One Attacker, Many Perps: When Disclosure Hurts Too

Laughter can teach women to keep sexual assault a secret, but there is help.

Posted Oct 04, 2018

Many of my friends and colleagues have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the days since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has gone public with her story.  It’s been a gut-wrenching couple of weeks.  My friend and fellow writer, Molly McCaffrey, wanted to publicly share her story to support Dr. Blasey Ford and everyone whose lives have been affected by sexual assault.  She is my guest blogger for today.

From Molly:

The various allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony last Thursday—have taken me back to a moment in high school I wish I could forget.

I experienced something very similar to the incident described by one of Kavanaugh's other accusers, Deborah Ramirez, in the late '80s at the hands of a prep school boy in my town. Like Ramirez, I did not report the incident because I'd been drinking. I'd also chosen to go into a bedroom with a boy I didn't really know but who had a reputation for being charming, good-looking, and smart. He was, in fact, the only teenager in the small town of Warsaw, Indiana, who went to boarding school at that time. 

Though the boy did not drop his pants, he did violently shove me towards them while calling me a bitch and ordering me to do something to him I had never done. He pushed me so hard I fell to my knees and my face landed in the crotch of his jeans. I was so terrified I screamed, and he must have hesitated because I was able to get up from the floor and flee before anything else happened. 

As soon as they heard my scream, my friends ran towards the bedroom where I was. In the hallway, I told them what had happened, and we decided to leave immediately. 

I didn't report the incident because I felt responsible for putting myself in a vulnerable position. I had naively thought I would make out with the boy and that would be it. No, I was not raped. And I still don't know if what happened to me counts as assault or not. 

But I do know I was treated in a way that should be considered unacceptable. Then and now. 

Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

Despite this, I was the one ridiculed the next week at school while the perpetrator returned to his life at prep school presumably unscathed. Like Ramirez, people in my school heard about what happened that night, and as a result, I was mocked for days. Every time I walked into a classroom with the boy's friends, one of them would hold up his hands and cry out in what he clearly thought was an imitation of a girly scream. Some boys even muttered vile things to me about what I should've done instead of screaming. I was the butt of their jokes and the victim of their harassment for weeks. 

So when I heard Dr. Ford describe her "indelible" memory of "the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense,"  I couldn't help but think of my own experience. My own humiliation. I'd been humiliated by the boy that night, and after it was all over his friends continued my humiliation until I hoped to never hear about the incident again. 

So, no, I didn't report. Instead, I was sent the message that I was the one who had something wrong with me. I was the one who didn't fit in. That was the true crime. Teaching me—and other young women—that not giving in to sexual demands turns women into a joke. And that's why I'm telling this story now.  

Dr. Molly McCaffrey is the author of You Belong to Us (memoir) and How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters (stories). Nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize, she received her Ph.D. in literature from the University of Cincinnati and currently lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

From Dr. Hamby:

I want to thank Molly for sharing her story.  She mentions in her story that she doesn't know if this incident counts as assault, and I wanted to clarify that her experience is legally an assault.  She was pushed in order to make her engage in sexual activity without her consent.  That's a sexual assault, which can take many forms.  It doesn't have to be rape to be illegal.

If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one, then the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence has contact information for several hotlines that can offer you someone to talk to and help you find resources in your own community.

RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) does the most with sexual assault specifically. 

I have also been impressed with the work of many others, including ChildHelp, National Dating Abuse Helpline, National Domestic Violence Helpline, Trevor Project, and StrongHearts (all links available at NCDSV website)

As you can see from Molly’s story, you may not get the response you want from every disclosure, but there is help out there.  Many people support survivors.  Sexual assault is never the victim's fault, and although it can be hard, don't let one cruel response keep you from getting the support you deserve.

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