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sexual assault

Thoughts About #MeToo

I’ve been following the #metoo movement, started by Tarana Burke, and became widespread when Alyssa Milano posted about it following the dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein.

Alone by Marc Falardeau from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I wish things like the #metoo movement weren’t necessary. I feel sad and disgusted when I think about the sheer number of people who have been sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted. How can anyone feel entitled to take advantage of another person like this?

These predators thrive in silence. They rely on the fear and shame they invoke in their victims so they can continue to prey on others. #Metoo helps break the silence, and give survivors a voice. It breaks the pattern of downplaying these incidents and staying silent out of fear of the repercussions that could result from speaking out against these perpetrators.

As a survivor, I’m grateful for #metoo.

Don’t Rape by Richard Potts from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It’s validating and empowering to see people speaking out about their abuse. It reminds me that I’m not alone. It exposes the vastness of this problem. Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to “other people,” it happens to your friends, your family, your co-workers, people you look up to – people you know.

Although reading about other people’s #metoo experiences is validating, it’s also painful. I read these posts to honor and validate the survivor, but I also read them to see that I’m not alone in my experience as a survivor. My fellow survivors know what it’s like to be taken advantage of, to be frozen in fear, and what it’s like to be physically violated.

When I read a #metoo story like McKayla Maroney’s, who was repeated sexually assaulted by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, for years starting at age 13, I read her words, and I identify with her experience. It reminds me of what it feels like to be trapped, helpless, and covered with the sensation of icky-ness. Even as I type, I pause to shake my hands, trying to rid myself of that wave of shame.

I love this photo of Joe and me by Brandon Larkin (Creative Commons License)

Reading these accounts is triggering. As I was getting ready for work one morning last week, I wanted to climb back into bed and avoid the world instead of going to the office. Enveloped in shame, I could barely look anyone in the eye. When I went to my therapy appointment, I spent most of the session curled up on my therapist’s couch while we processed what I was feeling. (I couldn’t look him in the eye either.) He reminded me to take extra care of myself.

Why do I share all this? Because calling out the people who commit these disgusting acts is only part of the story. The impact on the survivors from being sexually harassed or assaulted can be devastating. It was for me.

It’s not something I went through, it’s something I live with. I’m getting better, thanks to therapy, medication, treatment, 12-step programs, and having a loving supportive people around me, though I still have days where I struggle with depression and I’m burdened with shame. Going to 12-step meetings taught me that “our secrets keep us sick,” so I have to share my story to help myself heal.

I support the #metoo movement and survivors sharing their experiences even though it can be triggering for me. This problem will only continue if we ignore it.

Thank you to everyone who validates me by sharing their story.

Josh Duggar Facing Lawsuit for Molestation – My Thoughts

I saw the news story that one of Josh Duggar’s five molestation victims (the non-family member) is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against him. The first thought that crossed my mind when I read this was: “Good!”

On one hand, I’m annoyed that the statute of limitations has run out on the criminal case in this situation; however, the silver lining of that is that no one can invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked questions about what happened. I am curious to see who all will be named in the lawsuit, if it will be just Josh, or if claims will be brought against his parents, church leaders, and the police as well.

Everyone Knows Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted (From the One in Three Exhibit by Stacey Champion)

Everyone Knows Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted (From the One in Three Exhibit by Stacey Champion)

One of the things that is annoying about being a sexual assault survivor and an advocate for victim’s rights, is the fact that there are statutes of limitations in many states that forbid victims from filing criminal charges or civil lawsuits against their perpetrators if they wait too long. In my situation, my statute of limitations to bring criminal charges ran out the day I turned 26. My abuser will never face criminal charges for what he did to me. There is a good chance that my statute of limitations has also run for civil charges, depending on how you look at the situation.

Even when the criminal statute of limitations has run out (in states that impose such limits – though I disagree with this too), perpetrators should still be held responsible for the physical and emotional damage they cause. If I ever become a political activist, I would want to dedicate my energy to changing the law so that sexual abuse and assault victims can always file civil suits against their perpetrators. If the victim can prove to a court of law that the perpetrator is responsible for harming the victim, then that person should be responsible for paying the victim financial damages that will offset the cost of their medical bills, therapy, medication, and pain they may endure for the rest of their lives.

The applicable Arkansas law gives victims a three-year window in which to file a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse. This may mean that only one of Josh’s victims will ever have the chance to pursue damages for the harm he caused. If his other victims (his sisters) decide they want to file a lawsuit later, they may not be able to, and that is a tragedy.

