Sexual Assault is Not a Hashtag

Why I’m not using the #Gym meme to troll Jim Jordan

I’m a progressive Democrat running to unseat the infamous Jim Jordan (OH-4) in Congress. I’m running for many reasons. He neglects his constituents and has sacrificed any principles he once owned in the defense of President Trump. However, the biggest push to run against Jim came as a result of his pathetic cowardice when faced with multiple complaints of sexual assault from student-athletes under his charge. This hit me on a personal level.

In 2011, while working as a senior staffer for Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, I received a phone call at our DC office, moments before closing up for the night and meeting my boss for dinner. The call was from a distraught woman, sobbing on the other end of the line and struggling to speak. At first, I thought it was a prank (debate on the Affordable Care Act was going on and Tea Party activists were trying to clog up our phone lines).

But this was far from a prank. Over the next three and a half hours, I learned that Terri Odom, the caller, was a Navy and Army veteran who had been horrifically assaulted, raped, and tortured by a senior Naval Officer while a young sailor at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy.

Terri grew up in a military family and dreamed her whole life of serving. Her intention was to make it her life’s work, but that was stolen from her, first by her attacker, then by officers all the way up the Chain of Command.

Terri’s assault was beyond brutal. I won’t describe it here in deference to Terri. She, understandably, doesn’t need to relive it. Terri told me on the call, that she could barely walk after the attack and was visibly beaten, bruised and bloody.

But when she reported it to her commander, he told her to “sleep it off” lest it ruin her military career.

Terri was soon separated from her unit. This is the standard procedure for service members who insist on pursuing justice after an assault. She told me, by the time she summoned the courage to call our office, she had attempted suicide more times than she could count. I could hear the timidity and fearfulness in her voice. I kept thinking of my four year-old daughter waiting for me at home. Is this really the world I am preparing her for?

As we wrapped up our phone call, Terri assured me she was feeling a bit better. I asked if she would be willing to come to Washington to talk to Congresswoman Speier, and she actually laughed. She said she’d love to, and it would be nice to have something to look forward to.

Read Terri Odom’s letter to Mike, remembering their phone call.

At the time, Jackie Speier had taken to reading firsthand accounts of military members’ sexual assaults on the floor of the House of Representatives. She didn’t censor them, because she wanted to force her colleagues to hear. Many complained. She was accused of “grandstanding” and “sensationalism”. To which her response was a shrug and “tough.”

In addition to Terri, I spoke with about two dozen Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors. My task was to help them tell their stories, in their own words, to prepare for congressional testimony. They were both men and women, whose assaults varied in degrees of violence and harm, but were nearly identical in the response from military brass.

“They were expected to ‘sleep it off’ like a loyal soldier, and under no circumstances, besmirch the reputation of ‘a good man’ ie: their attacker.”

This wasn’t my first brush with the issue. While my story pales to what I heard from the troops and vets I sat with, I had first-hand experience with sexual harassment, and the difficult choices a person faces afterward.

I wrote about my experience in Comedy, We Have a Problem in 2017. Twenty years earlier, as a first-year television writer, finally working my dream job at 36, I was continually harassed by the star of the show I was writing for. Understand, I was never physically assaulted, and if I were, I could probably have fended off the actor, but when I finally had to report the behavior, it made me feel like a loser. I worked my whole adult life to land this job, and now I was faced with the possibility I’d forever be known as a victim.

But I had to report it. The star had done similar things to other writers and actors, including a 14 year old boy. Silence is never an option in the face of evil.

Which brings us back to Jim Jordan. As an assistant wrestling coach at The Ohio State University, Jim witnessed a culture where sexual assault — and the “locker room” humor used to mask it — were rampant. An athletic department doctor, by some reports, molested, assaulted or raped more than a thousand student-athletes. Wrestlers, coaches and others said everyone knew about it. Authorities, like Coach Jordan, laughed it off.

When a visiting referee reported an incident in the shower with Doctor Strauss, the man in question, Jordan told him, “Yeah, that’s just Strauss.”

But that’s not the worst of it. That a young coach on his way up the ranks was afraid to stir things up and make a report, is regrettable. But it might have been forgiven if, as an adult, Congressman Jordan apologized and expressed remorse. Instead, he chose to further victimize his former players, accusing them of lying in order to hurt his political career.

This is the unforgivable part of Jordan’s story. It’s bad enough that adult men, with the courage to reveal they were victims of this humiliating crime, must walk around with the knowledge that strangers know their story. But to compound that by suggesting they’re making it up for some fleeting moment of fame, or to unseat a congressman who has accomplished less than any other sitting Member of the House? That’s a level of cowardice beyond belief.

I’m running for Congress because I witnessed what good a real public servant, like Jackie Speier, can do in the world. I will not pull any punches when comparing my life and qualifications to Congressman Jordan, or my primary opponents.

I don’t fault others who find humor in trolling Jim with the #Gym meme. But I won’t do it myself. There are too many good people in my life who’ve been victims of abusers and authorities like Jordan who cover up their crimes. They deserve to be treated only with the utmost sincerity and understanding. That’s why I’ll never trivialize sexual assault.

Join me in the fight to defeat Jim Jordan, make a contribution today! Link: http://bit.ly/GiveToOhioMike

Mike Larsen is a former senior staffer to Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and an Emmy nominated television writer for shows like Real Time with Bill Maher, Ellen, and The Drew Carey Show. He is a Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District. More info at www.OHmike.org

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