As a preteen, I was bullied by 2 boys at my private school. A couple of female teachers told me repeatedly that they were just jealous of how smart I was. The day I voiced my anger and desire for help, I was shamed by one of the teachers in front of the class for “taking it all too seriously.”
At 15, my neighbor continuously exposed himself to me in the morning as I walked to the bus stop. When my parents called the police, they were told that they needed 3 reports for 3 different girls or women before they would talk with him. (As if one report from a scared 15-year-old wasn’t enough.) I learned to walk a mile out of my way to get to the bus stop to avoid his house.
At 18, my chemistry tutor grabbed me, threw me down, ripped my shirt and attempted to assault me. I was afraid to tell anyone in leadership at my college because we’d been studying in my room, and I had learned in high school that my voice wasn’t enough. He became widely known on campus for assaulting women. When he was nominated for the Honor Council, I reported him. They investigated. A female professor reported that they had found 17 women who confirmed the same behavior. We women were told they couldn’t do anything because we’d taken too long to report. It had only been a year.
In my 30s, I was sexually harassed by a minister who I reported to our staff-parish committee. We collected a file of emails and other reports from other women in the church. We were required to go through mediation with him as a form of healing. The Church offered to pay for therapy which he refused. The victims received nothing. He has since been promoted to larger churches.
For three decades in my formative years, I learned these valuable lessons:
- Boys will be boys
- Men will be men
- You can’t trust female women or leaders to be a source of support
- Don’t invite men to your residence–that’s a signal that you want to have sex
- Be mindful of the clothes you wear–you don’t want to encourage unwanted advances
- Don’t go anywhere by yourself–it might suggest you are an easy target
- Policies, procedures, honor codes, and church polity only work if you practice them, not preach them
But sadly, and most importantly, I learned that my voice didn’t matter–that even after I lost my self-confidence, my self-esteem, and my sense of trust, I couldn’t even count on my voice to save me.
So when women come forward one day, one year, one decade or one lifetime later and self-advocate, I listen. Rarely, do women come forward with voices such as these with the expectation of “taking it out on” or “humiliating” or “discrediting” their abusers/rapists/perpetrators.
You know why? Because society is more likely to believe the voices of men.
And society, both men and women, continue to blame the victims.
So friends and allies, help us. Believe us and support us. Listen to our voices. Help them rise above the noisy din of political rhetoric and demeaning commentary. Do more than just “share” our social media–advocate with your voice as well.
Why? Because out there, some little girl or young woman is sitting in silence and waiting for validation that her voice matters.
(please feel free to share this post)