Six days ago, Kelly Oxford, a nationally known author and public figure tweeted the story of the first time she was sexually assaulted and invited others to do the same. Kelly was 12 years old when a man on a city bus grabbed her between the legs and smiled at her. Since last week, she has received over a million tweets of similar stories from women. At times, more than 50 per minute.
“Groped, penetrated, rubbed against, masturbated on, stalked, raped and forcibly kissed…” wrote NPR on Tuesday. This is the reality nearly every woman experiences – not just once, but time and time over in her lifetime. Thank God, it has become a national conversation. Because honestly, even women don’t talk about it between themselves. We had given up hope that it would ever change and had accepted that being assaulted repeatedly was our lot in life. Society didn’t even consider it sexual assault ( which, by the way is defined by the justice department as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”) At least now, with all the talk, there is hope for change.
Change depends, however, on where men take it from here.
One story told of a girl who took the metro to school starting at 12. She quickly learned not to get on any train that was either completely empty or completely full. If it was empty, and a man got on at the next stop, he would invariably expose himself to her. If it were completely full, she would arrive at school with semen on her backside from being masturbated on.
A million similar stories were told. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.
I remember the first time for me. I was also twelve. The middle school I attended had a long and boring lunch line, but it was made more enjoyable by joking around with the two bus drivers who delivered the meals from the high school, where they were made, to our school. I looked forward to talking to them each day as they stood in the kitchen and we all inched by in a line. Then, one day I left school early on a pass for a dentist appointment. The school seemed empty. Teachers and students were in class and administrators were in their offices. As I walked down the hall, I ran into one of the lunch drivers, and he walked me out. As we came to the airlock doors, he held one open for me. But as I passed through, so did he. He pressed against me and kissed me on the mouth. I wasn’t even sure it really happened. I just kept walking. The next day, I told the school counselor and he said he would speak to the principal about it. Later, he reported, “I told him I thought there had been an incident of the driver kissing a girl at our school. I didn’t give him your name. He said, ‘well I can only think of one person that could be – Jennifer Carmer – she flirts with them all the time.’” Yah, 12 year old me was flirting with 60 year old men.
Age 18 – I was a freshman in college, working as a front desk clerk at a large hotel. One day, the owner of the hotel came downstairs to the front desk, leaned over the desk and started staring at me. After 15-20 seconds of his silent gaze, I became very uncomfortable and said, “Ted, is there something I can do for you?” “Honey, there’s a LOT you could do for me, you’d better rephrase that question”. Thank God the phone rang. When I finished with the call, he had disappeared.
Age 22, I went out to supper with a group of co-workers at my first “real” job. We loosened up and started laughing with each other. The co-worker sitting next to me laughed at a joke I told and as he did he put his hand on my thigh. He left it there as he told me a joke of his own. I told my boyfriend about it when I got home, and he asked me why I didn’t tell the guy to take his hand off me, and I said, I didn’t actually realize I could. I thought I would get in trouble or at least cause a scene if I did.
Age 54 – just a few months ago, I had a conversation with a friend who has been in human resources for over 20 years. I asked her what her take on tattoos in the workplace was and her response shocked me. She said, we generally don’t recommend them because a tattoo on a woman can be sexually stimulating to some men. I said, “well that’s his problem if he gets stimulated by a tattoo,” to which she replied, “yes, but as we all know, it can easily become her problem too.”
A million women tweeted similar stories this week. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.
My son came to me this summer and said he was confused and conflicted. A man he worked with had been accused of raping a young woman at a college party. She had too much to drink and went upstairs to lie down. He was accused of following her and raping her while she was unconscious. My son didn’t know what to believe because he thought he knew this man and didn’t understand how it could be true that anyone – let alone his acquaintance – could do such a thing. I told him that unfortunately, some men look upon an incapacitated or vulnerable female the way the rest of us look at a $20 bill found in an empty parking lot.
A million stories. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.
Rape culture will not end from us talking to our daughters. Rape culture will end when we start talking to our sons. The ball is in your court men. It’s time for good men to speak out. It’s time for parents to talk to their sons about sexual assault.