October 18, 2017 10:52:34 AM
I have never been an accomplice to a crime.
Put another way, I have never been a victim of sexual assault/sexual abuse/sexual harassment. Those who have know precisely what I mean.
In my 58 years, I have never once thought about how what I wear might make me vulnerable.
When I went on a date or out for a night of fun with friends, I never once considered the possibility it would end in an act of violence.
I have never worried that my words or posture might be misconstrued as an invitation for an intimate act.
I have never once thought to park in a lighted area, or to make sure I have my keys in hand as I walk through a parking lot.
In those times when I have been wrongly treated, I have never had to worry if I would be believed. Certainly, I have never felt personal shame for the acts of others.
But others have. So great a cloud of witnesses, as the saying goes.
"Me, too" may be the most heart-breaking two words I can think of today.
The "Me, Too" campaign began a decade ago, by a woman named Tarana Burke, who created the catchphrase to be used from sexual abuse survivors to let them know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing is possible.
It has caught fire on social media in the past couple of weeks in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations.
Suddenly, ordinary people from all over the country have shared their own stories of abuse under the "Me, too" heading or hashtag.
Many of my friends shared their "me, too" stories on their Facebook pages - powerful, painful stories.
I asked if they would permit me to share their stories with my readers and many consented. But I was not prepared for the emotional tidal wave that would crash over me.
There is a girl, about 8, who is surrounded by a group of older boys, bursting into tears as they talk about taking her into the woods and violating her and, by some miracle, avoiding the act, if not the trauma of the illusion of safety in her own neighborhood.
There is another 8-year-old, a boy, who is thrilled when an older neighborhood boy offers him a ride on his bike, a trip that ends in the woods, having been forced to perform a sexual act. He cannot speak of it. How do you tell your dad such a thing?
When a college co-ed tells her mom about a man who exposed himself to her and tried to force her into his car, her mom tells her it's best to say nothing, to let it go. Days later, she is watching the news with her father when a story of a young woman's rape is reported. Her dad wonders aloud what the woman was wearing and it dawns on her. "My father thinks it's my fault."
There is the mom, whose 15-year-old daughter is raped and murdered by a man who escapes justice for 17 years.
Dozens of stories of being assaulted, groped, dominated, humiliated, objectified. Any place, anytime, in any company, circumstance or setting.
There are so many who are told to "keep quiet." So many who are asked, "Are you sure?" when they do summon the courage to speak out. So many who imprison themselves in silence and guilt, believing that it was somehow their fault, that they are somehow accomplices to unspeakable acts of cruelty.
So many "me, toos" that I stagger at the weight of it all, shared by friends who have always seemed perfectly normal to me. Scarred people who have endured, but have not forgotten.
I asked my friends what they hoped would come from sharing their "me, too" stories.
One friend summed up it up well.
"I think sharing our stories, as so many are doing, sends the message of "Holy crap, I'm not the only one who was embarrassed, humiliated, scared, intimidated, etc by such-and-such person.' It's OK to talk about. I'm safe with these people.
"While it's dreadfully sad to know so many of my sisters (and brothers) have struggled through their own awful story, it's empowering to know that if we were to stand together, and call this nonsense out EVERY SINGLE. TIME. We can maybe stop some of these criminals...We do not need to own their crime in our guilt and shame."
I marvel at the strength, the dignity, the courage, the unfathomable resiliency of my friends.
By some miracle of grace, I have no "me, too" story to tell.
But "I believe" and in believing, I am an ally.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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