Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Switchblade Knife Against My Neck and Other Horror Stories

"Would you like to meet God?"

Before I could respond, I had a switchblade knife pressed against my neck. Stunned did not begin to describe what I felt at that moment.  Scenes in movies or crime shows often involved a woman being accosted by a stranger in a dark alley. But I wasn't being pushed against garbage cans  in an alley in the inner city.  We were standing  in the English Department chairman's backyard at the annual pig roast.    Although the yard was very large, we weren't even that isolated.  The only similarity to those scenes was that it was dark. 

This man, a PhD candidate with whom I had interacted occasionally, used the cover of darkness to attack me.  Did he intend to drag me off and rape me?  Did he just mean it as a bizarre practical joke?  Regardless, I was terrified.  I was couldn't utter a sound.  Thankfully another PhD candidate came along and very calmly removed this man's hand from my throat. 

"I will be forced to rape you."

That's what my friend's boyfriend told me when I refused to have sex with him.  He then went on to explain that, because he was of Scandinavian descent, he wouldn't fare well in prison.   

When I didn't react to the implication that he'd commit suicide in prison, he left.  I reckon I lucked out. 

"Let him drive you home."

When I began my graduate studies at Northern Illinois University, I was still a virgin.  Some members of the department had a goal:  corrupt Debbie.  I was the straight laced one. I didn't sniff coke. I didn't smoke.  I dressed modestly.  Even during happy hour I would nurse two, three drinks over several hours.     

Even though this TA (teaching assistant) invited everyone to a  party that was on the same night as Erev Yom Kippur, I still wanted to attend.  I went to services  carrying a bottle of wine.  After services were over, I walked off campus. I just had a bit of the wine, and left the rest of it for others. 

I played card games.  I kibbitzed with other members of the department.  After a while, I wanted to go home.  The woman who had invited all of us decided to play a joke on me.  She insisted that I not walk back to campus. It was obvious that the Director of Graduate Studies was drunk, yet she insisted I accept a ride from him.  I tried to beg off, but she would have none of it.

His driving made me so nervous that I decided to have him drop me off several blocks away from where I lived.  Just as I was opening up the door on the passenger side, he yanked me over to his side of the car. He tried to kiss me on the lips.  I turned my face away, so he only kissed my cheek.  As he tried to grasp me a second time, I managed to get out of his car.

The following Monday, I told the other TA what had happened.  I could tell from the horrified look on her face that her joke had gone too far.  No doubt she thought I'd just be frightened by the professor's driving and that would be it. 

Not once did it occur to me to report these incidents. The PhD candidate who helped me out never suggested that we call the cops or at least tell some authority figure at the pig roast.  Because of my misplaced loyalty to my friend, I didn't tell her about how her boyfriend had threatened me. I was afraid that she wouldn't believe me, and would stop speaking to me.

Neither the woman who had thrown the party nor our mutual friend suggested I report the Director of Graduate Studies.  Perhaps it didn't occur to them.  Or, perhaps, like me, they were just plain scared.  Perhaps none of us really knew what was the proper and necessary thing to do. 

My impression is that only recently has the broad definition of sexual assault been put forth.  Or perhaps I hadn't been paying attention.  When it finally dawned on me, I could no longer be in denial about what had happened to me.  And lately my mind has been screaming at me, "tell people about this.  Do it NOW!" 

Silence is NOT golden when it's used to cover up rape and other incidents of sexual assault.  A woman's credibility is always questioned.  And yet men on my Twitter timeline are wondering why it took so many years for women to come forward with these accusations.  When men are in positions of authority and can either make or break a career, it's clear to me that that alone would cause a woman to hesitate. 

In my case it was simply that I wanted to forget all about these incidents.  For years I had managed to block the switchblade incident.  I don't know what caused that memory to come flooding back to the forefront of my mind.  To this day I cannot remember that man's name.  I remember more or less what he looked like. I even remember liking him, and that is what makes what happened all the more jarring.

That brings me to the heart of the matter: not tarring all men with that same insidious brush.  I love men.  The menfolk whom I consider friends I know I can trust implicitly.  The menfolk I count as friends are mensches.  We may disagree about various issues, but I know that they will have my back.

To all you honorable menfolk out there:  Thank you.  We need more men who will believe women, stand up for women, and encourage us to fight our own battles by speaking up about injustices we have experienced and to support the many other women who have had similar experiences. 

To all the girls and  women out there who have been too frightened to come forward,  #MeToo is not a fading fad.  #MeToo is for all the girls and women who have come before us who didn't ever have anyone tell them that it was not only OK but necessary for them to speak up. We all need to make sure that no girl or woman will ever again feel shame, guilt or embarrassment for what happened to them.  We need to make sure that all girls and women will be believed whether they report these incidents right away or take thirty-seven years like I did.  We all owe it to those girls and women to speak up now.  Loudly and clearly.  And, above all, we need to refuse, once and for all, to let ourselves  be silenced. 

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