The title of this post is the Crisis and Support Hotline for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. If you are struggling, or know someone who is – please call. Someone is on the other end of the phone 24/7. You can also talk via text at (440) 423-2020.
When I was 19, I was a server in a chain restaurant near my house. I was pretty good at that job and was highly motivated by the fact that I got a decent amount of cash at the end of the night. Like most places, there were some regulars who came in a lot. One guy, Doug (this is his actual name – why would I change it to “protect his privacy”?) tended to sit in my section. He was around 45-50, a professional photographer, tipped a LOT, and was pretty easy to take care of. One day, he told me that he thought I’d make a “beautiful model” and I should come by his house and he’d do some photos for me. Nobody had ever said something like this before, and I was pretty flattered. I mean, 19 years old is not exactly the pinnacle of self-esteem for most girls, and here was this PROFESSIONAL telling me that I was beautiful! Thankfully, some of the other women who worked there pulled me aside and said that this is NOT normal. He has a studio, and trying to get a 19 year old girl to come over to his house is abnormal behavior. I didn’t completely understand what they were saying, but I ended up not taking him up on the offer. Looking back, I am still uncertain of what his intentions were, but I’m eternally grateful that I avoided what could have been a horrible situation.
Same restaurant, different story. (Sidenote: restaurants are hotbeds for creepy and inappropriate behavior. A lot of the harassment cases I read in law school took place in restaurants, car dealerships, and – ironically – law firms.) I worked with this guy who was also a server, so we were out on the floor together a lot. He was very…handsy. I’d be entering someone’s order into the computer and he’d come up behind me and rub my shoulders, touch my neck, basically put his hands wherever he felt like it. Once he told me that he couldn’t help touching my butt because my pants were tight. I tried being nice about it and lightly asking him to stop, but that didn’t work. At one point he tried to kiss me, in the middle of the damn restaurant. I tried being more firm and telling him to please stop this. He didn’t. In the end, I asked our manager to just not put us on the same shift because I didn’t get along with him. I wish I could go back in time, and not be so accommodating to this guy who was harassing me. But I was 19, and didn’t know that what I should have done was file a formal complaint and get his ass out of there.
Fast forward to May 2005. I’m about to graduate college and start law school, and my friends and I are in a pretty celebratory mood. We went out to the bar (and I do mean THE bar, because I went to school in Delaware, Ohio where the town population doubled when school was in session) and had a great time. A REALLY great time. I left and started walking home by myself, which wasn’t terribly uncommon because it was a really small town. I was not exactly the beacon of sobriety at this point in the evening. I was about halfway home when I ran into a “friend.” His name was Jason, and he didn’t drink so he was completely sober. He walked me home, which is what friends do. Only he didn’t leave, which is what friends don’t do. Instead, he took advantage of a situation where I really couldn’t say no because I was passing out. I later found out that other girls on campus have reported similar behavior from him in the past. My roommate took me to the hospital the next day just to get things checked out. Now I want to be clear – this is not the stereotypical violent attack that many people envision. He didn’t cover my mouth or hold me down because he never had to. I wasn’t fighting back – I was falling asleep. Anyway, apparently hospital protocol is to alert the police so I talked to someone there. They asked if I wanted to pursue this, and I wasn’t sure. They said they could just talk to him at the station, and I said go ahead. I did not want to deal with this for a number of reasons – I was really confused about exactly what happened to me, I was graduating soon, my parents were coming down for graduation stuff in a week. I couldn’t spend time processing this. So go ahead Deleware PD, do what you need to do.
The next day, I got a call from the police asking me to come down to the station. I did, and they said they talked to Jason. He said anything that happened between us was consensual. The officers told me I could be charged with filing a false report (!!!) and they were going to talk to the prosecutor to see if that’s the avenue they were going to take. I was incredibly scared and angry at this point. Why am I the one in trouble here? What if they did charge me with something? I am supposed to go to law school in 3 months. I never asked for this nightmare to happen. In the end, they said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge either of us with anything, which in the case of sexual assault is pretty common. There usually aren’t witnesses. I was so relieved that I could go on with what was left of my senior year of college that I just left it at that.
I thought about glossing over this topic, because so much has been said already over the past few weeks. What more could I possibly add? I am pretty sure the popular opinion by now is that sexual assault is bad. What I don’t think many people realize is just how prevalent it is. Before I wrote this, I had the incredibly uncomfortable task of telling my family some things that happened to me in the past, because that is stuff you just don’t want your parents to find out on Facebook. Vulnerability is not my strong suit, and this exposes a hidden side of me in a huge way.
In 2009, Kirk and I bought a house in a pretty urban neighborhood of Cleveland. It wasn’t categorically unsafe, but we didn’t leave our doors unlocked or anything. We had some friends come over a couple weeks after we moved, and they parked their car on the street with the GPS on the dash. A few hours later, their window was smashed and the GPS was gone. Now, should they have left something so valuable in plain sight in a neighborhood like that? Maybe not. But I can almost guarantee that nobody’s reaction is “well, they must have wanted to give it away, putting it out on display like that. Can you really say it was stolen? They were asking for it.” This type of example is a pretty common one when comparing different types of crime and victim-blaming. I am prepared that some people will read my words and not believe me at all. Some people will read this and think “of course this happened, she was walking home alone after drinking.” But I know that someone will read this and think, “me too. This happened to me. I am not alone.” And for those people – I am here to listen. I support you.
I BELIEVE YOU.