Shit Happens

You have got to be kidding me, right?

Just because someone didn’t report it 20 years ago doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Yes, there have been false reports, false memories, statements made under duress then retracted under duress. But to claim that “it must not have been that bad if they didn’t say anything then” is bullshit. Absolute bullshit.

Based on the credibility and attitude of, and the actual words said by the perpetrator, my gut says shit did happen to those women a long time ago and they did what we’ve all had to do. They sucked it up. They moved forward. They hoped they’d never have to go through it again. They hoped they could put it all behind them. They spent countless hours, days, months, or even years wondering what they did to invite the shit that happened. They spent that same amount of time wondering if they should have said something — wondering how many others had the same shit happen and if they could have stopped it by speaking up. Then they spent even more time trying to figure out what they could have said, to whom, and when. And even seconds before they did speak out, they anguished over the decision, knowing they would be shamed, attacked, and re-victimized. Yet they did it anyway.

What makes me an expert on dealing with this shit? It’s happened to me. More than once and more than the examples given here:

When I was a waitress in high school, it just became part of the shift — getting petted, demeaned, crudely solicited. Once, after a particularly surprising grope, I dropped the dishes I was carrying. When I explained what happened to my manager, an older white male, he suggested that must be why I made such good tips and to “keep up the good work.” I was 16.

When a male co-worker goosed my ribs from behind again, despite my constant warnings over time, I elbowed him in the gut and yelled at him to back the f… off. He stopped, but I was admonished for losing my “military bearing” in front of customers.

When I was raped by a fellow service member, I didn’t say anything. I was too scared I would be in trouble for drinking…or something. I honestly don’t even remember what rules I thought I’d broken, but I was afraid. I was still new to my unit and new in the Navy and just wanted to steer clear of any trouble. And the guy was someone I knew, but not a boyfriend, just another Sailor that went on the road trip with us. It was years before I understood he had drugged me. By then it was too late, his name forgotten. I still carry that guilt. I probably wasn’t the first he’d assaulted and likely not the last.

Years later, at sea on an aircraft carrier, I avoided the busiest chow times, and when I did have to stand in the line, I learned fast how to position myself so there was no opportunity for a guy to get up close behind me. There were only 36 women on the ship and most of us slept in the same berthing area. We would compare incidents, warning each other of the new tricks being employed to harass us. We told our supervisors — men, of course. Their reply? “What’d you expect coming onto an aircraft carrier full of men?” “They’re harmless.”

When we had a stalker that would wait outside of our work-center or outside of berthing and follow us, making crude and threatening comments, our concerns were “solved” by being told to just not walk alone. Imagine being one of only eight people on watch at three am and you can’t even go pee by yourself because you need an escort.

So yeah, these incidents may seem mild to some and others will point out that these aren’t the same things as what’s plastered all over the headlines. But it really is. Unwelcomed, uninvited shit happened that made us uncomfortable. We dealt with it the best way we knew how at the time. Some eventually make the choice to speak up while others still don’t. The reasons are as varied as the attacks. Maybe they did speak up, but nothing happened. Or maybe they spoke up, but were shamed for their actions, clothing, attitude, history…etc. Just imagine the numbers of victims that still don’t have the strength to speak up.

Here’s what we need to ask ourselves…how many women and men are being victimized at this very moment, but because of the reckless politicization of this topic, and the overwhelming dismissal of sexual harassment and misogyny as “locker room talk,” they will never speak up. And how many abusers and attackers are being emboldened by it all?