope and prayer that we can all find justice and healing.

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    • I’m so sorry for what happened to you and your partner, and for what that police officer said afterwards. I believe speaking out helps, too, and I love your phrase, “the arc of justice.” Thank you for reading and for sharing a piece of your story. xo

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  6. I’m so glad you decided to write about this. I think it’s extremely important for as many voices to be in this conversation as possible. I was kind of a mess that whole weekend after the tape was release. I didn’t understand why it just would not leave my mind until I sat down and wrote about it. Like you, I was NOT planning on writing about it but I felt it impossible not to. It’s called Locker Room Talk if you want to stop on over to my blog and read it. I won’t tag it because I don’t want to muddy up your blog. I just wanted you to know how much I relate. Thank you for your bravery and for writing such a Powerful post 💜

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    • Oh I’d love to read your post and share it. Please add a link if you want. I feel such a universality about this, SO many blog posts and articles in major outlets (like the recent one in Slate.com calling Trump a trigger) are all over the web. It would be great if they were compiled. Going over to read your post now! xo

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  7. Dana – I loved your post. It does ring true for most women I know, myself included. The meme floating around about who were all the women buying Fifty Shades of Grey since everyone is all upset about Trumps word. I got into a discussion with a female acquaintance about this and she just did not want to hear that the difference, the IMPORTANT difference, is consent! And that boggles my mind! That’s why we have a culture that a judge! can tell Brock Turner that he didn’t want to ruin his life for a 15 minute mistake! What about that girl? Her life is ruined forever!

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    • Jackie, thank you so much. And yes, it is mind boggling the spin people try to put on such basic and vital matters as consent. Erotic fiction is fiction, my god. This is why we have Brock Turners, and unfortunately, Donald Trump. Still reeling from debate #3 but seeing your comment perked me up.

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  8. Being exposed to your triggers in such a public way is beyond difficult. I think that is why I am having such a hard time with these debates on a visceral level.

    Thank you for putting my feelings into context. Thank you for your bravery.

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  9. Pingback: Spreading the Word – writing at the table

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