ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
The word “rape” is rooted in ancient Greek and Latin, from the word “to steal”—specifically property. While women are no longer legally considered property, the pervasive sense of ownership—what we now call sexual entitlement—remains, inadequately challenged.
The idea is that our bodies never belonged to us in the first place. The idea is that men don’t rape people; rapists rape people. What men—bosses, relatives, friends, coworkers, strangers—do is something else, explained into erasure.
A man raped me.
Sometimes I think: I want to send him a bill for what he stole from me, a bill for all the beer I bought, for the hours of therapy, for the long-distance phone call I placed the moment he left. Then I want to grind his bones into dust, spit and stir it into a paste and plaster him mute, make him feel the delirium of a silencing.
I started a list in my journal a year ago, when #notokay emerged in the wake of the “Grab ‘em by the pussy” tapes. #notokay, we wrote, cataloguing accounts of sexual harassment and abuse.
10 years old: a classmate pulls me into his closet while his mom prepares snacks downstairs
13 years old: a man solicits me for a blowjob on the playground across the street from my house
14 years old: my first boyfriend shoves my hand down his pants, and I peel away in terror
15–17 years old: I’m severely depressed; perhaps narrowly avoid more harassment beyond catcalling simply by only leaving the house to attend my all-girl high school or play guitar at a friend’s house
18 years old: a man gropes me from behind at a crowded concert at Terminal 5
19 years old: a friend from my college newspaper shoves my hand down his pants, makes me feel his erect penis, and I peel away in terror
19 years old: a boyfriend, blacked out, does what he wants with my body
21 years old: a student I meet that night rapes and sodomizes me at my study abroad host’s apartment in Berlin; the counselor I see afterward tells me not to think of it as “rape”
25 years old: a man shoves his hand down my pants while I’m sitting with friends at a bar and attempts to finger me under the table
When I think of the mixed reactions to the #MeToo rolodex of rape and assault survivors—especially the argument for the hashtag campaign to come from abusers apologizing or offering to bear witness or to enact change—I think I would rather use my breath to speak out than to hold it and wait for that.
Anyone who has lived as a woman knows there is nothing new in the Harvey Weinstein story. What is new is the collective story being told—tenaciously and simultaneously. My journal entry is her journal entry is your journal entry. We have always owned our bodies; now we own our stories, too. Here is mine.
In Defense of “Me Too”
Years ago, the words “me too” saved me.
I was a cadet at the US Air Force Academy, consumed by a dream of becoming a pilot. A senior cadet raped me, and I contracted a sexually transmitted disease, herpes. The virus migrated to my nervous system causing meningitis and an infection in my brain. When the doctor in the intensive care unit asked if I was sexually active, I lied. I said no. For months I remained ill and the depth of my shame, plus my fear of reprisal, kept me from speaking my truth despite the obvious threat to both my career and my life.
It was 2002—ages before social media or hashtags. Military sexual trauma hadn’t been acknowledged as the epidemic it was and still is. Rape was merely a thing I read about once in a book called We Were the Mulvaneys.
The night I heard “me too” for the first time, several months had passed since my rape. I had only told my doctor and then a victim advocate because I had to, to receive proper antiviral drug for my infection. I was in the throes of the medical struggles and PTSD when the advocate invited me and a handful of other survivors to meet with each other after the counseling center’s normal business hours.
I hadn’t known Trish was a survivor until she, too, walked through the center’s double doors. She stepped towards me, her blonde hair spilling over her shoulders, and our eyes locked.
Chandra lived in my squadron, squadron number four, and she was notorious among the Cadet Wing. The men called her “the Whore from Four.” It wasn’t until seeing her in the counseling center that I understood the full depth of that cruel label. Reflected in her green eyes was the same fear, anxiety, and shame I felt.
The women’s stories shocked me. A squadron mate raped Mandy at a party. An upperclassman raped Lesley on a picnic table at a field training exercise. A friend raped Reagan in his car. A classmate raped Jen in an academic classroom after hours. Another freshman raped Lindsey on several occasions in the underground control room next to the pool littered by mattresses, condoms, and porn. A training officer, a senior, raped Lori after he gave her a date-rape drug. Trish’s stepdad, an army sergeant, raped her from the time she was fourteen.
As story after story was shared, I looked at the faces of these women and realized none of them were weak. None had let themselves become a victim. In fact, they were strong; they had persevered as cadets despite the emotional and physical trauma they had suffered. I didn’t look at Chandra, or Christine, or any of the other women and judge them for what their perpetrators did.
