On Donald Trump and Sexual Assault

I have never been raped, but I have stories that I do not tell easily. The words only come when it feels like I cannot keep them inside anymore — when I’m drunk, when I’m in therapy, when I need to warn another woman about a potential predator or, worse, when I need to comfort her.

I do not tell these stories easily because I know what people say about Women Like Me. A woman who sometimes drinks too much, who sometimes wears low-cut shirts when she’s drinking too much. A woman who grew up without a father. A woman who has sex and likes it — sometimes with people I love, but also sometimes with people I don’t care about that much.

I have never been raped but I have one story I’ve never told before. From the day it happened through election night 2016, I thought I was just embarrassed; it was a story that simply reflected poor judgment. I should have known better. I should have behaved differently. I should have seen it coming. But 10 years removed, I finally understand that it’s not my fault.

Sit down, I have something to tell you.

It’s winter 2006; I am 17 years old. My mother and I are visiting my grandmother in suburban Washington DC and our sightseeing agenda for the day brings us to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. We move through the rooms of the museum at differing paces and at some point, I lose them. I also become aware of a pair of eyes — a tall man with dark hair is watching me look at the art.

He keeps his distance but my body is on high alert; he stays in my peripheral vision as I pick up speed. I do not feel unsafe, but I’m worried. He’s dressed a bit more casually than a museum guard but he does have a name tag on, and I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Did I get too close to a painting? Do they think I’m going to steal from the gift shop? This is the tail end of my teenage goth phase; I’m used to being monitored in department stores, but not this closely or with such intensity.

I make my way to the gift shop and he finally approaches me. I saw you looking at the art, he says. Which piece was your favorite? He has a thick accent that I cannot place and I can smell his cologne. Now that I see him up close, I can see that he’s older than he appeared out of the corner of my eye — probably nearing 40. Nothing in his tone seems accusatory, and I am no longer afraid.

We stand in the gift shop and talk. He tells me he works for the museum and that he likes to talk to the patrons, get a sense of what people like or what could be improved. He asks about me: how old I am, where I’m from, who’s there with me. I answer these questions honestly. He asks if I’d like to go upstairs to the museum cafe and get a coffee. I enthusiastically accept, because I make $5.50 an hour at my mall job (free coffee!) and my mom is driving me nuts (I’m a teenager!).

This conversation stands out to me, because I remember feeling for the first time that a grown man was taking me seriously. When you’re a 17-year-old girl, adults — especially men — don’t often think your opinions about art (or anything else) are worth much. Finally, I remember thinking, someone sees me as the grownup that I know I am now.

We get upstairs and the tone changes. He suggests that perhaps we continue this discussion in his office, rather than the cafe. I’ve replayed this day in my head so many times, and I know that this is the moment. This is what should have made me nervous. But I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I ask where his office is, he says right there and points to a door about 20 feet from where we’re standing. I just want to ask you a few more things, he adds. You’ll be back to your family in no time.

When I hear him shut and lock the office door behind me, my stomach drops.

I turn to face him. Are you a virgin? he asks me. Do you have a boyfriend?

Suddenly he’s on me, his hands grasping my face and his tongue in my mouth. The stubble along his upper lip scrapes my cheeks as I try to pull him off of me.

I really have to go now, I say, and he laughs as he grows larger in front of the door. I’ve forgotten a lot about this day — his name, his face, if it was 2006 or 2005 (Was I 16 or 17? That detail is fuzzy) — but I would recognize that laugh anywhere, even now.

He’s on me again, and I try to keep my mouth shut as he forces his tongue past my lips and teeth. As I struggle, he reaches his hand up under my grey long-sleeved shirt and grazes my bra. When he comes up for air, I speak again.

My family is probably looking for me, I plead. I bet at least one person saw us come in here.

He looks long and hard at his watch, weighing the pros and cons of keeping me captive, before unlocking the door.

Come back and see me next time you’re in town, he whispers directly into my ear.

I fling open the door and I run until I hit the stairs, and then I keep running until I’m back at the bottom, where I can blend into the crowd. Down the crowded corridor, I see my mother and she waves. Where have you been? she asks as I approach. We’ve been looking all over.

There have been other men, of course.

A former supervisor who told me one of my duties was to stand around and look pretty.

A sales rep who told me in passing that he wasn’t in love with his wife anymore.

A colleague who accused me of fucking my way to a promotion.

An interviewer at a tech company who read all his questions directly into my (well-covered) cleavage.

A college professor who insulted me in his office, then asked me to leave if I was going to cry because he couldn’t “talk to a hysterical person”.

A stranger who groped me in a crowded 7/11 as I yelled for help.

A third date who I had to forcefully remove from my apartment after he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

A professional contact who texted me in the middle of the night, drunk, to ask if my boyfriend and I were in an open relationship.

An ex-boyfriend who told me I wasn’t allowed to go out in a v-neck when he wasn’t around because I “looked like a slut”.

I have told these stories before, but some come out more easily than others. I know that logically I am not at fault for a man’s bad behavior, for being the target of someone else’s misogyny, but somewhere along the way I learned to blame myself first.

I shouldn’t have gone into his office alone. I shouldn’t have invited my date into my house. I shouldn’t have worn a tight skirt in a 7/11. I shouldn’t have taken up so much space, worn so much makeup, smiled so big. Nobody comes out and says it, but this is what I’ve gathered: men can’t control themselves, so you need to be less. Do less. Muffle yourself.

So what does this have to do with Donald Trump?

A man asked me recently: why would Donald Trump’s accusers stay silent for years, then all disclose their stories at the same time? Doesn’t that make them less believable?

I understand what would keep a woman silent, because I’ve stayed silent too. I’ve never told anyone the story of the man in the museum before. I felt embarrassed and, besides, nothing really happened right? He touched my boob, he kissed me, I felt uncomfortable and I left. He didn’t rape me, and I can’t say for sure that he would have tried to. I’ve never felt like I get to claim the label “sexual assault” because what happened to me seems so minor in comparison to, say, Jane Doe at Stanford.

And at 17, I wasn’t a perfect victim. I wasn’t a virgin. Even then, I felt like I knew what people would say: this happened because you’re a slut.

To women reading this: I don’t know exactly what you’ve been through, but I know you’re not alone. I know you’re angry. I know it hurts to see women just like you, like me, get up on TV and tell their own stories, only to be told that they didn’t come forward in the right place or time or with the right emotional inflection.

I know it hurts to see a man who does what’s been done to us, brags about doing it, doesn’t apologize because he doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing, on the national stage. It hurts, but we took solace in the fact that he’d never get elected. Women are half of the electorate; we’d never let that happen.

Except we did. Overwhelmingly, white women let this happen.

I know these feelings that have taken hold of me and refused to let go for the past two days, the same feelings I had when I was violated. I am angry. I am embarrassed. I am ashamed.

But this time I won’t stay silent. I hope you won’t either.