A growing ‘Me too’ on assaults

Harvey Weinstein, villain du jour. Once again we are scandalized by news of sexual abuse and misconduct by a rich and famous man. We as a society have mostly moved on from a now infamous audio tape. Man 1, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her … It’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Man 2, “Whatever you want.” Man 1, “Grab ’em by the… . You can do anything.” One of these men slipped into oblivion. One became president. The irony of that situation still amazes me.

This kind of conduct from men is not new, unfortunately. I’d like to blame it on women wearing revealing, enticing outfits. I’d like to blame it on television and their continued portrayal of women as sex objects. I’d like to blame it on video games with their scantily clad women. I’d like to blame it on literature where the femme fatale is ravished by the ever-so macho protagonist.

But, in fact, this behavior, this disregard and disrespect for women is as old as humanity itself. Our country’s history, as short as it is, is peppered with sexual scandal. Anthony Weiner, Strom Thurmond, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Donald Lukens, Edward Kennedy, and even Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Webster were embroiled in sexual scandal at some point in their lives. These names are but a few of our elected officials who couldn’t resist taking women into their web of lies and deceit. Hollywood and the “casting couch” has been an inside joke since the advent of the talkies. It is not only the rich and/or famous who perpetrate these acts of abuse. I’ve known a fair number of middle managers and young men who are guilty of the same.

Here is my story of sexual assault. I have kept this secret for almost 50 years. It is time to take away the stigma of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. It happens to more women, and men, than I want to think about; but it happens. In the summer of ’69 (contrary to Bryan Adams, they were not the best days of my life) I was invited to go to Florida to become a live-in nanny for three rambunctious boys. I was young, naive, inexperienced and lonely. I had no opportunity to socialize with young people my age, but one evening I walked down to the local convenience store where I ran into three young men. We talked and laughed, and they asked me if I wanted to go party. Go party. Not “go to a party.” I misunderstood the context and said yes.

Beer was being passed around as we drove but I didn’t drink. I’ve never liked beer and I was already nervous. As the teenage boys got more intoxicated, I became more afraid. I wanted to go back. “We haven’t had any fun yet,” the driver exclaimed. He drove to a deserted area that I was told was swamp. It was pitch black, deserted and I had no idea from which direction we had come. I was warned if I tried to run, the alligators would get me.

Small town girl, unfamiliar place, fear of disappearing forever into the bowels of a Florida gator … I stayed in the car. I pleaded to be taken back to the convenience store.

That’s where the sexual assault began — for hours. One of the young men told me at some point during the night he would help me get an apartment and pay for my rent. I didn’t have sense enough to know he was offering to keep me around for sexual favors.

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you like it?” There was no rape that night. They didn’t want to chance a pregnancy. But there were plenty of ways to assault a young woman. So I shook my head yes, yes, I liked it, all the time fearing for my life.

At 6 o’clock in the morning I was dumped off at the same convenience store. As the sun rose I walked back to the house where I had been staying. I was met at the door by the lady of the house who demanded to know just where I’d been all night. No concern for my well-being; no questions about what may have happened to me. Just an angry lecture and a one-way ticket back home.

It was my fault. I blamed myself for years and never called it what it was until 30 years later. Now, after all this time, I am angry. Angry at the young men who thought it was OK to molest me; angry at my host family for blaming me; angry at the boy-back-home who never even gave me a chance to tell him what happened; angry at myself for being so gullible. And I am angry at the men in the world who still, to this day, think it is OK to touch women inappropriately and talk about them as if they are objects only meant to satisfy their desire.

Do we teach our young boys and men to dominate girls and women, or does it come naturally? There is a message making the rounds on Facebook, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Facebook is now lit up with “Me too.” Dozens of women, and men, have spoken out about Harvey Weinstein in the last couple of weeks. Why did it take them so long? Because women have been taught to not make waves. If you speak out, you may lose your job; or not be believed; or worse, be blamed. It is time this stopped.

It is time women stop hiding whatever shame or blame they carry and claim their dignity and self-respect. If my story has inspired one woman to stand up for herself and say, “Not me!” instead of “Me too,” I will have atoned for my ignorance.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com