As news of lewd comments made by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump 10 years ago exploded across the Internet on Friday evening, a separate conversation was catching fire on Twitter. Canadian author Kelly Oxford had fired off a few tweets about Trump’s statements, particularly his declaration that he “can do anything” to women, including “grab them by the p—y.”
Trump’s remarks were shocking because they’d been made by a man who would wind up winning the Republican presidential nomination. But assault of the kind Trump seemed to be describing isn’t so rare; nearly one in five women in one survey reported being victims of sexual violence. So for many women, the remarks weren’t a surprise, as Oxford soon found out when she asked her Twitter followers to talk about times they’d been assaulted:
Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren't just stats. I'll go first:
Old man on city bus grabs my "pussy" and smiles at me, I'm 12.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 7, 2016
What happened next was a steady, overwhelming flood of responses. The simplicity of the stories — 140 characters or fewer — combined with the devastating details and the mind-boggling number of them makes for powerful and scary reading.
@kellyoxford I was 10, he was my babysitter. Told me he was training me for boys when I got older.
— Laurenn McCubbin (@laurennmcc) October 8, 2016
@kellyoxford Older brother of a junior high school friend made me go down on him when I was wasted on wine coolers. He was 18. I was 12.
— Christy Lemire (@christylemire) October 8, 2016
@kellyoxford A drunk family friend in his 40s pinned me against the door @ my granny's & pressed himself on me. I was 15. Never told anyone.
— Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly) October 8, 2016
Oxford agreed to speak to The Washington Post about what happened since her tweet. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
Washington Post: How many responses did you get to your tweet?
Kelly Oxford: [According to analytics] 8.5 million since midnight. I’ve received 1,800 stories in the last hour. It’s an outpouring.
How many of them did you read?
I’ve read thousands.
What was your night like? Were you even able to sleep with all these responses coming in?
I slept for a few hours. Woke up and realized the stories did not stop, they didn’t get less upsetting; there were more of them. I kept expecting the responses to slow down, or [thought] maybe all of the horrific ones have been told. But they just keep coming in.
The tweet did garner some negative responses. Was that expected? How did you decide if you should respond, rather than ignore/block?
This was an invitation for women to share. I did not entertain any backlash. This was so powerful and ascended any type of anonymous rants. They are weak compared to these women. They are nothing.
You shared four of your own stories, all of which took place when you were a teenager or younger. When these things happened to you, did you understand them to be sexual assaults? Almost inevitably, after an assault makes the news, there’s someone trying to downplay it — I’m thinking of some responses I saw to the Brock Turner case, which suggested the crime wasn’t so serious. Why is there still so much resistance to classifying a sexual assault as what it is?
I can only speak for myself. My parents were open and caring and taught me to protect and respect my body. As a preteen, I wanted to be beautiful. Being beautiful signified being accepted. People liking me. Subconsciously, girls are told they are objects. You wait to be proposed to, you take the man’s last name, he makes the most money. To be a “chosen one” you must be desirable.
So imagine you’re in the midst of puberty and realize a man is touching [your vagina] on a bus. First, it’s a shock. Waves of fear, nausea. Then embarrassment. Isn’t this what we are for? I bought into that bull—-. My god, the shame.
Did anything about these responses change how you think about sexual assault? What about them was most surprising to you?
The most surprising were the number of doctors involved. I’ve heard of family members and teachers. But two of mine were doctors — I assumed I was just unlucky.
What would you say to men who look at your Twitter thread and say, “Well, I would never do these things”?
I’m happy they exist. And the men saying that are also horrified as they read these stories.
What do you want people to take away from this thread?
This happens to almost every woman. We need to shift away from women being objects in order for this to stop.
I also wish people didn’t see this as a political move. Sure, Trump’s comments spurred the conversation. I’m not having the conversation to rob Trump of votes. This isn’t about him. It’s about us.
All tweets embedded with permission
Correction: Due to an editing error, the headline on this post originally stated that a tweet had had 8 million replies. In fact, it had had 8 million organic impressions.