Last week I posted an article about the #MeToo Movement. This courageous coming out of women all over the world got me thinking about my own encounters with sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
As a memoir writer I’ve questioned myself many times, wondering if I would ever become brave enough to talk about my own experiences on this topic. And if you’ve read any of my books, you won’t find any of those stories I’ve shared in them because, I, like many women, chose to keep my silence and those memories far away from myself. I’ve kept those secrets buried for decades and only a few select people know about their existence.
Perhaps I’m still not ready to talk about them because some of the characters were too close to home and in one situation, out of the goodness of my heart I voluntarily allowed a male co-worker to come to my place for a cup of coffee one blizzardy winter night to wait off the storm before he could drive his long journey home, eventually offering him the couch to stay over on because of the treacherous road conditions. I was young and naïve to think that would be the end of the story. It wasn’t. But I’m still not ready to share what happened.
If I were to share what happened back then on that blizzardy night almost 30 years ago, I was sure I would have been accused of ‘getting what I deserved’ because I openly invited it in. And so, only my best friend knew.
I admire the brevity of women taking a stand now and calling out their abusers. It’s setting a new precedence, sending out a message loud and clear that we aren’t going to be silent victims anymore. We now have strength in numbers and our messages are being spread far and wide.
As the great Peter Finch once shouted playing the character of TV news anchor, Howard Beale in the infamous 1976 movie – Network – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” has become the same meaning for the motto in the women’s movement. I applaud those women speaking out. I can’t even pretend to imagine how much bravery it takes to stand up publicly to an abuser.
Perhaps my time will come when I will summon the strength to share my own stories on the subject. But for now, I will share another incident that happened to me. I’ll share it because it doesn’t involve someone I knew, and after I narrowly escaped what I was sure could have led to rape, I did call the police. And maybe my story can help someone else avoid getting caught in this same situation.
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Get your ‘junk’ out of my face, I wanted to scream out loud. But I couldn’t. I was alone with a pervert in an elevator. It was only 8 floors, 8 very long floors up and I could get off, but could I get off?
I knew in my bones I was about to be raped so either I kept my wits about me and did some pretty quick thinking or I knew I was destined to become ‘that’ victim.
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In my glory days of youthful fun and freedom I was happily enjoying life on my own in my very own apartment for almost a decade. I was a popular social butterfly out and about constantly, working, socializing, partying, nightclubbing – you name it, where there was action I was sure to be in on it. I was fearless. I never thought twice about the part when I would return home late at night and have to park my car in the underground garage and walk through the basement door to the elevators. It was the mid 80’s and ‘bad stuff’ wasn’t a familiar thing in my life or something I really considered ever happening to me.
But this particular day, I wasn’t coming home from anywhere. I was at home wearing a Tshirt and sweatpants when I ran down to the basement where our laundry machines were kept to throw my wet laundry load into the dryer. After doing so I scooted back to the elevator. The door opened and there was a biker-type looking guy in his late 20’s already on it. I thought nothing of it and stepped inside.
The door hadn’t yet closed when my inner alarm system could feel the penetrating stare from the man. Usually one to make eye contact and be friendly and say hello to fellow tenants, I knew instinctively not to make eye contact with the man who desperately craved my attention. In another split second as I could see from my peripheral vision, he whipped his penis out of his pants and began grunting in ecstasy as he furiously began stroking himself. He told me I would like it and I should try it as he laughed devilishly with his words. Truthfully, I can’t remember all the other disgusting and vile things he said. What I did know was that I would not allow my eyes to turn as I remained focused, staring at the elevator door plotting my escape and not giving him the satisfaction of me looking at him. I had to keep my composure, fearing he’d stop the elevator between floors and rape me. I was caught between fearing for my life and fighting for it or freezing up and becoming a rape victim. The ride up felt like an eternity and in that eternity, I had to think fast about how I was going to get off the elevator untouched.
