ORDINARY, DAILY DEMEANING SEXUAL ABUSE
One of the reasons I came to Vermont in the summer of 1984 was to avoid the ordinary, daily, and demeaning sexual abuse that I experienced walking down the sidewalk, riding the subway, and trying to enjoy the outdoors of Riverside Park in New York City, where I then lived.
WALKING DOWN THE SIDEWALK
I was in my twenties, single, and tired of having strange men approach me on the sidewalk and mutter comments about how I looked, how I should behave, and what they’d like to do to me.
No thank you.
IN THE SUBWAY
In the subway, when passengers were pressed up against one another, opportunistic creeps would grind their hips and then their hards against me. I was too timid to do more than edge away or whisper, “Creep.” I was afraid if I shouted or shoved, I’d only incite worse violence when I exited the train. And really, all I wanted to do was get to my destination.
IN THE PARK
Actually, that’s not true: I wanted to get to my destination unmolested. And I wanted to enjoy running along the Hudson in Riverside Park, or reading in the sunshine on a park bench without being bothered. But I can’t tell you how many men exposed themselves to me there. What’s up with that?
But summer is no time to be indoors, so I bought a car, rented a cabin smaller than my New York apartment, and moved to Vermont.
UNMOLESTED IN VERMONT
I’ve lived largely unmolested in Vermont, where there are more trees than people and few sidewalks. When I’m in the woods, I fear encountering bears, not men. And bears are shy.
I moved here to become a writer. One of the things I’ve written is a novel in which I’ve infused my main character with my lifelong silence about having been sexually abused by my grandfather. I’ve turned it over to my agent and channeled my hopes on being heard as a writer. Ironically, the many editors who have praised the book have turned it down as too quiet.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD’S TESTIMONY TRIGGERS MEMORIES
I’d successfully repressed my memories of childhood sexual abuse until Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Brett Kavenaugh assaulting her over three decades ago. Like so many women, her testimony on national television triggered my own memories and gave me hope that our stories would now be heard. And as with the reception of Dr. Ford’s testimony, the people I first told my story to were more concerned for the reputation of the abuser than for my welfare. I have chronicled this story here. [Please read He Was My Grandfather, published October 10.]
“DON’T MINIMIZE WHAT HAPPENED”
When talking with one of my children about the ordeal of being prohibited from using exact words to describe this dark episode in my life, I said, “It was only abuse, not assault.”
“Don’t minimize it, Mom.” My child wrapped her arms around me.
She told me about a peeping Tom peering into a dressing room in a clothing boutique where she was trying on clothes. As benign as this sounds, it’s what it took for me to understand how prevalent the small, daily assaults lead to fear and silence.
WIDESPREAD INTIMIDATION FROM ABUSE AND ASSAULT
But the silence has been broken enough for me to be alarmed at how widespread the intimidation resulting from ubiquitous abuse and assault. Since my story was published, both women and men have told me about their abuse by strangers, by family friends, and by members of their own families.
As long as we’re silent, this abuse will continue. As long as the abuse continues, we risk being silenced. I’m encouraged, however, by the young women my generation has raised, women emboldened to speak up and even sing about what’s going on. [Listen to Lynzy Lab sing A Scary Time]
LET YOUR VOTE BE YOUR VOICE
And as if we’ve all been trained by some media-savvy publicist to stay on message, our message is the same and relentless: if you do nothing else, be sure to vote.
 “Hey, Beautiful!”
 “Smile, Sugar!”
 “I wanna lick your pussy.”
Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday, which sometimes falls on a Thursday. Please subscribe to receive these posts by email.
Peter David Rusatsky says
We live in a country where first hand testimony from a PhD ,(no less Psychology), concerning sexual assault by a serial alcohol abuser is still not enough to dissuade our elected officials to postpone/reject an appointment to the highest court in the land. This is the same democracy we propose to export to the world as some kind of a model ? We have learned the hard way, from another serial abuser, that there is only a very thin line between Democracy and tyranny, and currently, we have seen that tested multiple times, (actually daily). Today, we hear that a journalist who enters an ally’s embassy and disappears, is not enough reason to affect the business relationships between the United States and them. Perhaps, the right to vote, is the preordained mechanism to return the focus of this country back to something that approaches some level of decency. Yes, vote ! Last I knew, women are about 50.8% of this Country. If all of you voted to cast out serial abusers ,and, the representatives we elected who protect them, you wouldn’t need a single man’s vote to be successful. However, I will cast my vote to support the freedoms that women should enjoy including the Freedom from Fear, from predators. Freedom from “Fear”, is also emblazoned on the back of W.W.II victory Medal.
Why ?, because Fear is the result of many abuses which innocent men, women and children should not be subjected to.
Dana Grossman says
Oh, Deb. I can’t decide whether I’m more horrified by VPR’s extended barricade (a brief deflection would have been bad enough, but the entrenched, ongoing opposition seems so much worse) or more touched by your brave follow-up. Kudos to you.
Thank you for your courage in speaking out. And for your courage in standing up for the truth against those more concerned about you not rocking any boats.