When it was my turn to share, I told the women I had been raped in the library by a senior who offered to help me study, and that I had also been molested back in high school. “I’ve been assaulted more than once,” I said.
“Me too,” Mary replied. I felt a kinship with Mary I had never felt with another woman. I looked at her and felt compassion, which, I slowly began to realize, I also deserved. Mary didn’t ask to be raped repeatedly; I didn’t either.
“Me too” was the impetus for the end of my self-recrimination.
I once met a woman who was in her eighties and had only recently shared the secret which for decades nearly destroyed her life. She told me I was lucky, lucky for having had to tell, for getting help at such an early age. Over and over, I’ve heard similar stories from older women.
“Me too” could have changed their lives.
In the winter of 2003, half of the women from our survivor’s group left the Air Force Academy, and because they could draw strength from each other, told their stories of rape and retaliation publicly. For a full year, seven women did media appearances on every major outlet from 20/20 to Vanity Fair to Oprah. The recognition of “military sexual trauma” and the national dialogue which has followed is largely because of them—and because of the power sharing stories in our group offered them.
Back then, I didn’t tell my story publicly. Last February, Beacon Press published my memoir, the only traditionally published memoir about rape in the military. Since then my email inbox has been a continuous flood of “me too.” I’ve seen the power of sharing a personal story with the world; the evidence is in all these readers’ messages.
Yet what I’ve wanted most is not for readers to tell me their secrets, though I consider it an honor, but for them to be able to tell others those stories. For them to share with the women who haven’t yet been able to tell. Or with the men who are bystanders and could intervene in the future. The secrets in my inbox are proof that women need more safety in publicly speaking their truths.
The “me too” campaign stepped us further towards that reality.
The criticisms are valid: yes, the posts are triggering; yes, the posts put the onus on survivors rather than perpetrators; yes, the posts are alienating to survivors who cannot share; and yes, we need to move beyond individual instances to more nuanced, global discourse. And yes, social media saw a similar campaign a year ago after the release of the Access Hollywood tapes. But after decades of near silence surrounding sexual violence, it will take more than one hashtag, more than one memoir, to tear down the expectation that we keep our personal violations private.
When we share our stories, we dismantle shame, we build our community, and we draw power from our collective strength.
Him too. Him the man who hit me.
Him the man that took my life from me. Him the man that fucked your under-aged friends.
Him the politician you keep stanning.
Him the man who turned rape accusations into “vicious rumors.”
Him the writer you respect who rates his students from 1 to 10 in the backroom.
Him the guy that chose Vanessa Place to represent AWP.
Him the principal who expelled your black daughter for fighting back.
Him the cop who killed your baby.
Him the man you let into your house only to have him molest your daughter.
Him the man you voted for.
Him the man you didn’t vote for. Him the local organizer.
Him the director. Him the boss. Him the doctor.
Him the shy boy. Him the “feminist.” Him the husband. Him the ex-husband.
Him the one that got away—because the judge let him.
Him with the money. Him the broke ass. Him old.
Him Roman, him Louis, him Kevin, him Jefferson, him Shaun, him Cosby, him Tony, him Diego, him Cameron, him DeRay, him Phillip, him Steven, him Parker, him Alex, him Donald, him Bill.
Him over there—him up front.
Him the guy who does those ugly tattoos, some man who told me not to name him. Best believe I name him anyway.
Him the one who was going to sue you for libel for some shit he actually did.
Him the one who was going to sue you for libel but—
you have no money.
Him who doesn’t have the money to sue you for libel but he’ll be damned if he isn’t going to threaten you.
Him who was gonna read with me, him that was gonna publish me, him that was gonna marry me, him that was gonna help me pay for college, him that promised to never to show up unannounced, him who is here, him who ain’t here.
All of him. Him too, how ‘bout that, him too.
Erika Prins Simonds
I Believe You
When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the dark. I had to sleep with all the lights on. I had no way of knowing the real danger out in the world, a constant threat (primarily) women spend their lives learning to guard against: rape culture. As I got older and dealt with increasingly common sexual advances from both men and boys, I still didn’t think it would happen to me. Even as I became a feminist, I could not have anticipated the direct impact rape culture would have on me. I could not have anticipated how many fellow survivors I would meet or how many I already knew. It feels like I find out about someone else every single time I log into any social media account. When a story makes national news, we all bare our wounds. The only thing worse than finding out yet another friend is a survivor is finding out how little our mutual friends care. The ones who post things like, “Should have come forward sooner. These other victims are on you.”
