When I was 20 years old I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. I had never seen him before. I have never seen him since.
I told a friend about the incident immediately after it happened, using vague, uncomfortable language . When I did, he asked me why I hadn't said anything during the event to make the man stop. I looked at him, speechless for a moment, before mumbling something about being too shocked at the time to be able to speak.
I didn't talk about it again for 15 years.
It was only when the Canadian icon Jian Ghomeshi was accused of sexual assault that I first told my husband about my experience. Even then I did what many women do: minimized what had happened, shaving off the sharpest edges to make it seem less troubling than it was. This self-protective charade lasted through the first few sentences. Then I started to cry. "It wasn't like it was a big deal," I insisted in a shaking voice, tears running down my face. My Matt said nothing, but took my hand in his.
In the days that followed, he struggled to understand why I obsessed over the topic. If there was so much personal pain involved, why was I following the public conversation about Ghomeshi and his victims on Twitter and on Facebook and in the deplorable comments section? What was it that I needed to see?
Fortunately at that point, a friend reached out to talk me about the scandal. She too had known assault, and was also keeping vigil over social media conversations. We talked about the feelings the articles and discussions were eliciting, hinting at memories awoken with every new twist and development. It was then I learned that where our loved ones cannot understand, there is a sisterhood of sufferers who can.
When Brock Turner was given a judicial wrist-slap and national attention for his assault of a fellow student, I felt the same obsessive need to make sense of what was happening. My body began to ache, demanding that I not only pay attention to the articles and conversations and my own memory but name the wrong that had been committed against me.
A day or two into it, I called my twin sister--my best friend--to tell her what had happened to me all those years before.
"He did what????" she screamed into the phone. "Why did you not tell me before?"
I responded sharply and she quickly apologized before saying the only thing I needed to hear.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
I'm going to give in again to the temptation to minimize: If you had asked me before the Ghomeshi case if the first assault I experienced affected me, I would have said no. I barely remembered it. If anything it was locked into a windowless chamber in my mind, bothering neither me nor anyone else.
But in the two years since, with that case compounded by the Bill Cosby rape trial and the Turner travesty of justice, my answer would be different. Not only has the memory of assault demanded my attention, its cellmates have as well: memories of street harassment; physical intimidation; being followed down streets in multiple cities; being groped by a drunk man who stumbled along the curb only to stagger towards a wall where he could block me in and lay his hands on me.
There are other memories that I will not talk about, but which also share that miserable cell in my mind. And they too have come out into the light.
The day the recording of the current Republican presidential nominee was released, I began sinking into a heavy sadness. I accidentally saw his words on Facebook and was so overwhelmed I promptly blocked the post that shared them, warning myself not to read them again But by the next morning my feed was filled with denunciations of and conversations about his comments, and I felt I might need to know what exactly he said.
I read the whole transcript. And instead of moving further into sadness, I got mad. Hella mad. I posted a statement denouncing the recording as a confession of assault. I scoured my news feed and jumped onto every thread that seemed to paper over the seriousness of what had been admitted.
And in what may sound like no big deal, I--the consummate Bernie supporter and undecided voter--donated money to the Hillary Clinton campaign. I did it as a giant "fuck you" to her opponent and to every man who has assaulted a woman and pretended like it was okay or no big deal. I wasn't sure I would vote for her, but I sure as hell wouldn't vote for him.
Let me get this out of the way, as a woman, a Christian, and pastor:
Rage. Anger. Outrage. These are all appropriate responses for victims of assault. We sometimes cannot access them for years after the event, but when we do, it is not a shameful reaction but a healthy one.
Rage is an appropriate response to people who excuse or minimize the assault they commit against their fellow human beings.
Anger is an appropriate response for victims forced to relive their worst memories every few months because one more powerful man is found to have harmed women.
Outrage is an appropriate response when the disturbing choice is made by bystanders to focus on the status and welfare of the assaulter while ignoring those who have been assaulted.
Anger saves us just when we feel we might be destroyed.
Rage burns our guts, so that we no longer stomach or excuse rape culture when it is exposed.
Outrage gives us feet to stand and fight even as it forces us to face difficult memories.
Together, they return the voices our assaulters took that we might raise them on behalf of ourselves and others.
And with my voice given back, I want to say this to those who are watching and discussing and deciding what to do in response to this latest chapter in a tired story as old as sin itself.
Do not malign the victims when they come forward.
Do not crucify them for their courage.
Do not question their honesty, their timing or their motivation.
And above all, do not pretend they are uncomfortable inconveniences to be cast aside or overlooked for some mythical greater good.
Those who are wronged deserve the common decency of acknowledgement and sorrow. As do all of us in the unchosen sisterhood to which we belong.
A blessing for you, and for me.
Help us, Lord, for Your name's sake.