Statute of limitations have their place – we don’t want someone waiting ten years after a fender bender to request money for their physical injuries because by then it could be too hard to determine what caused the victim’s injuries. However, that is not necessarily the case in sexual assault cases. Yes, the person bringing the case will still have the burden of proving that the perpetrator is responsible for causing their injuries, which may be more difficult to do the longer the person waits to file a lawsuit; however, the passage of time shouldn’t be a knocks to bar that attempt to get justice.

I hope Josh Duggar’s victim files a civil lawsuit against him and everyone else who contributed to her injuries. I’m curious to hear what will come out in public testimony if this case goes to court.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or assault, please know that you are not alone. If you need help, there are amazing organizations out there like RAINN and 1in6.

Josh Duggar Admits Molesting His Sisters – Thoughts about the Victims’ Needs

I’m still processing my feelings about Josh Duggar’s acknowledgment that he molested multiple people, including some of his sisters.

It makes me angry that he’s not going to face criminal repercussions for his actions because the statute of limitations has run out. (I believe every state should eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges in any sex crime and allowing any victim to bring civil charges against his or her attacker at any time.)

Image from Facebook

Image from Facebook

It baffles me that Josh told his now wife Anna and her family that he had molested children and she still married him.

I feel bad for Josh’s victims, especially his sisters. I suspect they were told that they had to forgive him and move on, act as if nothing happened. Some reports say the girls have had counseling, but I have serious doubts that they received proper treatment. Sexual abuse is devastating to a person and can have long lasting effects. Trust me I know – my sexual abuse ended over 20 years ago and I’m still in therapy.  I’m still learning that my feelings matter, that I’m worthy of love, and that it’s not my job to maintain the perfect family image.

The situation with the television show sickens me. Here is a family that is putting themselves out there as having strong morals, and yet they have these dark secrets that they’re hiding. And they have the audacity to criticize other people’s lives and say that gay couples are a threat to children all while they have a sexual predator in their family!

There are elements of this family’s (and their community’s) dynamics that I find unsettling. In general, I have no issue with people who have strong religious beliefs, believe in modesty, or have strong family ties. However, I remember watching an episode of 19 Kids and Counting (or however many kids they had at the time) where the girls were showing how they saved money by doing their perms at home. One of the girls said that they all have long hair because their dad likes long hair. What about what they want? Shouldn’t they get to decide how long their hair is? It really bothered me when I saw the episode about Josh and Anna’s wedding where Anna’s father blatantly said that his daughter was going from following what he said to following her husband. What about what she wants? These statements seemed perfectly normal to them when they said it and it makes me wonder if young women in this community understand that what they want matters and how they feel is valid and deserves acknowledgment.

I saw an article headline that said TLC is considering removing Josh from the show. They’ve removed the show from the channel’s lineup, but I think they need to cancel the show entirely. Josh said he “acted inexcusably” by molesting multiple minors; I’d say he acted criminally and with complete disregard of human respect when used these girls for his own satisfaction.

His parents’ official statement called his behavior “very bad mistakes.” Mistakes? Mistakes?? A fifteen year old who forgets his homework or breaks curfew makes mistakes. A fifteen year-old who sexually assaults multiple people has severe problems. Sending him away for four months and then creating a reality show where you expect your daughters, who were molested by him to maintain your wholesome perfectionistic family image and be ok with being around him in any setting is disgusting.

It seems like ethical thing for TLC to do would be to cancel the show to give members of this family time and space for the healing they deserve. I hope if any of his victims ever want to take the public stage to discuss their experience as sexual assault survivors, that they have the opportunity to do so in a loving accepting environment.

In the larger picture, this country needs to acknowledge that there’s a big problem related to childhood sexual abuse. One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys in the U.S. has an unwanted sexual experience before age 18 – and the problem isn’t going away. The perpetrator often isn’t a stranger hiding in the bushes; it’s someone the child knows and trusts. These children who have been betrayed and violated deserve empathy and care for what they’ve been endured. Ignoring the problem and explicitly or covertly telling them to stay quiet victimizes them more and perpetuates the problem.

Carry that Weight: Accused Rapist calls it Harassment. I Suspect it’s Natural Consequences.

