I belong to a wonderful organization that empowers people to find their voices. We help you build self-confidence and to grow personally and professionally. Women make up more than 50% of our organization. Unfortunately, we still have a gender gap in this organization. In the 90 plus year history women have not held positions in leadership as much as they should. We were only let in to the organization in 1973. There have only been a handful of women Presidents (there will be another one coming up). There have been very few women champions of our speech contest. We have made strides on a local level with lots of women running and holding positions in leadership. I say this because it needs to be said. I am not admonishing us. I know we can do better. Like politics, more women need to run for power positions and win. It is hard. I know all about wanting to run and actually running.
In this wonderful organization, I was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by a man in a power position. I will admit that only until recently I did not think that I had been sexually assaulted. After the recent trial involving Taylor Swift I have come to realize that grabbing my ass when I neither want you do that or gave you permission to do it is in fact sexual assault.
The man in question put his hand on my rear. And squeezed. At the time I did not believe it was happening and I believed that because I was fat there was no way a man would want to do that to me. Yes, I really thought that way. I let it go because I believed it was an error or a mistake. It happened again six months later and I let it go again because he was on our Board of Directors. I did not want to cause problems (I was already called a problem child by some of my local leaders). I did not have the power position to make anything happen. At our yearly convention when he did it a third time. Then he insisted that he kiss me, and take a photo. I have the photo. I am smiling, looking happy that this man is kissing me. Inside I was dying.
A few months later, he came to visit our local conference. There he sexual harassed a guest. Not even a member of our organization. When I learned about it, I offhandedly joked about the same man toughing my ass. My mentor encouraged me to include my story and file a complaint. Many other women told their stories. The complaint was made and all hell broke loss.
My name, which was supposed to held in confidence, was given to my harasser. His allies then started harassing me. I received text messages, emails, mail to home, death threats. I was telling the truth yet I was the one being slut shamed and harassed. And it wasn't just from his supporters. Even the woman who was my local leaders threatened and accused me of causing problem. Nothing like getting berated by your leader and a woman for doing the right thing. There was an investigation and he was removed from office and banned from our organization.
This is why women do not come forward - we cannot believe it happened. We are ashamed it happened. We fear the repercussions. We are not believed even by other women,. Harvey Weinstein had so much control and power in Hollywood that he could literally kill your career if you did not sleep with him. It was known throughout the industry that he was at best creepy and at worst a rapist. It was known in my organization that my harasser did not have a filter or know what boundaries were but he got elected to our board anyway. I get why we do not report more. Would you want to be threatened and harassed because you were assaulted and harassed?
Just today, Oliver Stone came out in defense of Harvey Weinstein saying, “It's not easy what he's going through either". I bet it is hard for him to finally be called out for his actions. However, probably not as hard as it is being raped. I know that he has not been convicted of a crime but here we are again. How many women have to come forward for us believe the victims?
We cannot continue to defend these predators. We have to make it ok for women to feel empowered enough to speak out. I wish I had done it sooner. I could have prevented so much pain for others. I am tough; I took the threats and nastiness and have not only stayed in my organization but became an accomplished leader. We can do better with our policies and I hope that as more women move in to power positions they can make changes.
I believe these women. I believe the women who have spoken about so many men. False reporting is a rare thing. Women are telling the truth yet it is hard for some to believe them. I told the truth and so many people called me liar. Probably still do. I know the truth. I spoke the truth. My silence was not golden at all. That is why I cannot be silent any longer