One day in the autumn of last year, I was lazily scrolling down my Facebook feed, as I often do when bored, glancing through the selfies, silly memes, and food preparation videos by Tasty. It was then that I began to see #MeToo posts by women going public with their experiences with sexual harassment and/or assault: “#MeToo. If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too‘ as a status, we might give everyone a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
When I saw the first post, I thought, “How interesting – this is a new approach to spreading awareness.” Something big was happening. This is good, I tried to tell myself. But I saw another post. And another. And another. Soon, my head began to spin and my breath became shallow. I began to panic. Every #MeToo post I saw brought me closer to a place I did not want to go, to an evening exactly six months prior—April 14th.
That was the night I was assaulted. I had just moved to another state to start a new job. Everything was unfamiliar and I was overwhelmed. That night, in a new town where I knew very few people, I went to a birthday celebration with my new roommate and her friends. It seemed like a good chance to meet other young people in town. It was there, at a bar filled with the sounds of drunk patrons singing karaoke and billiard balls knocking against each other on pool tables, that I met the man who would assault me later that night. He was a salesman, more than 10 years my senior, who had come from out of town to visit his friends-who happened to be my roommates’ friends, as well. He had a big personality and struck me as a man who thought very highly of himself. But he was nice enough, and he gave me tips on how to be a better pool player. My roommate had met him a few times before and told me he was a really sweet guy. From the bar, we headed to the house of the “birthday girl” and her husband. Many of the people I had just met were going there, including the father of one of the partygoers. It seemed like a safe situation, and I trusted that my roommate had good friends. So, I went.
As the party wore on, I talked with the salesman in a group of about six people. He was nice-not someone I was romantically interested in-but nice enough. He showed me photos of his cats, talked about his family, and even opened the windows when he realized I was uncomfortable being in an enclosed space where other people were smoking marijuana. We were in a house in one of the nicer parts of the city, and I wanted to explore it, as I’ve always loved architecture and home design. The man offered to show me around, which I accepted. In the end, we ended up in the guest bedroom, where he happened to be staying for the weekend. He kissed me then, and at first, I wasn’t necessarily opposed. I told him right away that I wanted nothing more than kissing, and he said that was fine. And yet, he went on to do whatever he wanted in spite of that. I said “no” to my assaulter over and over again, but was pressured and manipulated, guilted, and pushed into doing many things I did not want. I escaped afterward, despite his pleas to spend the night with him. I felt scared and dirty, and I had no one in town to tell. To this day, I still have not told my roommate what happened that night. I do not wear the clothes I was wearing when it happened anymore. On a snowy day a few weeks after, I burned in the fireplace the underwear I had been wearing that night.
By late September, I had spent nearly six months not dealing with the trauma and trying to convince myself that I was fine. I had admitted what happened to a handful of friends, which I thought would be enough for me. Only a few weeks before the #MeToo campaign began, I realized, after having a panic attack about my assault, that I was really, deeply not fine. It was then that I began trauma therapy.
By the time I began seeing these posts, I had gone to therapy only twice. I had not made nearly enough progress in my sessions to see all the #MeToo posts without them triggering the panic, stress, and fear that I felt when I was assaulted. The number and the nature of posts I saw was by no means surprising to me; I have known for a long time that sexual harassment and assault are very common. This was not a rational process, but a reaction to trauma. My distress came from the repeated reminder of what happened to me. I soon logged off Facebook and did not look at it again until the whirlwind campaign had calmed down.
That helped, but the message of the #MeToo movement urging all women who had experienced harassment or assault to post #MeToo, left me feeling as if maybe I was not doing my part. But I wasn’t ready. I still felt dirty and sick and weak because of what had happened. And somehow, I was certain that those feelings would come through in my post, and I worried that people would ask me to share more about my story. The thought of posting #MeToo on my Facebook page for 1,500 people with whom I have varied levels of familiarity absolutely terrified me.
I soon realized, with the support of a friend in whom I had confided this story, that it was alright for me not to share publicly on my Facebook page if it did not feel like the right time. This is a deeply personal matter, and it’s ok not to tell everyone about it for the sake of being another statistic in a long list. I still do not feel ready to share. Even now as I write, my heart is pounding and my hands are shaking. I am given the courage to tell my story only by my anonymity. I am still in therapy and have not even come close to healing these internal wounds.
So yes, #MeToo. And not just on April 14th. It happened once in my 7th grade Home Ec class, when a boy walking around with his eyes half-closed, insisting he was blind, walked up and placed his hands directly on my breasts; he then laughed at me when I got upset.
And again at 15, when a much older man, whom I had grown up admiring as a father figure, began stalking and harassing me, implying that he wanted to sleep with me, and frequently finding excuses to touch me in “caring” ways. I did not have the courage to get help and stop the situation until I was 20. It happened again when I was a freshman in college, when a senior grabbed me at a dance and began to grope me. And again, when a college friend invited me over to his apartment and began to touch me inappropriately in an attempt to “comfort” me after I was rejected by a crush. And again, when a much older man with whom I performed in a musical grabbed my butt nearly every night during a dance number. These are just the most notable examples. There have been other stories in my 23 years, too numerous to list.
The #MeToo campaign was, in many ways, extraordinarily important. Many, many women bravely shared their stories, and a point was made. It made public a huge issue in our society that often goes unseen by those who have not experienced it themselves. I respect that goal and appreciate the message it sent. With Time Magazine’s announcement that the Silence Breakers were the Person of the Year, I felt so proud of our country for finally publicly recognizing such a heartbreakingly prevalent issue. And I’m proud that we have continued to make progress against this issue, with men like Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein being fired from their jobs, and Roy Moore not being elected because of his despicable actions toward women.
But it was all very hard for me, and very triggering. The #MeToo campaign focused on the objective statistics and on spreading awareness, rather than on the emotional health of some of the people most affected by this issue. Yes, there are many women who have worked through their experiences and are ready to take a public stand, and I am proud of those women. But I think it would have been more effective if it had reminded survivors and observers alike that to post “Me Too” is a difficult task. It would have been a more nuanced campaign if it had explained that those two words could not possibly encompass the emotional and sometimes physical trauma associated with the stories flooding a survivor’s brain. That trauma – sitting somewhere in the heart every single day, no matter how long it has been, or how well a victim may think she has moved beyond it – does not go away unattended.
There are probably thousands and thousands of women who, like myself, do not feel comfortable sharing such a deeply intimate and painful personal experience with the entirety of their social media web; they may never feel comfortable doing so. And that is ok. It doesn’t mean they are weak, or that their stories are less valid than those who did post #MeToo. It should tell you that there is still too much pain in their hearts about what has happened to them, and that it will take time to come to terms with the fear, the stigma, and the trauma of sexual mistreatment.