The next time you want to run your mouth about what is acceptable survivor behavior: DO NOT judge a survivor for not coming forward or for waiting decades to speak a rapist’s name unless you understand the tremendous burden of carrying that trauma. Survivors don’t owe you shit. It should not be a survivor’s responsibility to prevent rape/abuse/sex crimes from happening again. We shouldn’t have to tell you about the bad things that happen to us to make you acknowledge the ubiquity of sexual harassment/assault/abuse/rape. I know. Y’all know. People who have experienced it know. People who love survivors know. Men (statistically the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes) know. We all know this shit happens constantly, every few seconds of every minute of every hour of every day, in this country. That’s why I appreciate the #MeToo movement.
Survivors don’t come forward about rape or abuse or sexual assault because we are AFRAID of the men who rape us and we are RARELY BELIEVED. Women are not the only survivors of sex crimes, but we are the overwhelming majority.
I’ve noticed people only seem to care about mentioning male survivors when they’re trying to silence women (spoiler alert: you can care about all victims at the same goddamn time). Every single time women come forward en masse to disclose allegations against some piece of shit, people start saying the women should have come forward sooner. Even if we do come forward, we are labeled as “lying cunts” just trying to take down an “honest man” who is a friend/father/respectable man who “would never do such a thing.”
We so rarely get justice when we DO come forward that it’s almost not worth it. Survivors are dragged to hell and back during criminal cases, assuming a case is considered solid enough to pursue charges. The rape kit backlog is a million miles long. Cops don’t know how to handle victims of trauma, don’t understand how trauma impacts the brain. Google how many rapists ever see even one day in jail. Google Brock Turner for a reminder of how little the justice system cares about survivors. And don’t forget how Certain Characteristics make you Even Less Believable as a victim: if you’re a woman of color, if you’re gay, if you’re trans, if you are sexually active, if you are poor, if you were wearing something that showed your wrists and ankles, if you have ever taken a drink. Even if we report as a group, we might not be believed. Just Google the Cosby case or allegations against Donald Trump for evidence of that.
Even if we can’t come forward, women try to protect each other. We rely on word of mouth. I might talk about what happened to me, but I didn’t go to the cops and I don’t say my rapist’s name online because I am still, to this very day, deathly afraid of him. And I know other people who have had Bad Experiences with him. Survivors build networks to warn each other of predatory men in hopes we can save someone else from our own fate. We send each other DMs on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and speak in hushed tones about what we’ve heard. Sometimes when interacting with these men, we pretend we don’t know what they’ve done so we don’t out their victims. We try not to say their names out of fear we will summon them to our safe spaces.
The reason I felt compelled to participate in another instance of survivor soul-bearing is this: no matter how many times I post about being raped, someone always discloses their own trauma to me because they’ve learned they aren’t alone. This shit is isolating. I know those of us who do talk about what happened to us still feel alone sometimes. I also know we don’t share every traumatic event that happened. I have an unfinished piece chronicling the most egregious offenses committed against me by men and boys that stretches back beyond kindergarten. And I know I’m not the only woman who could write something like that. If we all tried to write about every single instance of sexual harassment we have endured, we would never have a spare minute. We’d run out of characters. We’d never be able to stop.
To every person who has already shared their story, and to every person who is not quite ready to: I believe you, I believe you, I believe you. You are not alone and I am so sorry you’ve had this shared experience.
Was I Supposed to Feel Outraged?
The #MeToo postings began appearing in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations. I didn’t attach myself to the hashtag. After all, I thought, I’d never been raped, or abused by clergy, teachers or God forbid, family. As for sexual harassment… I’d have to think about that one.
I decided to remember. Consciously, deliberately remember. Beginning with life growing up in the Detroit ‘burbs. Had I experienced anything that warranted standing in solidarity, from a place of experience, with those who could say, #MeToo?
Did it count as sexual harassment when:
I was twelve and on my paper route when a regular customer opened the screen door and said, “I want to fuck you.”
Or when our truck driver neighbor “grabbed our boobs” (as my sister would say) and we’d yell out, “Stop it, you perv!” and my mother pretty much thought it was harmless because people would be laughing (and let’s face it, he kept the boiler working).
And my neighbor to the left down the way—the one who impregnated his own daughter who gave birth to a girl who would eventually hang herself by the basement steps—yeah, that one, with the Penthouse collection, who had a swinger’s party the night I had a sleepover at his house with his daughter who was about my age, and they had some crazy shit on 16 mm films and who, on another occasion, thought it was a good idea to offer me a thigh massage.
