I’ve been a victim of sexual assault and emotional abuse since my teenage years. I can’t remember what age my first experience with sexual assault occurred, but I know it was too young for me to realise that it was not my fault.
While shopping with my younger sister at a department store an older man followed us. He surprised me by moving his hand under my skirt, firmly placing it on one of my buttocks. When I turned quickly, he pretended to be looking through items on a shelf while I stood there trying to comprehend his violation of my innocence. I was not even sexually active yet, but I was taken advantage of by a stranger that day which changed my whole outlook on the world.
As my first encounter with male predatory behaviour, it gave me a taste of the entitlement men feel they have over a female’s body, my body and it started a vicious cycle for me. Over the years a build-up of this behaviour by men towards me ended up crushing my spirit. That first unexpected experience was the first step of many which wiped away my dignity until there was nothing left except my own self-loathing.
My encounters with men did not improve as I came of age. Coming into my body sexually was difficult, I felt ashamed of my sexual feelings when I should have been celebrating being young and free. In my twenties further sexual harassment ensued, by boys and men I should have been able to trust, by strangers who didn’t know me but felt they could comment on my appearance or touch me in public, or call me a bitch and a whore when I turned down their advances. Even in my thirties when I moved into steady relationships, I couldn’t subdue the emotional abuse dished out to me. I continued playing the victim, trapped by men who used power-play or emotional abuse to control me. The two often went hand in hand.
When news broke from Hollywood that women were coming out accusing Harvey Weinstein of assault and rape, a trigger went off in me. As many more women came forward accusing Weinstein of assault my husband, who knows of my past experiences and relationships, alerted me to the New York Times article in which each woman told their story. I loaded the article on my mobile phone and retreated to our bedroom alone to read. When I emerged I had a revelation that I wanted to share but I didn’t know how to tell him because I was still processing the idea myself. After reading the account that Asia Argento gave about Weinstein raping her I realised that deep in my subconscious I had buried a memory similar to hers.
After a night out with my male friends, and an encounter with my abusive ex, which I dealt with by drinking too much too quickly, one of my friends left me to sleep off my drunkenness at our male acquaintances house. I woke up in the morning at this guy’s apartment to find that I was being sexually violated by him as I slept.
At the time it happened I was ashamed that I was hung over and that I let myself be placed in that situation, but did not label my encounter as sexual assault. It took me over ten years and a New York Times article I read in my late thirties to realise that what had happened to me that morning was rape.
The two ugliest experiences of sexual assault and rape I experienced gave me something in common with Weinstein’s victims – shame and silence.
In that department store as a child I went silent. Thinking about the indecency afterwards while riddled with guilt and shame I knew I should have told somebody. I could have screamed “help, that man touched me.” But I did not. I did nothing. Well, I guess I did something – I let my first predator walk away to repeat the behaviour with someone else because I didn’t want to have to explain to my parents what happened, I didn’t want to cause a scene and I didn’t want to be shamed any further.
What steamed from these reports against Weinstein was the trending hashtag #MeToo, a sign of solidarity for female victims of sexual abuse and rape. I could relate to the shame and silence of these women and I too was one of hundreds and thousands of women who shared the #MeToo hashtag and accompanying post on social media as a sign of solidarity. But like many I didn’t elaborate. Even though I could relate to the situations of the women who came forward against Weinstein, my story was too much to share publicly yet.
While in LA two weeks ago I was invited to meditation teacher, actor and now author, Jessica Graham’s book launch for her first novel titled, Good Sex – Getting Off without Checking Out. As Graham read from the prologue of her book, in which she writes about her abuse as a teen which led her to converting her experiences into a healing practice through merging sex and mindfulness, my own experiences and rape, (which I had not thought about in weeks) came flooding back.
In the discussion that followed with Graham a powerful thing happened – she mentioned that she is re-writing a section of a chapter as she, like myself, realised after the fact that one of her sexual encounters was rape. Listening to Graham speak I felt a connection to her story, I had an understanding to some extent of what Graham went though. I commend her and other victims of abuse and rape for their honesty and bravery when speaking out, their stories inspired me to write this.
It is the power and feeling of superiority that comes with dishing out abuse that makes it possible for abuse to occur in the first place and that is why victims stay silent for so long. It’s never about sex or desire for another, it is totally about making the victim feel little and weaker than the perpetrator. These predators are usually aware that a victim has a lot to loose by speaking up. It’s damn hard to raise your voice and say that you were violated as society has segregated men and women into two different categories defined by strict gender traits that are still stuck in the rule book which should stay in the past where it originated.
The idea that men are strong and women are submissive is part of the problem. Men generally won’t speak out about being abused by either sex because if they do society will see them as ‘unmanly’ or question their sexuality. For a woman speaking up means that she is usually asked ridiculous questions like, “what where you wearing when you were raped?” Or, “what did you think was going to happen if you went home with him?”
When the New York Times article listed Weinstein’s female victims and most told the story of how they met him in his hotel room, in further interviews journalists asked these women if they had any idea that going to the hotel room for a meeting was a little bit suspicious or they stated “but you went anyway”, when the women said they had an off feeling about having meetings in hotel rooms. This is what women have to deal with on a daily basis, we have to question every move we make and if something happens to us and we report it we must expect to be a victim of blame.
However, since the reports against Weinstein the floodgates have opened and more men in Hollywood are being exposed for misconduct of both males and females. These reports, coupled with the #MeToo movement, (which could easily be passed off as ‘Clickivism’ due to the rate it’s activism message spread on social media platforms), have shed light on subjects that our society wouldn’t in the past dare to speak about on a mainstream level. This is a positive step towards change.
Looking beyond the movement however, it seems as though a better understanding of the impact caused by victims remaining silent and the severity of sexual abuse has emerged. So I hope that from the #MeToo movement our society now has the tools to recognise sexual assault and address it, making it easier for victims to speak up. I hope that a discussion on sexual assault and abuse will continue and in turn attitudes towards victims change and predatory behaviour will be recognised and labeled as such instead of being passed off as a joke, a character flaw or ‘the way things are done in the business’. Most of all I hope that victims feel more at ease when confronting the truth and feel comfortable talking about their experiences openly without shame and guilt.
Image: Claudia Soraya
Sarah Jayne is a creative writer, film director and art director for film and television. She has been a creative from a young age and a writer since old enough to master a pencil. The stories Sarah Jayne enjoys telling, both in film and in print, are driven by her curiosity of the world and a women’s place within it. To date, Sarah Jayne’s writing has been published on Huff Post and Daily Life. Her biggest creative achievement to date is writing and directing the award winning short film Daughter, starring Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), which explores violence against women and victim blaming in society. Produced by Sarah Jayne’s production company, Nexus Production Group, Daughter is currently streaming through Amazon, Vimeo on Demand and is utilised as an educational tool though BeamaFilm Australia wide to start a discussion on the films topics. Sarah Jayne, under NPG has now moved to writing and directing feature films. The two current NPG features to look out for are the completely improvised, shot in one night Friends, Foes & Fireworks and In Corpore, also improvised and shot in four countries.