In the last several weeks, we have all seen and heard the Donald Trump video. During the second debate, Mr. Trump looked down and said that he hadn’t done any of the things he bragged about in the video. A few days later, women came forward with their stories of sexual assault. It was painful to hear these women describe their experiences.
Some adults wonder—why didn’t these women come forward before the debate? Why were they silent until now?
Many of us remember the Anita Hill testimony on Capitol Hill in 1991 during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings. Ms. Hill shared her experiences of sexually inappropriate behavior by Clarence Thomas. Afterward, 1000’s of women told their own stories of sexual assault. Most of these stories had never been disclosed to anyone. During that time, a close friend shared with me how she was seduced by a man in a position of power, and how she realized that it had not been a mutual relationship at all. She was filled with anger, humiliation, and shame. She had told herself a “story” about this experience, that she now realized was fiction, as a way of protecting herself from feeling ashamed. Another friend told me about inappropriate “touch” from a man in an authority position. I have heard from many men and women who were victims of childhood sexual abuse by a trusted adult. These recent news stories trigger intense feelings of anger, shame, and fear in these adults.
During the 1980’s, I had a female supervisor inappropriately place her hands on me while meeting with me. It was very uncomfortable and awkward—it made me angry. But I didn’t think that it would be a good idea to go to her supervisor. I was fearful I would be told I was being “overly sensitive”. I tried to sit where she couldn’t reach me.
As a teenager, growing up in New York City, all of my female friends told me that they had seen men exposing themselves on the subway. It was shocking, but I couldn’t find one woman that hadn’t had that experience.
Sexual assault, inappropriate touching, and lewd behavior cause pain, anger, and fear. Sadly, most victims blame themselves and feel somehow responsible. Victims feel shame. They try to bury these experiences, forget them, “move on”—sweep them under the rug. This is why so many adults keep these experiences to themselves. They don’t want to think about them or remember them. But they are never forgotten. And, they can become disabling, impacting an adult’s relationships, self-esteem, and sexuality. These experiences are often deeply damaging.
It’s painful, but ultimately a healing experience, when adults divulge these secrets to others. It takes a great deal of courage to drag these memories out of the bottom of our closet and bring them into the light of day. It’s not an easy thing to do. But when these accounts come into the light, their darkness fades. Men and women can begin to heal and find a place for these painful recollections.