Did it count as sexual harassment when I was fourteen, and my neighbor’s older friend who was twenty-one let me steer his car (because when you’re fourteen, who doesn’t want to “drive”?)—and in return, he put his hands to my ass.
Pause here, in remembrance of another neighbor girl who was eight when she got raped behind the Kmart on our street, by a man caught in the act by police, who only got a month in jail…
Did it count as sexual harassment when I was in high school on a long run and a man pulled up ahead in a car and made loud yelps like an orangutan on fire, and when I looked, saw that he was completely naked in his car, masturbating.
Or when an adult male acquaintance who drove me home from a race lit up a joint and paid me the compliment of telling me I was “fuckable.”
And another man (known to an older friend from my church) tried to convince me to have sex by saying it was “just meat touching meat” (sexy, right?) and when that didn’t work, tried to guilt me into thinking I was refusing because he was black.
Or the several occasions when I was fifteen years old and biking, and people thought it was great fun to drive by at forty miles per hour and reach out the car window and smash me in the ass with a hand (lucky I didn’t get killed; at that speed, it’s like getting hit with a two-by-four).
Or when, in my first year in college, the aforementioned truck-driver neighbor sent me a card with photos of naked women, legs open, crotches exposed (bought at a truck stop, thinking of me).
Or that same year, when I went to a bar with my roommate and met a guy who was depressed about his girlfriend, needed cheering up—we talked awhile and he seemed nice enough and when he wanted me to walk him home because he was drunk and sad… he locked the door to his apartment behind us, and was not about to let me leave. I escaped by the skin of my teeth, strategically letting him get undressed so he couldn’t chase me out, then made a 2 a.m. half-mile sprint home in ghost-town dark with tumbleweed blowing and my roommate waiting up for me biting her nails.
Pause for a tale of sweet revenge: days later, I saw the a-hole in the library and decided to publically shame him. I approached him and his friends at the library table, and without mincing words, outlined everything that had happened—for all to hear. He denied it, until I described all the items in his room, at which point his girlfriend looked on aghast and his mouth went slack-jawed.
Was it sexual harassment when working my way through college at a cafe, I accepted a business trip with my boss (he was thirty years older and had a girlfriend) to a New York convention—then found he hadn’t booked me a room but expected me to stay in his suite where he sat on his bed trying to entice me by reading Screw magazine aloud.
Or when the boss at the medical center—my other undergrad job —had some staff out to a restaurant outing that somehow turned into a group skinny dip invite.
Was it sexual harassment, years later in New York, working for a financial services firm, when we were flown to a conference in Florida that turned out to include a night out at a strip club. The return flight for three of us was delayed, and we were provided only one hotel room: for me, my assistant, and the boss’s brother who happened to be having an affair with my assistant.
When I’ve recalled my somewhat rough-and-tumble, colorful beginnings, I’ve considered myself blessed because it’s not like I had a real outrageous encounter.
Me, I’ve always figured: This is life.
Wasn’t it this way for everyone? Was I supposed to be outraged?
Someone must have forgotten to tell me.
Social media is plastered with #metoo. Personal stories of being groped, raped, catcalled, roofied, degraded, hit on, exploited, and harassed.
I typed in #metoo and felt a knot of resistance. Curious, I stopped. Why was I hesitating?
Lots of women started their posts with “I wasn’t going to do this but…” Were their reasons my reasons?
As far as I could tell my reasons were as follows:
- I keep my private life private
- I don’t quickly line up to do what everyone else is doing
- I have Internet paranoia
Digging, I found another reason. I felt unqualified. My sexual assault wasn’t as bad as someone else’s, so I don’t deserve #metoo. How could I feel this way, knowing all I know? I volunteered for The Rape Crisis Center, worked for CalCASA. My mother is an incest survivor. Oh yeah, and I’m a woman!
Perhaps it’s knowing many stories, much worse than mine. But do we have to be scarred or damaged by our assault for it to count? And do we really know for sure it didn’t hurt us?
What was my story? I mined my personal vault of sexual misconduct experiences to find out.
Age 10: Sunbathing. On our stomachs. Maggie lifts her head. Gets a crotch shot of the man in front of us. Bald, beach ball belly, blue Speedo. I look. He winks at us. Flexes his erection. We put our heads down. Peek again. He’s fully reclined. Eyes closed. But on his Speedo is a golf-ball sized, milky-white cum bubble. We leave.
Age 11: It’s late. Family Friend. Drunk on Peppermint Schnapps. Admiring Maggie. Asleep on the couch. Me. On the living room floor. I keep my eyes peeled. If he’s just gonna sit there, best leave it alone. But if he touches her, I’ll rip him apart.
