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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Stuff We Don't Talk About; Sexual Assault in Academia

I'm thinking of doing a couple few blog posts about the challenges of the last year or so, that began with a forced hurricane evacuation and went on to multiple cancer diagnoses. I wanted to talk about the things that people did that helped, and how this time has affected my faith life.

In my mind I went over this challenging time, and I realized that there was one event in there that I have not talked about much.

Realizing that I hadn't talked much about this event got me to thinking about what we talk about, what we don't talk about, and why.

I was assaulted. I was grabbed, dragged, threatened, and the assailant left a wad of his spit on my face in his attempt to "kiss" me. I pushed him off and got away and I was okay and I am okay.

I wanted to talk about why I didn't want to talk about it.

I didn't want to talk about it because I feared that listeners would pelt me with unsolicited advice. I didn't want to talk about it because I feared that listeners would work to turn my story into their story. I feared that listeners would work to make my story into something that it was not, and that they would be doing this in a well-meaning way, and I'd just to have smile and say "Thank you" to be nice, while really feeling frustrated.

I didn't want to hear "You must go to the police!" Because going to the police in this instance would have accomplished nothing positive. I didn't want to hear, "Oh! You must be so traumatized! Here! Quickly read and memorize 'Our Bodies Ourselves!'" I wasn't traumatized. Upset yes, traumatized, no. I felt fine as soon as I got home and closed my door and took a long shower.

I didn't want people deciding that this was the worst thing that had happened to me, and that I had to be treated like a basket case. I wasn't a basket case, and this wasn't the worst thing that happened to me.

The obvious lesson: if a woman comes to you with news like this, please let her control the conversation. If she wants to go to the police, go to the police with her. If she knows that going to the police won't help, then please don't hound her. If she just wants to talk it out, talk it out with her.

Let her decide how best to deal. For me, it was a closed door and a hot shower.

I didn't want to mention it because I feared that I would not be heard as me talking about my own life. I feared I would be heard as someone making an accusation against someone else. I didn't want to go there. I have no interest in revealing his identity to anyone, although I did tell a few trusted confidantes. I don't care about him at all. I want, rather, to talk about my own experience, and its pertinence, if any, to others.

I didn't want to mention it because so much opprobrium attaches to women who make accusations. Is she telling the truth? Was she dressed provocatively?

Here's what happened. A very dear friend found out I'd be crossing paths with a professor and author. This friend urged me to introduce myself to this man, as a friend of a friend. Perhaps this professor could help my work, my friend said.

I did. I introduced myself to the professor. I mentioned my friend to him. For the record, I was dressed in an oatmeal linen shirt, buttoned up, navy blue cotton sweater, black wool slacks, and flat-heeled, black leather loafers. I spoke only of scholarly work. I said nothing personal about myself. I initiated no physical contact with him.

It was that man who did it.

I got away.

I don't know that I was ever in any real danger. I was able to overpower him. My reaction was more one of disgust than fear.

I told a scholar about what happened. This scholar wrote back, and this is a cut and paste from his email, "He is a notorious womanizer and has attempted to force himself on a number of people in highly inappropriate surroundings."

It bothered me that this scholar knew I'd be meeting this serial molester, and did not warn me in advance. It bothers me that a man with this kind of record has been able to get a pass to do it again.

Why talk about this?

It happens. Even to old, conservatively dressed women like me. It happens in academia. Given that academic success is so heavily predicated on the relationships one has with others with power, I bet it happens a lot, although I don't know. I just did a quick google search and hit upon this webpage that claims that "42 percent of college women who are raped tell no one about the assault." That sad statistic is part of why I am posting this. Just, to say it. To say it happened.

I can say this about the assailant. He is published and well connected. But as a human being, he is a complete loser.

What I wish – I wish we were more frank about sexual assault, not just the kind that occurs on dark streets late at night, but that occurs in white collar environments. I wish I had received better training in this reality, and I wish young girls out there now were receiving such training.

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