Did you see the story last week that Paul Nungesser is suing Columbia University? He’s the student who is accused of sexually assaulting Emma Sulkowicz (and other students), which inspired Emma to create the performance art piece called “Carry that Weight” after he was cleared of responsibility in regards to her alleged rape by the school.

Visual arts major Emma created this piece for her senior thesis where she committed to carrying a mattress everywhere she went as long as she attends the same school as her accused attacker. Paul is suing the school, claiming that “Carry that Weight” is a harassment campaign against him and as a result, its damage to his reputation and job prospects. He also claims that he has been on the receiving end of pervasive threatening behavior by other students who call him a “serial rapist” when he attends school events.

(I must use terms like “accused” and “alleged” because this is a situation where the suspect has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing in a court of law. Please don’t interpret this to mean that I don’t believe Emma or any others who speak out about being sexually assaulted.)

Protester with Placard by WeNews from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Protester with Placard by WeNews from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This development in this situation leaves me frustrated and emotionally torn. On the one hand, I am a strong advocate of the idea that people are “innocent until proven guilty.” I believe in this ideology because I don’t want to see that justice system manipulated or people being punished based on one person’s word. I believe when a person is accused of a crime, they deserve in their day in court and that it’s the prosecution’s job to build the case against them.

On the other hand, my limited experience with the criminal justice system has taught me that sexual assault cases are very hard to prove. As a lawyer I find myself regularly quoting Tom Cruise’s brilliant line from A Few Good Men: “It doesn’t matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove.” Sometimes justice can’t be done because the evidence isn’t there to paint a clear enough picture of what happened. That doesn’t mean that the victim isn’t telling the truth. Studies show that very few people lie about being sexually assaulted.

If Paul attacked Emma or any other student (and I believe he did), part of me endorses the idea that he and others like him that get away with sexual assault deserve the natural consequences of their actions. They deserve to have tarnished reputations and to be called out for the wrongdoings that they committed. It’s too easy for a rapist to go unpunished because there isn’t enough physical evidence and/or the statute of limitations has run out. And then they can turn around and victimize the person again by claiming they are being defamed when the victim has the strength encourage to call out their attacker for what they did.

Given that Paul is suing Columbia University and not Emma directly, I think he’s just trying to get money out of the situation. I would not be surprised if he filed this lawsuit in the hopes that the school will pay him a comfortable settlement in exchange for dropping the case.

I Can’t Stay Silent Anymore

The way sexual assault is handled in the U.S. makes me so frustrated. Sexual abuse and sexual assault is so pervasive – the CDC estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused and the number of women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetime is devastatingly high, and yet it’s something that is almost never discussed. I saw the trailer for the documentary about sexual assault on college campuses, The Hunting Ground, last tonight and it filled me with fire.

I get so angry when I hear about child molestation by church priests, the abuse by Jerry Sandusky, and the pervasiveness of sexual assaults on college campuses. I’m not angry just because people are being attacked, but because the institutions who are responsible for the victims’ safety are protecting the perpetrators. They are more concerned about maintaining their reputations than doing what’s right. Are they completely oblivious to the devastating effects of sexual assault? Do they know that they have shamed people into silence and attack them for speaking up? It makes me so angry and frustrated at “the system” that it’s hard to find words to express it. I just want to scream at them.

To every institution that turned a blind eye or blamed or shamed of victim who was sexually assaulted under their watch – Fuck You! I don’t believe in protecting perpetrators or the people that protect them.

As a survivor of sexual assault, my heart goes out to these victims and fellow survivors. I suspect I know your pain, your anger, and your shame. We live in a world that tells us to stay silent about being victimized and traumatized, to “get over it.” The people who say this are too uncomfortable with the fact that this happens everywhere and to all types of people, so they try to ignore it. They push the problem onto the victims when it’s really them who have the real problem.

The survivors of sexual assault have a challenge – to deal with the damage of the trauma we’ve been through. And if you’re a survivor too, you know how soul crushing and devastating it can be. This isn’t something we just “get over.” We live with it for the rest of our lives. It’s our responsibility to do what we have to do to take care of ourselves, whatever that looks like. And for some of us dealing with this deep trauma doesn’t take weeks or months; it takes years, maybe even a lifetime.

I’ve been silent for too long, shamed by individuals, institutions, and cultural norms. Speaking only for myself, I feel like I’m at a point where I can’t say that survivors should feel empowered to speak out whenever they need to an to call out individuals and institutions that perpetuate this problem, unless I’m willing to speak out too.