The Breaking Point of Silence
I am sitting in my office, head in hands, eyes closed, because I am simultaneously exhausted and enraged. As a rape survivor who has tried and failed to claw my way to justice, the Weinstein story demands that I speak in unison with the women he assaulted.
I can take time here to list my PTSD symptoms and tell you how my life and my soul have been indelibly marked by what I have survived. I can try my best to impart on you how difficult it is to heal from sexual violence. I can also tell you that my rape was likely a hate crime based on my sexual orientation. I’ve already told this story, but I will do it again if it will help. The problem is that it won’t. We (women, survivors) have been telling this story for decades, and while there has been progress, we (mostly men) continue to be shocked at the rampant sexual assault and harassment revelations that rock the media. It feels like every new story is the first time we’ve heard about violence against women. The learning curve isn’t steep. This is objectively straight forward. It is the silent response that allows this issue to remain confusing and misunderstood.
Social scientists who are smarter than me are penning articles right now about toxic masculinity and how to break down our societal norms. All I can say is this: I need this to be the breaking point. I’ve thought this before when the (insert name of powerful man being accused of sexual assault/harassment by countless women here) story broke. But quite frankly, with a rapist in the White House, I think the silence might finally crush me if we can’t shatter it with our collective voice.
It will be six years on December 2nd that I was raped in my own apartment for two and a half hours. He was my law school colleague and my clinic partner. For three months, we worked side by side defending our client. I didn’t trust him. He had made some unwanted comments about my appearance. But in an effort to maintain my professionalism and my safety, I laughed it off and marched on. I had been sexually harassed before and had learned that if I stayed quiet, I might escape unscathed. Women learn at a young age how to navigate the often dangerous world of unwanted overtures.
Towards the end of my last semester, I finally confided in a friend what happened. The truth was eating away at me and I felt like it had taken off an entire layer of skin, leaving me blistered, bloody, and exposed. I could barely get out of bed in the morning. I sometimes fantasized about jumping in front of the metro.
The next three months passed in a blur. The main substances I put in my body were alcohol and nicotine. I lost at least ten pounds. I was ill. Trying to write down the turmoil I was in won’t do it justice. Each day, the front of a train looked even more appealing. I wanted to advocate for myself and tell my story, but I was terrified of the consequences. I spent weeks agonizing over every decision. In the end, I decided to report the rape to the law school, the police, and the DC Bar Committee on Admissions. I sought justice in every corner we are socialized to look. But I came up empty.
For the last five years, I have lived in California with my incredible spouse and I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life. I left DC for my sanity, but I have managed to start over and create a more beautiful life than I knew was possible.
For the last five years, I have also watched from afar while my law school put the man who raped me on a pedastol. He has mentored law students. He has received awards for his advocacy. He has been interviewed multiple times by the dean. Each time I learned about his involvement, I sent an email to the law school asking why they had disregarded my story in such a callous manner. Each time, the dean ignored me.
The injustice in stories like mine does not end with the analysis that that these men continue to live their lives unscathed — though I have shed many tears over this cruel reality. Even deeper than this, is that I am ignored. This silence tells me that what happened doesn’t matter. Or worse, it is implying that it didn’t happen at all.
I am not exaggerating when I say that survivors have chosen to take their own lives because of messages like this.
I keep trying to change it. I keep trying to be heard. But I keep failing. And every time I do, I feel like a victim all over again. What are my options? I can do what they want and stay quiet. Or, I can keep poking with the understanding that I may never change a single thing. Go to hell or dance with the devil — those are my options.
This has to change.
The epidemic of silence around sexual harassment and assault is nearly as painful as the crime itself. Worse, this silence allows it to continue with such frequency, that I guarantee every woman you know has a story to tell. Ask the women in your life if they’ve ever encountered someone like Weinstein, and they will roll their eyes and ask how much time you have. This isn’t just a Hollywood problem. This is a societal problem. Weinstein is doing us a favor. He is holding a mirror up to society and saying, “Hey, this is how you get away with it. If you have enough power, people will look the other way and stay silent.”
I am begging you to speak. If you have a story to tell and you feel safe, share it. If you have children, teach them about consent early and often. If you have a friend who has been harassed or assaulted, reach out to them and ask how they are faring. I can’t tell you how much validation that will give them.
And for the love of humanity, intervene if you witness behavior that could possibly be harassing or assaulting. It feels trite and painfully obvious, but, to borrow from the public safety phrase: “If you see something, say something.” I guess that’s where we are.