When I was a freshman in college, I locked eyes across a fraternity party with a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with a magnificent smile, and when we refilled our beers, we started to talk. He was charming. It was exciting. When he asked if he could walk me back to my dorm, I didn’t hesitate.
It was winter. He put his arm around me. My head was spinning from the beer and from the nearness of him. He pushed me up against the wall of a frat house. He kissed me, and it was nice. It was late. Probably after 1 o’clock.
Then, he reached inside my coat and for my jeans. I said no and pushed his hand. I said no again. He didn’t listen. He put my arms behind my back and pushed his weight against me. He was strong. I kept saying no, but he wasn’t being nice anymore.
That incident from long ago keeps replaying in my head now, as the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court could hinge on accusations that he assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s, when they were both in high school. I know how attacks like the one Ford alleged happen, because that’s what happened to me. I understand why Ford kept it to herself for so long, because I did the same thing, and so have so many other women. And I understand why, even if Ford is telling the truth, Kavanaugh could honestly have forgotten about it. Years later, victims like me live with the life-altering effects of sexual attacks. What about attackers? Do some of them carry secret apologies around in their hearts? Do some live in fear of being discovered? Do some truly forget about it because it was just an unsuccessful sexual conquest?
Up against the fraternity house wall, the man I met that night unzipped his pants and then my jeans. He pulled mine down. I said I didn’t want to do this. I was a virgin.
I felt the cold bricks against my head, scratching my scalp.
He mumbled that I did want to do this, or I wouldn’t have talked to him and left with him. He put his knee between my legs. I started to cry, and he told me to shut up or he would hit me.
I felt the brick wall scraping my back, and I waited to be hurt. I had heard it was going to hurt.
And then, a miracle: He wasn’t able to rape me. I was 18 years old; I had no idea what alcohol did to a guy. He kept trying to force himself inside me, but he just couldn’t. Instead, he shoved me, hard — so hard that my head banged the wall and my teeth clicked. Later, I found that the back of my head was bleeding.
He fell on the ground. I pulled up my jeans and ran.
I sat in the dark on my bed, hugging my knees. Every time I thought about what had happened, my stomach tensed up. I thought I would vomit, but I didn’t go to the bathroom, because I was afraid he was in the hallway.
I never told anyone in college about that night. Not even my best friend. He hadn’t raped me, so was it really that bad? It felt bad. I felt bad. But he didn’t rape me. Maybe he didn’t attack me, I wondered: Maybe that’s how I was supposed to be treated for letting him walk with me. I knew only that it was somehow my fault and that if I told anyone, I would be blamed for it. I would be the one who would be pointed at and talked about.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone anything.
I didn’t relax until I went home for the summer. But the dread never left me. Even years later, I can go from happy and laughing to scared and unsafe in a moment. Great evenings out end with the ordeal of walking to my car with my keys clenched between my knuckles, listening for footsteps and waiting for my heart to stop racing after I drive out of the parking lot. When my old dog died, I swore I’d never get another, but two weeks later, after every noise in the house made my stomach contract, I adopted a hound. Unexpected knocks at the door make me jump; one time, my daughter had to say “It’s me” three times as I looked at her face through a crack in the door before I let her in the house. That night changed who I am.
A few years after it happened, I was at dinner with several women. We started talking. Two had been raped. Each of the others had been attacked. I told my story for the first time.
I believe Ford. She knew that her motives would be questioned. She knew she would be vilified and called a liar. But I also believe that Kavanaugh might not remember hurting her, even if he did it. For Ford, it was a defining moment in her life. For Kavanaugh, though, maybe it was just a forgettable goof.
Most women never report incidents like the one I endured, despite President Trump’s declaration Friday morning that if Ford was really attacked, she would have told her parents and the authorities. Only about 30 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
But if she’s anything like me, Ford felt compelled to speak out now because to do nothing would be to deny herself yet again. It would be one more time that she just let it go and he got away with it. And she can’t let it happen again.
I know it seems easier and safer to stay silent. But it isn’t, really. I have daughters. I don’t want them to keep quiet if someone hurts them. I want them to fight for justice. I want those who hurt women to answer for it. They don’t deserve to walk away and shrug it off as a youthful indiscretion. Men need to answer for events in the past because the women they harmed still live with them. We can move forward only when we acknowledge what’s already happened.
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