Age 12: With friends. The park. Round man. Grey hair. Glasses. 1970s faded blue Dodge sedan. He asks for directions. Persistent. He jabs his finger at a map on his lap. “Here, I want to go here!” I lean in to see. He yanks the map away. Ta-Dah! He’s jerking his shriveled white penis! We scream. Run. He laughs maniacally. Wow, we just saw a real live pervert! I think.
Ages 10–13: Middle school. Two girls visit from the next town. It’s a big deal. Like seeing someone famous. Bright lipstick. Miniskirts. Pumps with worn down heels. They have a reputation. Seeking attention. Boys. Getting both. Whispers fill the halls. Sluts this, skanks that.
Note to self: don’t flaunt it.
Ages 10–13: Kids having actual sex. Avoiding date rape from local townies is practically a sport. Hunger Games. Running through the dark. Taking cover ’til dawn. Guys pull trains. Gang bangs. Consent’s a blurry line. Girls get drunk. Give in to relentless pressure. “Drink up. Smoke up. I’ll take you home soon. One kiss—come on.” There are consequences. Your ass is grass. Your rep is toast.
Note to self: If you have sex, keep it secret. Try not to get wasted, raped, or beat up.
Ages 13-14: Freshman year. Nasty rumors. Sex talk is horrible. Boys add pressure. Begging, “Baby, look what you did to me!” Pointing at their hard-ons. “You’re gonna give me blue balls.” As if it were terminal cancer.
Girls have twats. Cunts. Pussies. Sometimes pussies are sweet. Sometimes they smell like fish. Those girls are whores. Some are tight. Some stretched out. If a guy likes you, you’re tight and sweet. Otherwise, you’re ruined.
Me. I hung on every word. I wanted to be liked, get a boyfriend, have sex. I was learning how to not get called a whore.
Note to self: tight pussy, no fish.
Ages 0-14: Domestic abuse is a thing in our house. I witness my share of unnerving behavior.
Age 14: Parents get divorced. Mom recalls memory. Repressed sexual abuse. Her father molested her. Ages two through twelve. She confides in me. Leans on me.
Age 14: Lose my virginity. A crush. He only dates hot girls. I’m not hot. I can’t be his girlfriend. I take what I can get.
As an adult, I’ve suffered favoritism from horny employers, unwarranted breast exams, liberties taken by men with badges, countless incidents of groping and come-ons…
Of all the experiences, none are as damaging as those that involve the opinions of others. Knowing what boys really thought of girls. Those words ruled me, formed me, put fear and loathing into me.
Is this why I resist speaking out on a platform built on commentary and agenda?
Harsh words don’t rule me anymore, but I still hear them. When I look at my body. When I have sex. Did their words become mine?
Was I traumatized by the map guy? The bubble guy? Did abuse at home make me willing to accept less in my relationships? Did the image of my mom, violated by her drunk father, affect my budding sexuality?
Back when my mom was healing, in therapy, I heard the terms “victim” and “survivor” a lot. I always identified with “survivor.” I still do.
Harveys Are Everywhere
A Reprieve from the Replay
I know what it is like to be unable to speak, even though you are used to using your voice to speak up for others, to call out injustices when you see them.
I know what it is like to lay in bed yearning for sleep, for a reprieve from the replay, and I know what it is like to try and scrub away the feeling of his hands on your body, of never feeling like you can get his grip off of your ass, his voice out of your ear.
I know what it is like to want to tell no one, to want nothing to do with the police, to want to move on as quickly as possible and try to forget how this stranger, this confidante, this mentor, has so casually entered your life and thrown it into chaos. I know what it is like to know that I could have helped other girls but still felt like I couldn’t handle the conversation, that I deserved freedom from the prison that he put me in, that that space that he put me in was one I never wished to return to, ever, if I could help it.
So I hear Weinstein’s victims and their suffering. I understand why many did not speak up until now, why many women cannot speak up. To suffer once this man’s ultimate arrogance is terrible enough. But to speak is to reawaken that suffering and live it again. The courage those women have in sharing their stories, their pain, should not go unnoticed.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change.
We received over four hundred submissions to our initial call and will not be accepting additional pieces at this time. We may reopen for submissions at a future date. We also must acknowledge that the submissions we received overwhelmingly came from white, heterosexual women. While we are actively assessing how we can do better in our next call for submissions, we also believe this points to systemic inequalities that need to be addressed: who has access to healthcare and to therapy, who has been taught to speak up and who has been taught to be silent.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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