Back in the late 70s, while I was away at university, one of our local Sunday School teachers was found guilty and jailed for the sexual abuse of two young girls. I remember my mum telling me after she read about it in the local paper and she was shocked and surprised. My reaction was somewhat different: a sickening realisation that it could so easily have been my sister and me. The Sunday School teacher had become a family friend over the years when my sister and I were young. He would often come round to our house to play cards with my parents and my parents trusted him to take my sister and me out on trips.
He never did anything to us but I still remember with absolute clarity the day he ran his hand down my long hair and told me what lovely hair I had. I must have been about 14. I felt something was very wrong and from then on I made sure I was busy with homework whenever he called to see my parents.
I didn’t tell my parents…..what could I have said? That he’d touched my hair and complemented me on it? That I had a “funny” feeling about him?
Decades later, after my mum had died, I read some of her old diaries and was shocked at how often this man had called round to our house; several times a week. With hindsight, it looked like a classic case of grooming, though luckily for us it didn’t result in abuse.
I’ve experienced other unwanted attention from men, but nothing affected me quite as much as the story I’ve told you above.
I’m sure many more of us have stories to tell, stories that maybe we will now start telling. Let’s put an end to the silence.
We share in yet another “life event”. This one, not one of joy.
Thank you for your honest sharing.
I couldn’t even look at the news about Kavanaugh.
I can not listen to the news coming from the other room, lest I hear the tone of our President.
When my husband kept bringing up the topic I tried to take the conversation elsewhere.
Finally, when he wouldn’t let up, and I had called home just to find what route to take, I burst to tears and had to sit by the side of the road until I could see through the tears enough to drive another 2 hours home.
I shared your same stories from my time living in Boston and like you, moved to Vermont to be somewhere this didn’t happen.
I will not forget going back to Boston, at 25 no less, to have an ankle operation.
3 orderlies came into my shared room, pulled the curtain and announced that they were there to do a breast exam. Only in hindsight, did I realize they had gotten their jollies, at my expense.
It was not easy being a tall, thin blonde girl. I remember asking a youth minister for a wart for my nose when I was just 15 because I was so upset that no one ever wanted the “me” inside. They were going for the package.
I must say though, as upsetting as it was to be objectified, I was able to call them creeps. Know my boundaries, walk the other way disgusted.
It was the sneaky ones who hurt me down to the soul.
The ones who intentions were not overt. They “seemed” like nice people.
The ones who were using my honesty and my trust to catch me with my guard down, only to realize I had been manipulated, tricked and lied to, once again.
It feels to me like how one would feel if they were robbed.
A burglar breaks into your home and intrudes and steals your possessions.
They are criminals, who violated your sense of safety.
Or you could enter into a partnership with someone. Bad decision, and you lose your assets and chalk it up to just one of those deals gone sour.
Or, you can welcome someone into your home. Trust them, care about them, believe them , give freely of your time and assets as they are a trusted friend. When you learn that everything they said and did, their kindness, their loving words, were all a ruse to con you out of your treasures, I think it hurts more than the other two examples. I hurts so because you let down your armor in good faith and took an arrow straight to the heart.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
I’m sorry we share this particular experience, Andi. Thank you for writing about it – and for being an example of a woman who is open and loving despite these experiences of betrayal. WE ARE RESILIANT!
Deborah Lee Luskin says
I think we share this experience with millions of other women worldwide, and that it’s our silence that allows it to continue. The shaming and blaming the victims perpetuates the silence; the speaking out bluntly is our best tool for ending this behavior. Voting might be our other effective tool.
Darla S says
I agree that the issue of sexual (or other) abuse of women / girls is more prevalent than most would like to think. I had my own issue with a grandfather when I was growing up, although he did not live nearby so I didn’t have to deal with him often… and it never got as bad as some have described. Still, the only way this ever gets better is if we bring it out into the light.
Regarding the Kavanaugh circus, I wanted to believe Christine Blasey Ford, and perhaps something bad happened to her, by someone. But after listening to her testimony I felt like she may have been politically motivated. This was supposedly a traumatic event but she couldn’t remember the day, the place, who was there, and even the friends she said could corroborate her story refused to do so, saying they didn’t remember anything like that happening. Add that to her high school classmates who described her as partying and drinking heavily, and being promiscuous… it just doesn’t add up. Even the woman who accused him of “gang rape” had so many holes in her story it was ludicrous. Simply not credible. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat… I’m a Libertarian, so I have no dog in this race. But given the cutthroat nature of politics lately, I do want to hear something credible before I sign on board to ruin another person’s life.
The best way I know to sum up my feelings on the topic is: “I don’t believe him. I don’t believe her. I believe the evidence.” And I found evidence lacking. I don’t know if she was lying, but if she was, it hurts ALL women. And if she wasn’t lying, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t remember more details or didn’t report the incident when it happened. So I’m giving Kavanaugh a break on this.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Thank you for sharing your opinion here. While I came to a different conclusion regarding Ford’s testimony, Kavenaugh’s character, I applaud airing of divergent points of view and thank you for doing so civilly. Civil disagreement pushes us all to think harder.