The first logical thing I thought of was not to get off on my own floor. I didn’t want my potential rapist to know which floor I lived on. But I knew as the elevator passed each consequent floor and his breath grew heavier as he got closer to reaching orgasm, my window of escape was narrowing.
I mustered up every ounce of courage I could despite my legs feeling like rubber from fear and hit the next upcoming floor’s button. The door opened, and the pervert jumped in front of the door, taking a stand with hands and feet outstretched, blocking the opened door in order to block me from getting out. All I knew at that point that the open door was my one and only chance to escape and I was going to use it.
With the added strength from the power of rushing adrenalin, I plowed right into him with a body tackle, all the while screaming at the top of my lungs for tenants to hear me through the corridor. I ran down the hall and banged on a few doors in my petrified almost manic state of fear until the first door opened and let me in.
I explained to my fellow tenant what had transpired and asked him if he’d accompany me back to my apartment so I could call the police. He did. The pervert was nowhere in sight.
I called the police and they came right over and took down my description of the pervert and they spent a good while searching the building basement and stairways but never found him.
That day was a frightening awakening to me learning that bad things can happen anywhere, even in my own building which was in a safe neighborhood. But it became a huge wake-up call for me to become a lot more diligent in paying more attention to my surroundings.
What Did I Do Right?
– I was lucky I had the instinct to remain composed and didn’t antagonize or indulge the pervert while contained alone in the elevator with him. Most of the time perverts like that are desperately seeking attention. They enjoy the voyeurism of being watched while performing disgusting acts. I truly believe had I made eye contact with him that may have made him more excitable, provoking him to close in on me physically.
-I pushed a different button on the elevator to get off as soon as possible.
– Once out of the elevator I screamed and started banging on doors to stir up noise and alarm.
– I called the police when I became safe to report it to try and prevent someone else from getting in the same situation.
What Did I Learn?
– I learned to become aware of my surroundings, especially when alone in inconspicuous places like – elevators, parking lots and anywhere in public when not in a high traffic area.
– I learned to never enter an elevator alone in my building or anywhere else when there is an unsavory character in it. I wait for the next one. The same rule applies if I’m standing alone with one suspicious character waiting for the elevator with me. I just go back to my car and pretend I forgot something as soon as the elevator door opens.
– I always check the elevator before entering to assess who is on it.
– I’m not often alone at night walking to my car but when I am, I always keep my keys in my hand and have my mobile phone within easy access.
I was lucky that time to escape being physically violated but so many others are not that lucky. Besides being violated by strangers, so many women are violated right in their own homes by their partners or spouses.
I am also a survivor of date-rape and a survivor of domestic violence from a past relationship. I may decide to share those stories in future because I too have joined the ranks of women who tweet the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport . And this movement isn’t about a newfangled cause that women have invented. This movement is about women speaking out about sexual abuse with a new sense of comfort of knowing we are not alone and it’s okay now to speak our truth. Sadly, we are hearing about so many who have kept their secrets and shame for years, in fears of being blamed, ridiculed and persecuted by those who make victims feel responsible for what has happened to them. There is strength in numbers and support. And there are plenty of avenues available now where women can report, and shelters they can go to if they need to escape to a safe environment. We’ve come a long way through the decades. and finally, we’re being heard.
Note: This Thursday October 4th from 5pm EST to 10PM, some author friends and myself will be hosting a Facebook Event – Authors Against Domestic Violence where each author gets half an hour to post and chat with visitors about issues that arise in shared conversation. Some come to read and listen, some come to connect. This is the second year I’ve been invited to participate, and I know last year I met a few women who sent me messages and emails thanking me for helping them in some small way. I’m happy I could do that because if I can help just one person I know I am making a difference.
I’d love to see some of you drop by if you get the chance. And all posts and conversations will be available to see and read throughout the event in case you couldn’t make a specific time.
I hope to see you drop by. Here is the link to join the event. In order to come by the event, you must have signed up to join the group ahead of time so please join up. Thanks! 😊