#MeToo: Assault I kept quiet about
Earlier this month, Kellyann Conway, “counsellor to the President”, commented on the Brett Kavanaugh allegations that she didn’t think that “one man’s shoulders should bear decades of the #MeToo movement.”
The fact is that Kavanaugh is not being expected to bear total responsibility because, sadly, there are plenty of other (alleged) male offenders available to keep him company.
I know it is #notallmen. God knows, I know plenty of excellent blokes who would not dream of harming anyone, but the Kavanaugh allegations stand as both a symbol of toxic masculinity and of the women and girls who feel unable to report crimes against their attackers until decades later – if at all. Every family will have a woman who is carefully and fearfully watching the reactions of people in power to the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, the research psychologist who alleges Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was in high school three decades ago.
These are the women who are hiding trauma from their loved ones because, from Trump downwards, the message we are getting is that still, in 2018, you will not be believed.
I was in my early teens when it happened to me. Most evenings I would walk to my grandparents’ home and wait for them to come home from work. I would put the kettle on, cut my grandfather a slice of fruit cake, then pop round to my grandparents’ neighbours to walk their dog, a scruffy little terrier cross.
Like so many women, my shoulders have felt the weight of the entire #MeToo movement
Over a period of weeks, the elderly husband had been trying to give me money, just a few coins, in exchange for walking the dog, which I refused because it made me feel uncomfortable.
Then one day, as I walked into his kitchen to pick up the dog lead, he assaulted me. I was able to get away by lashing at him with the dog lead and ran all the way up to the water tower where I waited, dog in tow, until my grandfather returned from work.
I told my grandfather. He believed me, but we both guessed the police would not take such things seriously.
In an era when Benny Hill spent most of his time on TV chasing young women over hill and dale, it was clear that at all stages of their lives, some men’s proclivity for inappropriate behaviour was always explained away as “Boys will be boys”, or, “Men!” (said with an exasperated eye roll) and “He’s just a dirty old man.”
I begged my grandfather not to call the police. I also liked my neighbour’s wife, a warm woman who always made me welcome and whose friendship with me and my grandparents might never recover. It was a lot to cope with. I thought that somewhere along the line, I had asked for trouble.
My grandfather went round to see the man concerned. He never told me what transpired beyond “He won’t be bothering you again,” and I never asked.
My grandfather was a gentle, loving man, but from the tensing of his jaw, I knew the encounter had not been a pleasant one for him.
Like so many women, my shoulders have felt the weight of the entire #MeToo movement. This seems to be okay with too many people who are outraged that Brett Kavanaugh and his ilk are being asked to bear a little of the weight, too.
For years I had to live with the knowledge that a year later, the man who assaulted me was arrested, charged and sent to prison for sex offences against minors, including a young paper delivery girl.
The case was reported in the press, his wife and children were distraught, and I never told them that I was a victim, too (albeit less “harmed” than some of his other victims were).
I will always wonder if my not speaking out placed these other girls in danger, or exacerbated the effects of existing crimes against them, even though I know the only person with the responsibility for stopping his criminal behaviour was the man himself. My shoulders are broad now. They have had to be, because incidents like this are not isolated ones and many, many women experience multiple episodes of harassment – or worse.
What happened to me has faded into a vaguely unpleasant memory, maybe because I was lucky in that someone believed me and supported my decision to not pursue it.
I think dealing with a criminal justice system that seems to put the victim on trial as a witness to her own assault, and a howling mob of disbelievers determined to place responsibility for being attacked on my shoulders, would have broken me.
I’m very sad that nearly 39 years on, nothing much seems to have changed.